Eric. The Red.

Eric Clapton's 64 ES-335. Is there a more famous 335 on the planet Or in the universe?


With apologies to BB King fans, the most famous ES ever is Eric Clapton’s red ’64 ES-335 which he bought new in London that same year. But suppose his career never took off after the Yardbirds and he was just another obscure British Invasion blues/rock player with a 335 to sell. Let’s say he came to me and I spent a few hours evaluating it. How would that go? First, I would take a look at the serial number-they were pretty accurate until ’65 so you can pretty accurately date the early ones with just the serial.

It's clear it used to have Klusons and reflector knobs back when photos were black and white and Eric was a kid.

The label and headstock both show 67473 which makes it a mid 64. The Gibson ledger shows it was shipped on May 20th along with a number of identical 335’s. Condition is good but it shows some rash on the back and a fair number of dings and scratches. It is clearly a players guitar. It’s been refretted, probably more than once and the work is professional. Looks like a two piece top to me which is not unusual for a red 64. Let’s take a look at the parts. Right off the bat, I can see that the guitar has Grovers. They are worn gold Grover patent pending Rotomatics which are pretty decent tuners. Fortunately, he used the same screw holes as the original Klusons. Still, that’ll knock off a few bucks. The truss cover is unusual for a 64. I’ve seen truss covers with the word “custom” a number of times but not with that wide border-like a J-200. Certainly not original. There’s a small stamp sized sticker on the back of the headstock-probably from some “Indian Mystic” phase the owner went through in the 60’s. Who does he think he is? George Harrison? ┬áThat probably won’t hurt the value if I can get it off cleanly. OK, let’s loosen the strings and see what else we have. OK, the bridge isn’t original-it’s a patent┬ánumber and should be the earlier type that says ABR-1 so we’ll have to find a vintage correct bridge for it. The patent number bridges didn’t show up until ’65 and nickel ones are rare but this one appears to be nickel. Clearly, it got swapped out at some point probably because it was sagging. The pickups look original but they have both been opened at some point (I don’t care what the Gibson guy says in the video-they’ve both been opened). The bridge pickup rout is the solid type which is kind of 50-50 for 64’s. I prefer the tone of the solid ones to the ones with the cutout (that is, until I have to pull the harness). So, it’s clear we’ve got some issues with this particular guitar. The stoptail is original and there is no evidence of any other tailpiece having been installed during its lifetime. That’s good. So, let me string it back up and see how she plays. Nice. So, what we have here is an 8.0-8.5 condition ’64 ES-335 with some changed parts and a refret. It has a nice medium chunky neck profile, a couple of real nice sounding early patent number pickups that have been opened but don’t appear to have been rewound (although it can be pretty hard to tell). It’s gonna cost me a few hundred bucks for a correct bridge and probably $450 for a set of single line double ring Klusons and a set of adapters to properly fit the shafts. Single line double ring tuners are getting tough to find. Then a hundred bucks for a correct truss rod cover. Uh. oh, wait a second. Those knobs look wrong. This is a 64 and so it should have reflectors and these are bonnets. OK, there’s another $150 for a set of 60’s reflectors. Some guys just can’t leave their guitars alone. And that case. Much as I like things like band names and a little sense of history, this thing looks pretty well abused. A fair amount of Tolex is missing and it’s kind of coming apart. It’s got a big stencil on it that says “Cream”. Never heard of ’em. Kind of a dumb name for a band-not “The Cream”, just “Cream”. Confusing. Cream of what? Of the crop? Of Mushroom? Of Wheat? So, what’s a guitar like this worth? Well, if I get the right parts and bring it back to vintage correct specs, a stoptail 64 in this condition might bring $16000 or so. If only it had been played by somebody famous. Then it would be worth, say, $847,500. Give or take a few bucks for correct parts.

12 Responses to “Eric. The Red.”

  1. rob says:

    I caught his act at the Sports Arena in San Diego in 1968 but we were sitting too far from the stage to make out exactly which guitar he was playing. Now after all these years there are numerous internet annecdotes about him only using an SG but there are photos purportedly taken during that tour showing him with the red 335. I guess it didn’t matter a whole lot with that huge stack of Marshalls behind him.

  2. chuckNC says:

    Strange that so many people believe this guitar played a big part in Eric’s musical life, some imagining that they hear it on all kinds of Cream material. Not that it was/is a bad guitar but it never really did have its day with EC. Even though he bought it while still with the Yardbirds it never was his go-to guitar. When his “Beano Burst” was stolen, he sought out anonther Lester. Then came the Fool SG, then the Firebird I, then Brownie, then Blackie.

    Just goes to show that there’s something about the ES models that inspires people’s imaginations — photos of him with it abound. My first recollection of EC is a b/w photo in a late ’60’s mag of Eric sitting on a blonde Fender amp and playing this guitar.

    Alvin Lee’s Big Red or Ritchie Blackmore’s ’61 335 would both be more interesting to me, as they saw lots more action as the #1 guitars of their owners for many years.

    Chuck Berry, BB king and Freddie King may have changed guitars fairly often but you always saw them with ES models in their hands. Just seems wierd to me that because Eric had one in his collection, his is the most famous example. Not arguing that point, mind you. It’s not up to me to decide what gets to be considered iconic. [smiley inserted here]

  3. RAB says:

    Re the above mention about the red 335 and how much it may have been
    used by E.C. hasn’t it been fairly well established that the live and famous take of “Crossroads” with its iconic solo was played on this red 335? In that case some of the best Blues Rock tone and playing of all time!

  4. rob says:

    I saw Ten Years After play in Balboa Stadium in San Diego about two weeks before they went east to play Woodstock. That boy played the hell out of his 335 that day.

  5. RAB says:

    And I saw a show at Fillmore West where Cactus opened for Ten Years After. Jim McCarty completely blew away Alvin Lee, much to Lee’s frustration. Alvin’s reaction was to play faster and faster in that “full-tilt” boogie tempo he seems to resort to for most of his solos but to no avail! He was no match for McCarty’s tasteful and toneful playing on his ’59 Sunburst Les Paul Standard through Marshall set-up!

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Actually, I believe it’s been established that the “famous” take of Crossroads wasn’t played on a 335. Many believe it was an SG. I heard the boys at Guitar Center who spent close to a million bucks for the guitar were behind that rumor. I’m sure Gibson did their part to hype that “fact” as well. I wasn’t a huge concert goer in my youth-I was either too poor or too busy. Not to mention the fact that most decent bands didn’t include Schenectady on their tours. Saratoga was the nearest decent venue. I never saw Cream live.

  7. RAB says:

    Thanks Charlie re the Crossroads guitar-reference. I never got to see Cream or Hendrix (I saw The Who instead, missed Jimmy at the Berkeley Community Theater Summer of 1970 darn it!) but did see some other legendary guitar bands including Johnny Winter And (Derringer was hot!) and the last S.F. shows for the Allman Bros. where Duane and Berry were alive…

  8. rob says:

    RIP Alvin Lee.

  9. OK Guitars says:

    Funny, I just mentioned him. All of us who were players at the time of Woodstock will never forget his performance there (I was 17 and he was a big influence)

  10. rob says:

    Just a few months before Woodsstock, they were the opening act at Balboa Stadium for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (and Taylor and Reeves) and the Jefferson Airplane. By the time they finished “Goin’Home”, we were all believers and other bands were nice but not as memorable.

  11. martin mocha says:

    its amazing how disinformation sticks to the internet like a f.cking virus….for the record to those who give a sh.t, Clapton NEVER, NEVER used his Gibson ES-335 during the US Cream Farewell tour between October 4 and November 4 1968….he ONLY used the 335 with Cream during their FINAL FAREWELL PERFORMANCE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL DURING THE REHEARSAL PUBLICITY SHOTS (WHERE HE’S WEARING A BLACK LEATHER JACKET) AND DURING THE SECOND SET OF THE CONCERT, AS SEEN IN THE MOVIE. HE USED THE FIREBIRD DURING THE FIRST SET. EC DID USE THE 335 THE FOLLOWING YEAR DURING THE BLIND FAITH US TOUR AND IN EUROPE. During Cream’s US Farewell tour, Clapton ONLY used two guitars, 1 Les Paul Standard he exchanged with Paull Kossoff and 1 Gibson reverse Firebird.

    I don’t know what it takes to correct the astounding bullsh.t that gets into the internet creating history revisionism. Another Clapton myth, that is quite malicious , is his iconic live Crossroads solo was edited….it was NOT!!! Confirmed by both the engineer that worked the boards and mixed the recording and by hand held audience recordings defitiviely proving that the live Winterland Crossroads of March 10, 1968 was performed exactly as you hear it. Lets get it right.

  12. Frazzled says:

    I’ve seen Clapton countless times now, and hoping yet for another though he now says he is retired. I have ticket stubs for nearly all of em.
    Only two gigs in all those that I saw, from mighty stadium rock to a pub where he walked out onstage with a local band… spanning from ’70s to 2010s… did he not have his 335 onstage for a song or two, and that was only after it had sold.
    An early show (for me) about ’77 or ’78 was one where a pickup went out on a Stratocaster and he played the night through with that cherry Gibson. He was running a Dual Showman Fender amplifier and something we couldn’t recognize. Long time ago now!

    One of the iconic musical instruments in history.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)