Top 10 Eric Clapton Guitar Solos
Eric Clapton’s guitar skills have been so revered that “Clapton is God” was once spray-painted on a wall in London. In tribute to his holiness – the lord of the Les Paul, the sultan of the SG, the sovereign of the Stratocaster – we offer this tribute of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Guitar Solos.
It’s no wonder that some have considered Clapton a deity, especially if you consider his work in the five-year period between 1966 and 1970. As a member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & the Dominos (not to mention half a dozen other groups and his burgeoning solo career), Clapton seemed to roll from one project to the next on wheels of fire. He played blues, pop, psychedelic rock, proto-metal, country rock; it’s as if all of this was too easy for Mr. God, so he got bored and moved on. You can witness the radical changes from this fertile period in Clapton’s history in the solos below.
‘Have You Heard’
The “Beano” album, as it is often called, was planned by Mayall as a showcase for Clapton – almost as if Mayall knew the guitarist wouldn’t stay long and wanted to document the band while E.C. was here. (Indeed, Eric would depart to form Cream before the album came out.) Clapton gets more than a minute to stretch out on this slow-rolling electric blues number, plucking a scorching, frenetic solo on his 1960 sunburst Gibson Les Paul. That infamous guitar would go missing, but Clapton’s playing would influence players for the rest of the ’60s… and decades to come.
Clapton keeps it short and smooth on ‘Badge,’ his contribution to Cream’s final album. He co-wrote the tune with buddy George Harrison (hence the Beatle-ish, arpeggiated riff), who plays rhythm guitar and was credited as “L’Angelo Misterioso.” But the quick solo is all Clapton, who makes the most of his 30 seconds or so. It’s a perfectly paced little journey that bullseyes the Creamy sweet spot of blues power and gentle serenity.
‘Sunshine of Your Love’
There’s no better example of the vaunted “woman tone” than on Eric Clapton’s guitar solo for ‘Sunshine of Your Love.’ The sound that has driven many a guitarist insane was achieved with Eric’s “the Fool” SG, a Marshall amp and a wah-wah pedal. With the volume and tone knobs in the right place, old Slowhand delivered a tone that was both distorted and precise, helping to make the soulful solo in the middle of this song one of his absolute best. As you might have noticed, Clapton begins his solo with the opening notes of ‘Blue Moon,’ as a ying to the yang of the sunshine in the song’s title. Clever.
‘Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad’
Minute for minute, Derek & the Dominos’ live version of ‘Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad’ might offer the best deal on Eric Clapton guitar solos. It seems like more than half of the 15-minute concert rendition — recorded in 1970 — is occupied by one brilliant Clapton solo after another. His first turn is a nimble-fingered gem that combines some of the rougher, thicker sound of his late ’60s tone with the thinner, stinging sound that would dominate his ’70s solo records. From shimmering high notes to chunky chording, it’s a three-minute trek that could be a song in itself. When the solo concludes, it’s positively mystifying that the next 20 seconds aren’t drowned out by rapturous applause.
‘Let it Rain’
Clapton isn’t the only one soloing on this classic from his solo debut; Stephen Stills takes on the mellow solo in the middle. But the glistening outro solo is all Slowhand, spinning his strings into gold by way of Brownie – his beloved Fender Stratocaster. After a waterfall of piano, the final minute of ‘Let in Rain’ lets Clapton reign, as he picks notes that arc like shooting stars and slowly fade into silence as they fall to Earth. Clapton might, in fact, be God because that solo is heavenly.
‘Presence of the Lord’
Clapton’s lone writing credit with Blind Faith is this soul-drenched chestnut, which points to the Southern music influences he would draw on for Derek & the Dominos. In a way, ‘Presence of the Lord’ is a bridge between Cream and the Dominos, because Slowhand takes a detour from the gospel-esque main section to explore more psychedelic territory on one of the top 10 Eric Clapton guitar solos. It’s an abrupt shift, although it proves to be a welcome one – as soon as Eric launches into the wah-wah groove at around the 2:30 mark. He played his guitar through a Leslie speaker, which makes it sound like it’s a bit worn around the edges, like the whole rig is on the verge of blowing a fuse. It’s a perfect match for the weary lyrics.
Throughout ‘White Room,’ the audio equivalent of a mind-altering acid trip, Clapton’s shrill guitar seems to taunt the listener, cackling like a demon. And then, at the end, the Cream guitarist’s Strat gets the room to himself for the grand finale — a lava lamp solo that puts the exclamation point on this psychedelic classic. Clapton is in fine, wah-wahing form here, warping the sound of his guitar up and down and side to side until you don’t know what’s what. It goes on for a minute; most of us would be fine if it went on for another 10.
Clapton got a hearty assist from Duane Allman on this seven-minute rock epic about unrequited love – one of the great guitar songs of all time. The dynamic duo laid down no less than six guitar tracks for ‘Layla’: one of Clapton playing rhythm, three of Clapton harmonizing with the main riff, one of Allman playing bottleneck and one of Clapton and Allman soloing together. The results are nothing short of miraculous, especially as these good fellas chime in for the twinkling guitar solos during the tune’s piano coda.
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’
George Harrison is no slouch on guitar. Some of the most melodic and memorable guitar solos in rock history come courtesy of the quiet Beatle (not to mention Paul McCartney). But for whatever reason, George felt ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ required the talents of his good buddy — who was apprehensive about playing in a Beatles session. Eric coaxed the tears from George’s Les Paul on the electrifying solos at the middle and end of the ‘White Album’ gem. His guitar work brays, squeals, soars and wobbles in these perfectly paced solos.
Cream’s radical reimagining of Robert Johnson’s ‘Cross Road Blues’ might be the pinnacle of white boy, electric blues. The greatness of this live recording (captured at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom) is due equally to Clapton’s nasty, chugging riff and a pair of incendiary guitar solos. Eric’s actually off-beat during his shrieking turns, but the unbridled rawness of the solos makes them that much more interesting. And yet, amidst the firey howling that emanates from Clapton’s axe there’s a structure to his playing. He takes us on a journey in these roller coaster runs that surprise us with their dips and twists, even after thousands of spins. Let’s go again!