"Eric Clapton is basically the only guitar player who influenced me – even though I don't sound like him. There was a basic simplicity to his playing, his style, his vibe and his sound. He took a Gibson guitar and plugged it into a Marshall, and that was it. The basics. The blues. His solos were melodic and memorable – and that's what guitar solos should be, part of the song. I could hum them to you. What I really liked was Cream's live recordings, because you could hear the three guys playing. If you listen to "I'm So Glad," on Goodbye, you really hear the three guys go – and Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were a couple of jazz guys, pushing Clapton forward. I once read that Clapton said, "I didn't know what the hell I was doing." He was just trying to keep up with the other two guys! After Cream, he changed. When he started doing "I Shot the Sheriff" and this and that, and when he hooked up with Delaney and Bonnie, his whole style changed. Or at least his sound. He focused more on singing than playing. I respect him for everything he's done and is still doing – but what inspired me, what made me pick up a guitar, was his early stuff. I could play some of those solos now – they're permanently imprinted in my brain. That blues-based sound is still the core of modern rock guitar."..... Eddie Van Halen
Although Clapton plays with many different guitars, he is best known for his association with Gibson Les Paul, Gibson ES-335, Gibson SG, Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster.
Clapton built his reputation as a guitarist playing Gibson electric guitars. He played them almost exclusively between June 1965 up until about 1970. He purchased his first Gibson guitar in 1964. It was a 1964 Cherry Red Gibson ES-335 (a.k.a the Cream Guitar) which he would use for the next forty years. In June 1965, Clapton bought a second-hand, Cherry Sunburst 1960 Gibson Les Paul. This guitar was legendary. No one could predict that with it he would change the history and sound of the electric guitar. While with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, he played it through overdriven Marshall amplifiers to provide distortion, feedback and sustain. Although not the first to use electrical by-products to his advantage, Eric Clapton did refine their use. Partnered with his virtuoso abilities and most importantly, his angst-driven passion, they combined to create his signature sound. His playing on the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album of 1966 (forever after known as "The Beano Album" because Clapton himself was reading a Beano comic book in the LP's cover photo) is seminal blues-rock — searing, dynamic and ferocious. Eric purchased several more Gibson Les Pauls, but his first Cherry Sunburst remained his favourite. The guitar was stolen during early Cream rehearsals in the summer of 1966 and was never recovered.
It is interesting to note that the original Les Paul model was discontinued after 1960. It was manufactured between 1952 and early 1960 (Cherry Sunbursts were not introduced until 1958). Clapton's popularizing of the Les Paul model affected the electric guitar world in such a manner that Gibson put the model back into production in 1968. Today, vintage Cherry Sunbursts from the 1958-1960 period are valuable collector’s items.
While with Cream, Clapton also played a 1964 Gibson Les Paul SG. He had this guitar painted by the artist cooperative, The Fool. It became known as the “Fool Guitar” or the “Psychedelic SG”. Clapton used this guitar extensively while playing with Cream and it was an important element of his famed "woman tone". Clapton's other famous guitar that he played with Cream was the Cherry 1964 Gibson ES-335. Eric's interpretation of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" played on this guitar was history making. In 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed Cream's "Crossroads" as one of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Rolling Stone magazine placed it at number three on its "Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time".
As the 1970s began, Eric Clapton abandoned the Gibson Les Paul in favor of the Fender Stratocaster. His black Stratocaster a.k.a. "Blackie" is the most iconic.