Eric Clapton: learn two blues guitar licks based on Slowhand's early '70s and '90s eras

Eric Clapton
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Eric Clapton (opens in new tab) was playing Gibsons in the late '60s – famously a Les Paul with John Mayall’s Bluesbreaker (opens in new tab)s, then ES-335 and Firebird models with rock supergroup Cream. By 1970 Eric had gone solo, and, with the change of creative direction, came a switch to Stratocasters (opens in new tab). He’s hardly looked back ever since.

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Eric Clapton

(Image credit: Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images)

5 songs guitarists need to hear by… Eric Clapton (that aren't Layla) (opens in new tab)

Eric’s early Strats (opens in new tab) (affectionately known as ‘Brownie’ and ‘Blackie (opens in new tab)’) featured on his recordings throughout the 70s – Brownie came first on the 1970 album Layla (opens in new tab) And Other Assorted Love Songs, with Blackie becoming Eric’s guitar of choice for stage and studio from the mid 70s. 

Come the late '80s, Eric would play Fender’s first signature Stratocaster, a model equipped to Clapton’s spec with a V-shaped neck profile and a mid boost circuit to give a more humbucker-like sound.

Eric is famously a blues player with pentatonic and blues scales at the heart of his style. We’re looking at some of the phrasing tricks that’ll help you get a feel for this legend’s style.

Early '70s solo era 

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Here we’re showcasing some Blind Faith and early solo era blues style licks combined with Clapton's oft-favoured bridge/middle pickup selection and a light overdrive tone. 

The backing chords are more adventurous than the staple I-IV-Vs found in pure blues, but Clapton’s minor pentatonic phrasing is an essential part of nearly every lead lick he plays. 


'90s and beyond

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This example is pure EC in '90s mode combining string bending and finger vibrato with a fat, mid-boosted tone. The grace note hammer-ons and fast note flurries in bars 3 and 4 are typical phrases Eric began using in the 80s, 90s and later. Make sure to employ these ideas if you’re after a later Clapton vibe.

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