Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson Firebird I Guitar

An impressive array of rare Eric Clapton Firebird photos, live videos and soundclips in which Eric is playing the newly acquired 1964 Gibson Firebird I guitar he purchased in April 1968. He used the guitar with Cream on various dates up until their final show in November 1968 at Royal Albert Hall. He also apparently used it in a few public appearances with Blind Faith in 1969, 1970 and 1971. The photos are mostly during mid/late 1968 during his tenure with the best band ever. Included are various shots of same guit different eras, different hairstyles and different guits. Let this be a tribute not just to the Clap, nor the great great Gibson Firebird but to all those adventurous and subsequently endowed with at least enough imagination to be more than just another Les Paul player.

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Cream live at the Philadelphia Spectrum, 11-1-68.

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Cream live in San Diego 10-20-1968

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Interesting excerpt from Christopher Hjort’s book “Strange Brew: Eric Clapton And The British Blues Boom 1965-1970” entry for November 1st, 1968 (part of which Gibson is including as a selling point for the new “Clapton 1964 Reissue” limited run they are releasing for a ridiculous price (more than you can buy an original for!)

Cream
Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA

Ron Delsner presents Cream; one show, at 8:30 pm. Although the tour has more downs than ups, Clapton will have strong memories of tonight’s gig when talking to Phil Sutcliffe nearly 40 years later. “I remember one show at the Philadelphia Spectrum…and I was playing the Gibson Firebird…and it was one of our greatest gigs ever. I was flying; no confusion, no indecision about when to stop, start, come in, go out; I wasn’t tired, I seemed to get more elevated through the evening, one of my greatest gigs ever.” The view is seconded by Jack Bruce, who later tells Tony Bacon: “The Spectrum is one of the very best gigs in America, if not the best. Philadelphia is a great rock music town. I’ve played that a few times, and it’s always been great. A rocking gig; great audience.”

Cream Live 1968 Farewell Tour Royal Albert Hall Clapton Firebird White Room
Cream Live 1968 Farewell Tour Royal Albert Hall, Clapton on the Firebird “White Room”.

Here are a few videos of Eric playing his Firebird. Everybody knows how frustratingly obnoxious the footage for this legendary Royal Albert Hall show is. They had two cameramen with top notch equipment filming an entire show of one of the greatest bands ever and 95% of the footage is a close up of Jack Bruce’s face. The footage for the songs doesn’t even match the music for large portions of the movie. I usually just close my eyes and listen because the video is too distracting and never really lines up with the music. Thought I would include it nonetheless since it is one of the rare bits of footage of Cream where Eric is on the Firebird. I will say Eric’s tone here (the whole RAH show actually) is a unique one for whatever reason, and in this clip although it is a fantastic and blistering tone it is not what I would consider normal Firebird through cranked Marshall tone. So just a heads up for anyone who goes and buys a Firebird, 100 watt Marshall plexi and wah hoping to sound like this, you will sound great but probably not like what Eric sounds like in this video.

Eric Clapton Supershow 1969 Slate 27
ERIC CLAPTON on the Firebird for a “Supershow” in 1969 which included lots of folks. The show was filmed over two days at an unused factory in Staines, west of London. Here Eric is with Roland Kirk, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Jack Bruce, Jon Hiseman, Ron Burton, Vernon Martin performing a number called “Slate 27”.

Cream Live 1968 Farewell Tour Royal Albert Hall Clapton Firebird White Room
Cream in 1968 on the Glen Campbell show performing Sunshine of your love.

A lot of people are confused about why the group doesn’t sound quite like they normally do here and it is fairly obvious to anyone who has played a Firebird through a Marshall stack that the main reason is because Eric’s amp (singular if you notice) is not on 10 like it usually is. Eric relied on the tube saturated overdrive you get when you turn amps like these ALL the way up. This phenomenon more than likely having to with some fascist on the studio set of the Glen Campbell show who forced Eric and Jack to turn down (these amps are REALLY loud after all.)

Nobody plays loud today like these guys did back then, these days everyone is trying to sound like Cream and Jimi at whisper quiet levels using all sorts of ridiculous methods: 1 watt “boutique” amps, germanium chip fuzz pedals, power scaling, variacs, attenuators, snake oil tone caps, high output pickups, and usually all at the same time while playing a Les Paul and making mediocre music.

Back to Eric, in this video with his signature sound fascistly castrated he is forced to work with a much much cleaner tone than he probably preferred around this time. However, Eric being the gifted player that he has always been goes on to play a bitchin’ and tasty “clean” solo which is way different than what he usually does when he has his usual dimed double plexi full stack sustain under him. So many guitarists use gain to cover up for mediocre playing and as soon as you take away their gain/pedals/whatnot they sound awful and start looking for excuses, and with Eric that is definitely NOT the case, he was a killer player who just preferred the wound up roar of Marshall’s during this general time period, and thankfully so, he sounded badder than bad through them. The only guy I know of these days who gets close to Clapton’s Cream Firebird tone and even takes it further is Daniel Shams of Heliotricity when he plugs his old Firebird into his dimed JTM45/100 full stack.


ADDITIONAL SOUND CLIPS
One of the things that I’ve always found entertaining is how everyone talks about how amazing Firebird neck pickups sound (they do), and how the bridge is “shrill”, “brittle”, “thin”, “anemic”, etc. but then those individuals all will tell you in the same sentence how bad they want a Firebird I. And how many times have you heard some seller describe how their Firebird gets that “Cream Clapton tone”, when aside from “White Room” at Royal Albert Hall in 1968 (which for reasons stated above is by no means what I would consider a solid reference point for vintage Firebird tone) and obviously excluding people who saw them live during that time period; most people, no doubt including those sellers, have no real idea what Eric’s Firebird sounded like.

So, what Cream tracks did Eric Clapton actually play the Firebird on? Clapton acquired the guitar in April 1968, so obviously nothing made before that. Certain live tracks on the “Farewell” recording (Sittin’ on top of the World, I’m so Glad and Politician) have the strong scent of the inmistakeable Firebird stamp. There is another full length bootleg live in Oakland, Alameda County 1968 that is almost certainly 100% Firebird to me. There was also a show at the Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas on October 25th, 1968 which again has those unique Firebird characteristics written all over it on more than a few tracks. Obviously there are more but those are a few that come to mind which we have recordings of. I have to admit I’d give pretty much anything to hear a recording of the show at the Philadelphia Spectrum on 11-1-68 Eric references in the quote above, but from what I understand, no recordings of that show exist. Regardless, here are some clips which will no doubt school the multitude of Les Paul adhering robots who imagining what it must be like to have an original thought accidentally found their way here:

Cream – Politician live 1968 from the Farewell Tour recording.

Cream – Sittin’ on top of the world live 1968 from the Farewell Tour recording.

Cream – I’m So Glad live 1968 live Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland CA, Nov 4th 1968.

Cream – Spoonful live Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland CA, Nov 4th 1968.

Cream – Sittin’ on top of the world live at the Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas on October 25th, 1968.

Cream – I’m so glad live at the Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas on October 25th, 1968. Great playing here, and towards the end there is a break where Jack and Ginger play a duet mostly likely because Eric’s amp fails.

By the way, anyone who says that Cream reached their creative peak in 67 and had nothing left after that has to be out of their mind. Eric’s rhythmic sense, phrasing and overall tastefulness during this time period just got better and better. Too many people associate “gain” with good and attempt to cover up mediocre playing with it. While Eric sounded badder than bad through a cranked up Marshall he never relied on it to make great music. ‘Nuff said.

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Cream Dallas October 25th 1968 ticket stub

Ticket stub from the legendary October 25th, 1968 show Cream played along with other bands in Dallas, Texas.

Here is another clip of them at the Dallas show which was no doubt Eric on the Firebird. Cream – Sunshine of your love live at the Memorial Auditorium in Dallas, Texas on October 25th, 1968. Audio is a little rough in places, but still another absolutely phenomenal take from a great show by one of the best bands ever. I think it is safe to say that it was 6 well spent dollars(!) by any lucky Texans fortunate enough to have been in attendance that evening.

Gibson reissues 1964 Clapton Firebird I

Clapton Gibson reissue firebird I

Cream live at Madison Square Garden 11-2-68 (the night following the famous Philadelphia Spectrum concert Eric references in the quote above).

Clapton Firebird 1968 11.04-RI Auditorium

Cream live at the Rhode Island Auditorium 11-4-1968.

Gibson Clapton reissue Firebird I sale

Clapton Firebird New Haven, CT from the 11th October 1968

Cream live New Haven, CT October 11th, 1968

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Cream live at the Grande Ballroom, Detroit June 1968

Clapton Grande Ballroom 1968

Cream live at the Grande Ballroom, Detroit June 1968

Cream firebird olympia october 12 1968

Clapton Live with Cream, Olympia October 12th, 1968.

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EC Marshall amps 1967

Cream madison square garden nov 2 1968

Cream madison square garden 11-2-68

Cream madison square garden nov 2 1968 ticket

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Clapton Ginger Baker Firebird

cream philadelphia spectrum 1968

cream philadelphia spectrum 11-1-68

Cream san jose 5-28-1968

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heliotricity image

ES335 Eric Clapton

Eric Claptons Cream guitars

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flamenco michigan image

daniel shams graphic

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ec firebird 1968 heliotricity

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Clapton FB

Eric Clapton with Blind Faith

ginger baker jack bruce graphic

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Clapton Firebird photographs

Gibson Firebird guitars

Cream Marshall Plexi 1967

Clapton reissue Gibson firebird I

Clapton leslie fender showman firebird

Marshall Super Lead amplifiers

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Marshall amps Eric Clapton

Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton

Rangemaster Beano Firebird

Clapton JTM45

Clapton Marshall Superlead Firebird

Eric Clapton Beano tone

Clapton with Firebird

Clapton Gibson Firebird guitar

Cream Heavy Gauge album cover

Cream 1967 1968

The Cream live

Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce

EC blind faith 69 philadelphia Firebird

Clapton with Blind Faith, Philadelphia 1969

Blind faith 7-69 EC firebird

Blind Faith, July 1969

Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker

Eric Clapton with Les Paul and Firebird

Eric Clapton Marshall plexi amps

Eric Clapton with Buddy Guy supershow 1969

Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy in 1969

Clapton looking like John Lennon

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Cream Firebird album cover

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Clapton with Marshall plexi full stacks

1964 Gibson Firebird I

Not Claptons, but still a nice Bird!

1964 Gibson Firebird I guitar

Clapton’s Explorer and other guitars

Clapton cut Explorer guitar

Gibson Explorer Eric Clapton

Photos of Clapton's explorer

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Vintage Explorer Clapton cut

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Cream Clapton Gibson Les Paul

EC blind faith 1969

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cream royal albert hall 68

Cream, Royal Albert Hall 1968.

Cream royal albert hall 1968

RAH ticket stub

Rumour has it that there is supposedly an un-edited film of the Cream Royal Albert Hall concert in 1968. Because apparently “back in the early seventies the York Theatre, in Montréal, ran a midnight triple feature of Pink Floyd, Cream and Jimi Hendrix and the film ran without the interviews or narration, and the numbers were played in their entirety”. Can you imagine? I get chills just thinking about it.

Other Famous Firebird players

allen collins firebird image

Allen Collins of Skynyrd was ALMOST a Firebird player.

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Allen Collins Gibson Firebird

Because a Reverse Firebird with a P90 isn’t really a Reverse Firebird anymore. Sorry.

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The skilled Kalamazoo girls at the Gibson plant who were building those beautiful birds at the time could have told you that.


Tom Petty and Cambell Gibson Firebird guitars
Tom Petty with a 76 Bicentennial bird and Mike Campbell with a vintage 60s specimen.

Paul Stanley Gibson Firebird 1 1975
Paul Stanley of Kiss with a smokin’ FB1. I read that when Kiss first was first starting out and auditioning guitarists that Ace Frehley showed up with a Firebird I and a 50 watt Marshall jmp with one of those gigantic 8×10 cabinets. You KNOW that would have been one sweet sounding rig….

def leppard steve clark firebird image

Steve Clark of Def Leppard with a sweet Bicentennial sunburst.

steve jones pistols firebird image

Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols.

bob stinson replacements firebird image

Bob Stinson of the Replacements. They were a great band, check out “Let it be” if you haven’t already.

Pat Smear of the Germs with Firebird

Pat Smear of the Germs.

jimmy zero firebird dead boys
Jimmy Zero of the Dead Boys with his medallion.

James Williamson 1974 Firebird
James Williamson in 1974 on the Stooges Raw Power tour.

keith richards with gibson firebird
Young Keith Richards with Bird

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johnny winter muddy waters graphic

I know this is ECs page but you just can’t talk about Firebirds without tipping your hat to the king of the birds. I doubt anyone will ever play better than Johnny Winter did. I want to point out also that unlike the majority of “guitar hero” types, Johnny also had a great voice. Here he is accompanying one of his heros, Muddy Waters. RIP Johnny, you were the baddest.

Johnny Winter Gibson Firebird

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Heliotricity Music Review

EC was pretty good I guess. At least he played something other than an LP for the majority of his career. If I see another 50+ year old white guy playing pentatonic blues on a freaking LP I think I’ll puke…

5 out of
5 with
2 ratings