It's ironic that Clapton is the world's most famous living Fender Stratocaster player, since he made his name playing Gibsons and was rarely seen with a Strat until after the death of Hendrix. And while Eric's love of fat, powerful tones is evident in his particular Signature Fender, aspects of Gibson playability are present too.
The timbers for the Custom Artist range are the very best. On the Eric Clapton model we find a top grade alder body that's been curved and contoured in all the right places, and polyurethane finished to unfaltering standards. The neck is all maple and this time the finish is satin, for drag-free playability.
While Eric chooses vintage style medium fretwire, as a serious string bender he likes his fingerboards a little flatter than the 7.25-inch radius of early Fenders. This guitar's 9.5-inch radius is more Gibson-like and allows for the sort of fluid finger work that we expect from EC. The neck is shaped into a soft 'V' for that final element of luxury.
Hardware is traditional, with vintage-style tuners and the classic vibrato system. But as Eric doesn't use his vibrato bar, the bridge remains screwed down, with a block of wood wedged inside to prevent any movement. On a plain white scratchplate - which refuses to lie flat on the body around the lower horn - sit a trio of Fender's Vintage Noiseless pickups, which replace the Lace Sensors of the older Clapton model. We've found these to be organic and natural sounding - ideal for sweet blues and as a basis for more overdriven excursions.
Eric's equal liking for humbucking and single-coil tones led to Fender developing an ingenious boost control that cranks up the mids by as much as 25dB. Eric has always run things from the guitar's volume pots, and so this rotary is used to dial in the exact amount of boost required. The middle of the three controls is the master tone, featuring Fender's TBX system; a centre-notched pot that allows both treble cut and boost.
The guitar is resonant and open sounding when played acoustically. Plugged in and the Clapton is livelier than an old Strat, but less glassy than the Lace Sensor-equipped model of yore. It seems most at home with the TBX control at its centre detent position - things get a little too scary with it cranked right up, but nicely 'woman tone'-ish when backed off.
Super clarity is the order of the day on all the expected Strat tones, but winding up the mid boost control offers an extraordinary level of extra gain, with the mids fattening out well and the amp's front end getting a serious fright. Our Marshall/Fender combination responded instantly, giving back long, liquid lines so typical of Clapton.