Eric Clapton’s 1964 ‘The Fool’ Gibson SG sells at auction for a record $1.27 million

Eric Clapton's 1964 Fool Gibson SG
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Julien's Auctions)

Eric Clapton’s heavily modded and custom-finished ‘Fool’ Gibson SG has been sold for a cool $1.27 million, making it the most expensive of Slowhand’s guitars to have been sold at auction.

The 1964 Gibson SG, which features psychedelic art from the Dutch art collective with whom shares its name, The Fool, joins an elite group of $1 million-plus guitars, though is still some way short of the world record $6,010,000 that was paid for Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E, most famous for its appearance on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album.

But maybe that’s the generation gap affecting the price, because there are few more recognisable electric guitars in rock history. It is the source of Clapton’s Woman Tone, the slightly nasally vocal sound that characterised early Cream recordings. 

Its custom psych paint job was hugely influential. The look became all the rage as the sun dawned on the Summer of Love – George Harrison would give his Rocky Fender Stratocaster a similarly psychedelic makeover with Day-Glo paint.

The auction was hosted by Julien’s, the guitar purchased by The Jim Irsay Collection, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Indianapolis Colts and Irsay family’s metal health initiative, Kicking The Stigma – Irsay is the owner of the Colts. 

Eric Clapton's 1964 Fool Gibson SG

(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

For Julien’s it is another record, having sold the aforementioned MTV Unplugged acoustic guitar, and Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Competition Fender Mustang guitar, as used in the epochal Smells Like Teen Spirit video, which, at $4.5 million, became the second most expensive guitar ever sold at auction.

Darren Julien, president and CEO, Julien’s Auctions, described The Fool as “one of the most important guitars in all of rock music history”, and he is not wrong. Presiding over the auction was one of the highlights of his career.

“To have this legendary guitar that created and defined the classic rock sound that is an art masterpiece and symbol of the psychedelic ‘Summer of Love’ era go to Jim Irsay’s renowned memorabilia collection is another great privilege and hallmark of my career and a highlight of Julien’s Auctions twenty-year anniversary celebration this year,” he said.

It might also be a highlight of The Jim Irsay Collection – that said, the competition is steep. Irsay’s archive includes Bob Dylan’s 1964 Stratocaster, the guitar that wired ‘Electric Dylan’ into our pop-cultural consciousness after his incendiary 1965 performance at Newport. He owns the Gerry Garcia’s ‘Tiger’ guitar, made by Doug Irwin, George Harrison’s Revolver SG, and David Gilmour’s legendary Black Strat

Irsay hopes to display these in a museum but right now is taking the collection around the States, exhibiting them and then showcasing them in a concert with the Jim Irsay Band. The next date is 11 January 2024. Tickets and more details can be found at The Jim Irsay Collection.

Eric Clapton's 1964 Fool Gibson SG

(Image credit: Julien's Auctions)

As for the Fool, this is the latest stop-off point on a storied life. It was once owned by Todd Rundgren, and has been much modded over the years. The trapeze-style tailpiece and long-arm vibrola has long been removed and replaced with a Wide Travel harmonica-style bridge and stop-bar tailpiece. The control knobs have been changed. 

Now, you could say that this is player’s grade, and in vintage guitar circles that might connote a discount, but when the player was Eric Clapton, and the guitar is The Fool, that just puts a premium on top.

The Julien’s Auction also served as a reminder of just how sought-after the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard is now. One sold for $585,000. Other notable lots included the Gibson Epiphone PR325S that was played by Johnny Cash and used by Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line, a bargain at $63,500. A stage-played Charvel once owned by Eddie Van Halen sold for $117,000. 

The Played, Worn, & Torn: Rock ’N’ Roll Iconic Guitars And Memorabilia auction continues over the weekend. See Julien’s Auctions for more details.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.