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Eric Clapton’s New Dreadnought 12-string Guitar

Published // 08.Jan.22

Sharp-eyed fans who have watched Eric Clapton’s new release, “The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions,” spotted EC playing a beautiful new dreadnought 12-string guitar. It turns out that Eric had it specially commissioned for the project.

To find out more about this great sounding instrument, Where’s Eric! went straight to the source. Editor Tony Edser spoke with Dan Dearnley, who has been Eric’s guitar technician since 2009 and part of his road crew from 1998 to get all of the details. 

Dan Dearnley: Around July of last year (2020), I think Eric was thinking ahead to this acoustic kind of show and he asked for his 12-string guitars, but he didn’t have a Dreadnought 12-string, which is the big body size, but I did. I had one that I had made at college when I was 17. So, I went over with his guitars and also left mine with him for a week. Then the next time I saw him he said, “can you make me one then, how long will it take?” I said “yes” and went shopping for tools, a band saw and a pillar drill and set up a workshop here at the warehouse, with a proper Swedish woodwork bench.

Within a couple of weeks though we got sent a 12-string from Martin, a standard HD-12, and Eric just loved it, so that was my benchmark, to match that guitar.  I sourced the wood from a friend of mine called Vince (Hockey), down in Southampton, who, for quite a long time now has built guitars and done Martin repairs, and he dug out some 25-year-old Rosewood that he had been keeping, and some Sitka Spruce. The spruce had some staining around the edges from being so old, which I thought would come out with sanding, but it didn’t, so the guitar looks a bit old already!

I started making a 6-string as a prototype because I wanted to make sure I had all the specialist tools I needed, to do the binding and the rosette for example.  So, I worked with them side by side, practicing on the 6-string then making the 12-string. I did the lacquering around Christmas (2020), then hung it up to dry.

Before we started the rehearsals for Cowdray House, I was able to take it to Eric’s house and give it to him but it was only there that I saw the 2 guitars together at the same time. It was a crucial moment to see how they compared.

We had rehearsals in the Walled Garden, which is part of Cowdray Park, a bright sounding room next to the Old Ruins. So, I was then really able to compare the two guitars, but they didn’t quite match up – my one wasn’t as good, sound-wise as the Martin, it didn’t have the same bottom-end. I realised the problem was when I’d put the struts on the belly of the guitar, I’d beefed them up a little bit and made them a bit too heavy (thinking about the string tension). So, the answer was to take some wood off basically, take all the strings off, reach inside and plane away by feel. It’s quite a drastic and risky thing to do but I thought if I don’t do this Eric’s not going to use it.

TE: Had Eric mentioned specific songs he wanted the 12-string for?

DD: Eric sent us a demo of all the songs we were doing, just him playing at home, and the first four songs were to be on 12-string; “Man of the World” was one, he was just finger picking, it sounded amazing, haunting even.

TE: So how long did the whole process take you from Day 1 to handing it over in person?

DD: About 4 months, apart from getting the workshop ready and getting the wood, so about 6 months in all. Definitely a lockdown project! I isolated in an American RV (camper van) at the warehouse, it’s a bit like a tour bus, very comfortable and I could put in some hard graft to get things moving along.

TE: But it wasn’t an entirely acoustic performance though?

DD: Eric also played a Gibson 335 at low volume through a Fender Champ situated behind his chair. We did try another arch-top Gibson 275, which didn’t quite work out. It’s in between a Les Paul and a 335 semi-acoustic, almost like a jazz guitar really. We also had the Strat there but didn’t use it and an old 50’s Gibson Byrdland, which sounded amazing with the Champ. I had some picks made up saying Not Plugged in Again, that’s what Eric was calling it.

“The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions” was released on November 12th and is available worldwide in a wide variety of digital and physical formats.

In the United States, it is available on:
DVD+CD, Blu-ray+CD, 4K UHD+Blu-ray, 2 LPs pressed on yellow vinyl, and a Deluxe Edition containing the DVD, Blu-ray & CD packaged in a 40 page 12” x 12” hardback photo book, digital video & digital audio. In addition, a CD-only version is available exclusively from Target.
Buy It Now

In all other global territories, it is available on:
DVD, Blu-ray, CD, DVD+CD, Blu-ray+CD, 4K UHD+Blu-ray, 180-gram 2LP, limited edition 2LP pressed on 180-gram yellow vinyl, and a Deluxe Edition containing the DVD, Blu-ray & CD packaged in a 40 page 12” x 12” hardback photo book, digital video & digital audio.
Buy It Now

The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions Track Listing
01. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
02. Golden Ring
03. Black Magic Woman
04. Man of the World
05. Kerry
06. After Midnight
07. Bell Bottom Blues
08. Key to the Highway
09. River of Tears
10. Rock Me Baby
11. Believe in Life
12. Going Down Slow
13. Layla        
14. Tears in Heaven
15. Long Distance Call
16. Bad Boy
17. Got My Mojo Working

Eric Clapton’s new custom 12-string dreadnought built for him by Dan Dearnley was used on the following tracks:
01. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
02. Golden Ring
03. Black Magic Woman
04. Man of the World

https://mercury-studios.lnk.to/EricClaptonTLITB