I’m always impressed with musicians whose gear is so old and worn it’s a miracle they get any tone out of it at all, Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger, comes to mind. How many hours of practicing repetitive scales does it take to wear out a guitar’s maple or rosewood fretboard — or dig a new sound hole into Canadian spruce or Hawaiian Koa from strumming it with a plastic pick?
In April 2019, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to check out a breathtaking collection of historically significant guitars, almost all of which showed signs of wear and tear; the scars, scratches, bumps and bruises their owners inflicted on them over the course of a few decades. Some, like Eric Clapton’s “Blackie,” even had cigarette burns!
“Blackie” and a few other instruments were displayed in clear acrylic cases in the middle of the floor, creating the illusion of being suspended at eye level, adding a surreal sense of forbidden proximity. I’m standing in front of the second most expensive guitar in the world and was fighting the urge to reach out and wipe the thing off with a good disinfectant! “How does one wear out the Fender logo on the headstock anyway,” I wondered? We may never know.
What we do know is Clapton’s musical Frankenstein was cannibalized from different Fender models, all purchased in 1970 from Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Company in Nashville.
Ted Newman-Jones, Clapton’s guitar tech and master luthier, assembled “Blackie” from 1950s single-coil pickups, a 1956 body and a 1957 neck; no doubt at least a little banged up already.
Clapton performed with “Blackie “for the first time in 1971 at a show organized by Townsend. The guitar was used extensively during the 1970s and 80s both live and in the studio. Then in 1999, Clapton put some of his most treasured guitars on the auction block to raise money for the Crossroads Centre, a drug rehabilitation center in Antigua he founded a year earlier. At that time, another one of his famously beat up Strats (Brownie) fetched a whopping $450,000.
When Clapton unloaded another cache of guitars to raise money for the charity, he included his cherished, “Blackie.” It sold for $959,500. Any Clapton fan would tell you, it’s worth every penny!
Born on this day (August, 16)
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