THE PSYCHEDELIC SG “FOOL GUITAR” | ERIC CLAPTON’S EPIC GIBSON GROWLER

Eric Clapton psychedelic sg fool guitar

Eric Clapton of Cream and Producer Felix Pappalardi during a recording session for the album Disraeli Gears at Atlantic Studios — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives

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I’ll never forget the first time I saw a picture of Todd Rundgren holding what I immediately deemed to be the coolest guitar in the world.  I’m a bit of a guitar nut– I’ve got a nice little stable of beauties currently, and I tell myself that I’d play more if it weren’t for TSY and a few other distractions–  another thing on the list of things I’d love to do more frequently.  Anyway, the image of that majestic hand-painted Gibson SG was forever seared on my mind’s eye.  Later, I learned more about the coveted guitar– it’s creation by the hands of a 1960s Dutch design duo called the Fool, the mysterious changing of hands among notable guitarists over the years, and the recent sale to a collector who paid in the neighborhood of $500,000 for the legendary axe.  It’s amazing what a little paint can do…

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Eric Clapton psychedelic sg fool guitarEric Clapton psychedelic sg fool guitar

Eric Clapton of Cream, one of the hottest trios (along with the Jimi Hedrix Experience) on the 1960s.

From The Saga of Eric Clapton’s Famous Fool SG–

Todd Rundgren was completely blown away the first time he ever saw the guitar. That was back on March 25, 1967, hanging from Eric Clapton’s shoulders. Creamwas on-stage at the RKO Theater making its American debut as part of disc jockey Murray the K’s Music in the Fifth Dimension extravaganza. Rundgren was in the audience and the Gibson mesmerized him. Eric, in fact, had just started using the SG. Part of the mythology insisted that the paint was still tacky during this spectacular musical concert revue that also included the Who, Mitch Ryder, Wilson Pickett, the Blues Project and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

That was a little difficult to believe but the fact remained that Eric Clapton had purchased the guitar only a few months earlier at the beginning of 1967. This would become his main axe for the next two years. Eric would use the cherry finish double cutaway for both live and studio work; it would be featured prominently on Disraeli Gears and would also appear on Wheels of Fire, Goodbye, and on the subsequent live albums, Live Cream and Live Cream Volume II.

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Eric Clapton Cream psychedelic SG fool guitar

August 29th 1967, San Francisco — Psychedelic rock band Cream performs at the Fillmore Auditorium. — Image by © Ted Streshinsky

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The legend of the Psychedelic SG ― as it was sometimes referred to ― was oft-told and varied from telling to telling. Clapton’s Les Paul Standard had been stolen and replaced with this Gibson. Initially, everyone referred to it as a Les Paul SG. But they were wrong. Les Paul did not like the new SG design and asked that his name be taken off the model. By 1963, the guitars were known simply as SG Standards.

There were no Les Paul SGs in 1964.

Not only was it identified incorrectly model-wise, but everyone also goofed up the year. Originally, everybody thought it was a 1961; a close examination of the body revealed a sixth screw hiding just under the lower left corner of the bridge pickup. Prior to 1964, only four screws were used. That was the giveaway.

Clapton’s guitar, then, was a 1964 regular issue SG Standard.

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Eric Clapton Cream Eric Clapton Cream Fool guitar

April 1967, New York — Eric Clapton of Cream recording “Strange Brew” at Atlantic Studios — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives

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When he first began playing the Gibson, the guitar was still fitted with the original Deluxe Vibrolo tremolo arm; Clapton simply fixed the mechanism in place. The vibrato bar was eventually removed and replaced with two other tailpieces: another Gibson tremolo with a flexible piece of metal instead of springs; and a non-tremolo trapeze-style unit.

The tuning heads were switched out from the standard-issue ivoroid Klusons to Grovers.

And then there was that trippy acid-influenced paint job by the Fool. A Dutch design collective and band (they released one eponymous album produced by Graham Nash), the original members were artists Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger. The hippie pair had designed clothes and album covers for the Hollies, Procol Harum, the Move, and the Incredible String Band. But it was after seeing what they’d created for the Beatles pals that Eric fell under the influence.

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cream eric clapton 1967 Eric Clapton fool guitar sg

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Simon and Marijke had psychedelicized one of George Harrison’s Stratocasters and transformed both John Lennon’s piano and one of his Gibson acoustics (as well as his Rolls Royce). They’d also illustrated an astonishing three-storey mural on one of the exterior walls of the Beatles’ Apple Boutique in London.

Eric saw their stunning work and knew immediately he wanted his recently-acquired Gibson SG turned Fool-ishly psychedelic. The original cherry finish was given a coat of white primer and then the oil-based paints were applied on top. Brushed-on enamels. Every inch of the instrument was painted including the back of the neck and even the fretboard.

Maybe not such a great idea at the time.

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foolguitar2

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The psychedelic graphic was as weird as it was beautiful.  A winged wood sprite with curls of fire sat astride a cotton candy cloud. His left hand grasped a triangle while his right hand held a spoon-shaped beater about to strike it. The arch of his right foot balanced gently atop a tone control, while the toes on his left pointed delicately downwards towards a pickup’s toggle switch. Yellow six-sided stars sprinkled against a sky of azure and aqua orbited him. Swirls, flames and gradient shades of blues, greens, and yellows danced across the instrument’s body. An orange orb dipped behind a burnt sienna mountain range that floated across the pickguard.

During live performances, paint chips literally flaked and flecked off the neck while Clapton played. Eventually, all the excess paint was permanently removed. Soon, Clapton began using Gibson ES-335s and Firebirds. One day, he simply left the guitar with George Harrison, who was a friend, and never returned for it.

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Eric Clapton Fool guitar SG todd rundgren psychedelic sg fool guitar

Eric Clapton in 60’s psychedelia with the fool guitar — Todd Rundgren perhaps playing tribute.

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Around June 1968, the Beatle, in turn, loaned it to Jackie Lomax. The singer was signed at the time to Apple Records and George knew he needed a guitar so he gave Jackie the legendary SG.

In 1971, while in Woodstock, New York, Lomax and Rundgren met at a session and became friends. Rundgren was astonished when he learned that Lomax owned that very same guitar he’d seen hanging from Eric Clapton’s neck. He told Jackie about seeing the guitar back in ’67 and what an impression it had made on him.

A year later, in 1972, to Rundgren’s shock, Lomax offered to sell him the guitar for $500. Lomax’s only caveat was that he had the option to buy the guitar back. A year passed and not a word was heard.

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Rundgren restored and sealed the body to prevent any further deterioration, replaced the rotting headstock, and retouched the paint. A fixed stop tailpiece was installed along with a Tune-o-matic bridge, Strap Locks, and new knobs. The guitar’s guts were left intact and none of the electronics, wiring, or pickups were touched. He named Sunny as a nod towards the instrument’s appearance on the Disraeli Gears track, “Sunshine of Your Love.” The Fool SG became his main instrument until it was retired in the late ’70s.

In 2000, Rundgren sold the Psychedelic Fool Gibson SG at a Sotheby’s silent auction, where it brought $150,000. This anonymous buyer re-sold the instrument several years later for an estimated $500,000.

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Todd Rundgren fool guitar Todd Rundgren fool guitar sg

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The Fool design collective also notably designed a little somethin’ for The Beatles–

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apple boutique

The Apple boutique with the famous “Fool” Mural that decorated the building back in 1967.

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4 thoughts on “THE PSYCHEDELIC SG “FOOL GUITAR” | ERIC CLAPTON’S EPIC GIBSON GROWLER

  1. Pingback: TIME FOR A CHANGE | ERIC CLAPTON, THE BAND, AND MUSIC FROM BIG PINK « The Selvedge Yard

  2. This is probably the most accurate story I’ve read about this guitar. Very impressed. I do have to clear up though that Todd Rundgren retired the guitar in 1974 because it was starting to fall apart, so he kept it in his studio for a while, around in late 1980 he brought the guitar back out from retirement and used it for the deface the music tour and the spring 1981 tour. After that tour he had the paint touched up and had the body sealed to prevent anymore paint deterioration and used it for the rest of 1981. He brought it out off and on throughout the 80’s using it on the 1986 and 87 tours. Todd used it sparingly throughout the early 90’s officially retiring the guitar in 1995. Then it sat in storage for a few years and in 1999 he auctioned the guitar through Sothebys. Sotheby’s did a poor job promoting the guitar and had it listed poorly so finding the auction was difficult. Only one person bid on the guitar getting it for a measly $120,000(The guitar was estimated at getting at least half a million) Rundgren sued Sotheby’s and reached some sort of settlement of which can’t be discussed.

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