Blackie is probably the most famous guitar in the world. Blackie was put together by Eric Clapton from parts from three different Fender Stratocasters. Over the years, Clapton called Blackie a “remarkable guitar” and “a part of me.”
In the introduction to the book, The Stratocaster Chronicles (published 2004), Eric wrote in part:
My first Strat was Brownie, and I played it for years and years, a wonderful guitar. Then I was in Nashville at a store called Sho-Bud, as I recall, and they had a whole rack of old ’50s Strats in the back, going second-hand. They were so out of fashion you could pick up a perfectly genuine Strat for two hundred or three hundred dollars — even less! So I bought all of them. I gave one to Steve Winwood, one to George Harrison, and one to Pete Townshend, and kept a few for myself. I liked the idea of a black body, but the black one I had was in bad condition, so I took apart the ones I kept and assembled different pieces to make Blackie, which is a hybrid, a mongrel.
In his interview with Christie’s for the 2004 Guitar Auction in which Blackie was sold, Eric said:
It is such a personal thing – I almost made this guitar myself – from different components and I’ve never done that before or since. From six of seven Strats I had bought in Sho-Bud in Nashville. They had them all [displayed] in the back room, when Stratocasters wer out of fashion. I bought them for 100 bucks each… I brought them back [to England]. I gave [three of] them to friends: George [Harrison], Steve [Winwood] and Pete [Townshend]; and I kept two or three for myself and built this [Blackie] out of those. With pickups from one, scratchplate from another, and hte neck from another. i playted it until it was [time to retire the guitar]. It is still playable…it’s immensely playable, but I suppose I was concerned that I was probably doing it more harm than good taking it out….I had so much affection for the guitar that I didn’t want to work it anymore really, I think it was time to retire it, because it was getting thin. The neck was [beginning to] wear down…But having said that, it would still come out on special occasions and it go played on albums…
In his autobiography, published in October 2007, Eric provided these details on Blackie’s origins:
The guitar I chose to use for my return to recording was one I had built myself, a black Fender Stratocaster I had nicknamed “Blackie.” In the early days, in spite of my admiration for both Buddy Holly and Buddy Guy, both Strat players, I had predominantly played a Gibson Les Paul, but one day while on tour with the Dominos, I saw Steve Winwood with a white Strat and inspired by him, I went into Sho-Bud in Nashville, and they had a stack of Strats in the back of the shop. They were completely out of fashion at the time and I bought six of them for a song, no more than about a hundred dollars each. These vintage instruments would be worth about a hundred times that today. When I got home, I gave one to Steve, one to Pete Townshend and another to George Harrison and kept the rest. I then took the other three and made one guitar out of them, using the best components of each.
Blackie was Eric Clapton’s primary stage and studio guitar between 1970 and 1985. The guitar debuted at the Rainbow Concert on 13 January 1973 (the early show – Eric Clapton played a Les Paul he borrowed from George Harrison at the second late show). Blackie was retired in 1985 after years of service in the studio and on the road. Not only had it been in the studio for every album recorded during that time, it was used at such famous events as the ARMS benefit tour in 1983 and Live Aid. Blackie was also used in Eric Clapton’s first music video, “Forever Man” filmed to support his album “Behind The Sun.”
Blackie ventured out of retirement on two occasions while still in Eric Clapton’s ownership. The first was for a television commercial for Honda Cars Japan in 1990 at the company’s request. Eric was filmed over-dubbing some new licks onto his track, “Bad Love” (from the 1989 album, “Journeyman”). The second instance was for one number at the Royal Albert Hall in 1991.
Blackie was also used as the template for Fender’s line of Eric Clapton Signature Model Stratocasters. He wrote in The Stratocaster Chronicles,
I played those old ones so much they wore out. Blackie’s neck was actually narrower because of all the playing I’d done on it, and the frets were quite low. I hadn’t done much restoration on my old ones, so I gave Blackie’s neck to Fender as a template, and they built the Eric Clapton Signature guitars I’m playing now, which are more robust, with more power in the pickups.
In 2001, Lee Dickson, Eric Clapton’s guitar technician from 1978-2008, said “Blackie is still around and 100% playable, contrary to all rumors otherwise. It’s the nature of those old Fenders that the neck can eventually loosen in the neck pocket, even with the bolts tightened. It had been refretted a couple of times and there was a lot of wear on the edge of the neck, which made it difficult to get E string vibrato easily. We tossed around the idea to have a new neck made for it, but eventually the decision was made to just retire Blackie.”
In addition to being heard on numerous recordings, Blackie graced several Clapton album covers including “Slowhand,” “Just One Night”, and “The Cream of Eric Clapton”. The guitar was also featured on a t-shirt sold during Eric’s 2004 World Tour.
Eric Clapton sold Blackie on 24 June 2004 at Christie’s Auction House, New York to raise funds for Crossroads Centre Antigua (an alcohol and drug treatment centre) he founded in 1997. Blackie was purchased by the Guitar Center for $959,500 and held the record for world’s most expensive guitar at the time.
Also in 2004, Blackie was named as one of the top ten Fender Stratocasters “to die for” by Fender G.B. Ireland. Read the full article at Ten Stratocasters Guitars To Die For.
In 2006, the Guitar Center, with Eric Clapton’s permission, announced it would issue a limited edition of Blackie replicas in connection with Fender Guitars a part of their master-built Tribute Series. A portion of each sale benefits the Crossroads Centre at Antigua. On 17 May, 2006 Eric played the first Blackie Prototype for three songs during his concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. On 24 November 2006 (the day after Thanksgiving in America and known as “Black Friday” as it is the busiest shopping day of the year with many sales in shops), 275 Blackie replicas went on sale to the public and sold out in one day. One hundred eighty five were sold in the United States through the Guitar Center. The remainder were sold internationally.
Since purchasing Blackie, the Guitar Center has had the guitar on regular display – first travelling to exhibits at stores around the U.S. and guitar-centric events including the 2007, 2010 and 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festivals. From October 2014, Blackie has taken up permanent residence at Guitar Center’s flagship store on West 44th Street in New York City.