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Crossroads 2023 | The Greatest (Guitar) Show on Earth Features Exclusive Tributes by Fender, Martin and PRS

Crossroads 2023 | The Greatest (Guitar) Show on Earth Features Exclusive Tributes by Fender, Martin and PRS

The 2023 Crossroads Guitar Festival lands at the Arena in Los Angeles, September 23 and 24. It’s the biggest, baddest celebration of guitarists, guitars and guitar gear curated by a certified legend. Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival officially kicked off in 2004, as a benefit for the Crossroads Centre substance-abuse rehabilitation facility in Antigua, which was co-founded in 1998 by Clapton and hospital executive Richard Conte.

Although a similar event was held at Madison Square Garden in 1999, it was titled “Eric Clapton & Friends in Concert: A Benefit for the Crossroads Centre at Antigua.” Five years later, the big show evolved into the Crossroads Guitar Festival, inaugurating its new identity at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

The 2019 Crossroads Guitar Festival Finale

It was a massive and jubilant ritual exhibiting the diverse power of the guitar, showcasing transcendent players such as Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Susan Tedeschi, Bo Diddley, Steve Vai, Robert Lockwood Jr., Hubert Sumlin, Sheryl Crow, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer and scores of others. The 6-string carnival carried on in 2007 and 2010 (Bridgeview, Illinois), 2013 (Madison Square Garden, New York City), 2019 (American Airlines Center, Dallas) and this year’s event in Los Angeles.

Guitar Center has been a co-sponsor of the Crossroads Guitar Festival—as well as supporting the Crossroads at Antigua Foundation—since its Cotton Bowl debut in 2004. For the 2023 fête, the company will once again host the Guitar Center Festival Village, inviting manufacturers such as Fender, Martin, Gibson, PRS, BOSS, Marshall, Shure, Ernie Ball, Yamaha, Ibanez, D’Angelico and other top-tier gear makers to present interactive exhibits that put the music in people’s hands. Guitar Center is also setting up a mini exhibit hall of historic stunners from its multi-million-dollar Legends Collection. You’ll be able to see Clapton’s legendary “Blackie” Stratocaster, the Cream Gibson ES-335, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny” Strat, and more.

Martin Limited-Edition Eric Clapton D-45 Brazilian Rosewood Acoustic Guitar

You can’t touch those museum pieces, of course, but you can get a peek at some limited-edition collectibles that you may be able to make your own. The 2023 festival will mark the unveiling of the 25th Anniversary Crossroads Collection—an exclusive partnership between Eric Clapton and Guitar Center that honors some very special and renowned guitars from different stages of his career. The 25th Anniversary Crossroads Collection is the latest in a long line of Guitar Center collaborations that honor the event with rare, fun and magnificent instruments crafted by our partners at Fender, Martin and PRS Guitars. Available exclusively from Guitar Center in America, a significant portion of the sales of these limited edition guitars will be contributed to the Crossroads Centre.

Clapton fanatics and Gibson enthusiasts should also check out the 2019 Crossroads Collection Gibson Custom Eric Clapton 1964 Firebird I VOS.

“My identity is always going to be linked to Crossroads,” said Clapton in a 2019 Guitar Center interview. “I can't walk away, so I've come back to do the thing I know how to do best, which is play, and to also invite people that I have high admiration for in the music world.”

Martin Eric Clapton D-45 Madagascar Rosewood Ltd Ed Acoustic Guitar

Clapton’s esteem is shared by all of the musicians who contribute, collaborate and perform at Crossroads. So many guest stars and surprise jams have graced the festival stages that the event can almost be described as a vortex of thrills. You can hear the enthusiasm from the players themselves by taking a peek back at our article, Backstage at Eric Clapton's 2019 Crossroads Guitar Festival.

Whether you’re a guitar player or guitar fan—or both—the Crossroads Guitar Festival is a massive feel-good adventure on many levels. So many guitar stars. A bounty of amazing music. Lots of cool gear to check out. And, of course, your attendance is helping a community of people in need.

“This is a momentous occasion,” says Michael Doyle, Guitar Center General Manager, Guitars. “It’s not just the 25th year of the Crossroads Centre, it’s also the 60th anniversary of Eric Clapton as a professional musician. This year’s festival is going to have lots to celebrate.”

Eric Clapton’s History With Fender Guitars

The mythic “Clapton is God” graffiti appeared in Islington, London, around 1965, 1966 or 1967, which means the proclamation could have originated while he was using a Fender Telecaster in the Yardbirds, a Gibson Les Paul Standard during his sojourn with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, or the Gibson SG Standard he favored in Cream.

But there was about to be another transformation. In 1967, Clapton purchased a 1956 sunburst Stratocaster—the iconic “Brownie”—but decided not to use it on the upcoming Cream album, Disraeli Gears, or with supergroup Blind Faith. (Although the Fender Telecaster he did use in Blind Faith—read about that iconic guitar here—was modified with Brownie’s neck and recreated for Crossroads in 2019.) It was his stint in Delaney & Bonnie that finally got Brownie off the bench.

“It’s just right for the kind of bag I was playing with them,” Clapton revealed to Guitar Player in 1970. “It’s really, really good—a great sound.”

He elaborated further on Brownie’s influence in a 2013 interview: “I think Brownie dictated the way I played to a certain extent. The Strat has less sustain, it’s harder to bend on, and it’s harder to hold the bends and apply vibrato, so I play more notes.”

Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster Limited Edition Blu Scozia Masterbuilt by Todd Krause

By 1975, Brownie was more or less sidelined for a new player—Blackie, which brought yet another epic tale to the Clapton guitar saga.  

The story begins with a rack full of ’50s Stratocaster guitars in a Nashville music store, circa 1970.

“When I was on tour with Derek and the Dominos, I went into Sho-Bud in Nashville, which had a stack of second-hand Strats in the back of the shop,” Clapton related to Britain’s Daily Mail in 2013. “I felt like I’d stepped into a gold mine.”

Even better, as Clapton wrote in his introduction to The Stratocaster Chronicles, these vintage beauties were rather out-of-fashion at the time, so the going rate for each guitar was around $200 to $400, or less.

“I bought all of them,” he said.

Generously, he gifted one Strat each to Pete Townshend, George Harrison and Steve Winwood, and held onto three for himself.

“I built Blackie out of those,” he told Christie’s Auction House in 2004. “It is such a personal thing, because I almost made this guitar myself from different components—a body from one, the scratch plate from another, pickups from others and a hard V-shape neck from another.”

Ted Newman Jones—a Nashville builder—was tasked with the assembly, and Blackie went (very) public for the first time at the January 13, 1973, Rainbow Concert that Pete Townshend organized to coax Clapton out of a period of drug use and inactivity.

“I think Brownie was the prototype for Blackie in terms of what I was looking for in the ideal working guitar,” explained Clapton. “That was the criteria—could I go on the road hard with this guitar? Could it handle me playing flat out every night of the week?”

Everyday players with a healthy gear-acquisition budget have been able to sample the magic of Clapton’s beloved Stratocaster guitars through Brownie and Blackie Tribute replicas scrupulously crafted by the Fender Custom Shop.

Fender Eric Clapton CRASH Signature Stratocaster Limited Edition

“I get so many different sounds coming out of the Stratocaster that it’s hard to compare it to any other guitar,” Clapton declared in The Stratocaster Chronicles. “My other guitars, I only visit them from time to time. I rarely use anything else but the Strat. I come back to the fact that I don’t think there’s anything on the guitar that doesn’t come from logic. I would challenge anybody to come up with a better design for a guitar. The Stratocaster is as good as it gets, isn’t it?”

Epilogue: Brownie and Blackie were retired in 1985. Both guitars were sold at auction to benefit the Crossroads Centre. Brownie was auctioned in 1999 for $497,000 and Blackie sold for $959,500 in 2004. At the time of their respective auctions, Brownie (which was recreated by Fender and Guitar Center in 2013) and Blackie (recreated by both companies in 2006) won the title of the world’s most expensive guitar.

It should be noted that Guitar Center’s support of the Crossroads Festival extends beyond promotional initiatives and strategies. We purchased Blackie, as well as Clapton’s Gibson ES-335 ($847,500), his Martin 00-21 ($89,625) and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny” Stratocaster ($623,500), doing our part to help post an auction total of $7,438,624 for the Crossroads Centre in 2004. In addition to raising money for Clapton’s treatment facility, our goal was to ensure these historic guitars could be enjoyed up-close by fans. So, you can see Blackie, Lenny and other renowned gems from our collection in person at the 2023 Guitar Center Festival Village.

Crossroads 25th Anniversary Stratocaster Models

For the 2023 class of Crossroads Eric Clapton signature models, everyone involved—Clapton, Guitar Center and Fender—wanted to do something extra special for the 25th anniversary of the Crossroads Centre. Here’s what they came up with …

Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster Limited Edition by Todd Krause in Blu Scozia

Guitar Center’s Michael Doyle started it all by asking Clapton about a Signature Stratocaster finish that would be unique for the 25th anniversary.

“I saw him in London and, knowing he is such a Ferrari fan, I wondered if he had bought any Ferraris lately, and if we should do a color in honor of his new car,” says Doyle. “He answered, ‘Actually, I have, and it’s painted in Blu Scozia.’”

Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster Ltd Ed Electric Guitar by Todd Krause Blu Scozia

Pictured: Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster Ltd Ed Electric Guitar by Todd Krause Blu Scozia

The opulent deep blue is also known as “Scottish blue,” because it’s used in the flag of Scotland. (Not much of a surprise here, but “Blu Scozia” is Italian for Scottish blue.) Doyle actually took a prototype of the Blu Scozia guitar to the tailor-made room of a local Ferrari dealership and compared the Ferrari paint samples with the Strat’s finish.

“I took some photos, and it was a perfect match,” said Doyle. So, I sent them to Eric and he said, ‘Approved.’ The vintage-tinted maple neck added a warm glow to the already distinctive appearance.”

The Blu Scozia run is limited to 25 guitars—all built by Master Builder Todd Krause (Clapton’s preferred Strat builder).

Fender Eric Clapton CRASH Stratocaster Limited Edition

Clapton’s discovery of New York street artist John “CRASH” Matos, culminated with him asking the illustrator to paint his guitars for Crossroads, starting with the 2004 festival. 

“The guitar that’s so synonymous with the 2019 Crossroads was a CRASH guitar, yet it's the one guitar we didn’t recreate for Eric’s fans and admirers around the world,” said Doyle. “So, for 2023, I thought, ‘Yeah, we should probably do a CRASH, but with a guitar that’s a bit more affordable than the Custom Shop models we’ve done in the past.’”

Fender Eric Clapton CRASH Stratocaster Ltd Ed Electric Guitar

Pictured: Fender Eric Clapton CRASH Stratocaster Ltd Ed Electric Guitar

Happily, that’s exactly what happened. The CRASH is limited to 60 guitars worldwide at a price of $3,499.

“It's certainly a beautiful piece,” enthuses Doyle. “The guitar is basically an Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster. You get the fabulous maple neck with Eric’s preferred V shape. You get the midrange boost control and five-way switch. It's everything you'd really want in a Strat, but with a stunning piece of artwork on the body.”

Eric Clapton and Martin Acoustic Guitars

The popular whirlwind that was Clapton’s 1992 Unplugged album—recorded for the MTV Unplugged TV series—won three Grammy Awards, became the best-selling live album of all time (as well as the top seller of his career) and arguably kick-started a gigantic acoustic music resurgence amongst rockers, shredders, metalheads and pretty much anyone seeking an upswing in record sales by wielding a flat-top. For that historic event, Clapton played a 1939 Martin 000-42 and a 1966 Martin 000-28 with some D-45 trimmings.

But as huge as Unplugged became to Clapton and acoustic aficionados, the show certainly wasn’t the first time Clapton had relied on a Martin for musical support. He cradled a 1968 Martin D-45 at the debut of Derek and the Dominos at the Lyceum Theater in London on June 14, 1970. The guitar was also used during the short lifespan of Blind Faith, it showed up onstage with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, and appeared on Clapton solo albums from the ’70s onward.

Eric Clapton playing a Martin D-45 Acoustic Guitar

Epilogue: Clapton’s Martin 000-42 was sold at auction in 2004 for $791,500. The 1968 Martin D-45 followed in 2021, selling for $625,000. For those who can’t get enough news about special Martin models, we included two fabulous Martin acoustics in the 2019 Crossroads collection, the 00042-EC-Z Eric Clapton Crossroads Ziricote and the 0042JM-C John Mayer Crossroads Cocobolo Parlor (commemorating Mayer’s appearance at the festival).

Crossroads 25th Anniversary Martin Acoustics

The 2023 Crossroads models include a blockbuster, extremely rare D-45, as well as a wonderful D-45 that’s a limited edition, but, unlike its sibling, not the only one in existence. There’s also a surprising rethink of Clapton’s 1966 Martin 000-28.

Martin Eric Clapton D-45 Brazilian Rosewood Limited-Edition Acoustic Guitar

The Martin Eric Clapton D-45 is a loving replica of his Derek and the Dominos acoustic, but with a massively colossal, epic upgrade. Since Brazil regulated the export of its rosewood around 1967—and the CITES treaty imposed its strictest protection of Brazilian rosewood in 1991—guitars crafted with the endangered wood have become virtually non-existent. But thanks to Chris Martin’s personal stash of legal Brazilian rosewood, a single D-45 could be made from this prized and exceptionally rare tonewood.

Martin Limited-Edition Eric Clapton D-45 Brazilian Rosewood Acoustic Guitar

Pictured: Martin Eric Clapton D-45 Brazilian Rosewood Ltd Ed Acoustic Guitar

“Martin had only three Brazilian rosewood spreads in the vault, but only one was big enough to make a dreadnought Martin,” says Doyle. “When I saw it, the first word that came to my mind was ‘luscious.’”

Martin Eric Clapton D-45 Madagascar Rosewood Limited-Edition Acoustic Guitar

Let’s face facts—only one person on the planet is going to be able to take home the Eric Clapton D-45 Brazilian Rosewood model. However, the limited-edition D-45 Eric Clapton Madagascar Rosewood gives 25 more guitarists across the globe the chance to play “Layla” with a truly authentic tone.

Eric Clapton D-45 Madagascar Rosewood Ltd Ed Acoustic Guitar

Pictured: Martin Eric Clapton D-45 Madagascar Rosewood Ltd Ed Acoustic Guitar

Martin Eric Clapton D-28 Signature Limited-Edition Acoustic Guitar

Okay. Don’t start. Everyone is extremely aware that Clapton’s most legendary Martin “28” is an 000-28, not a D-28. The thinking was to do a larger, dreadnought version of the ever popular 000-28, but the Eric Clapton D-28 Signature is much more than an upgrade in girth and resonance.

Martin Eric Clapton D-28 Signature Ltd Ed Acoustic Guitar

Pictured: Martin Eric Clapton Signature D-28—Limited-Edition Acoustic Guitar

“There has never been an Eric Clapton Signature D-28, so this is special, but it wasn’t solely about, ‘Let’s make a bigger guitar,’” says Doyle. “For example, getting Eric’s modified V neck on this model actually required some R&D and retooling to ensure the neck would work on the platform. This isn’t just a D-28 that Eric slapped his name on—this is a proper Clapton guitar.”

The Eric Clapton D-28 Signature is limited to a worldwide run of 60.

Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton

Long-time friends and creative co-conspirators, Santana was one of the first artists Clapton asked to perform at the 2004 Crossroads Festival in Dallas. When Santana immediately accepted the invite, Clapton reportedly said, “Now, I have my headliner.” (We wonder what status Clapton attributed to himself, as Crossroads is, after all, his party.) Santana is back for the 2023 festival, which gives us the opportunity to add a gorgeous Private Stock PRS to the collection.

PRS Guitars Private Stock Carlos Santana I Crossroads 2023

Paul Reed Smith Private Stock Carlos Santana I Crossroads 2023 Santana Orange

Santana’s more than 40-year partnership with Paul Reed Smith has birthed some incredible signature guitars, as well as the affordable SE line. “I believed in Paul from our first meeting,” said Santana. “Paul and I share a common vision to be authentic, genuine, honest, sincere, true and ‘for real’ on every note.”

Private Stock Carlos Santana I Crossroads 2023 Santana Orange

Pictured: PRS Private Stock Carlos Santana 1 Crossroads 2023

The exquisite Carlos Santana I Crossroads 2023 model pays homage to one of the earliest designs Smith crafted for Santana. In addition to a Brazilian rosewood fretboard and “pre-’85” body, headstock and parts, the Santana I includes Santana humbuckers with coil tapping. Only 10 will be produced worldwide.

Get the scoop on the 2019 PRS Private Stock Carlos Santana I.

Go Down to the Crossroads

As Michael Doyle stated at the beginning of this article, “There’s lots to celebrate” at the 2023 Crossroads Guitar Festival. For our part, besides supporting the event since its 2004 debut, we love working with Eric, the guitar manufacturers and other artists to curate unique and special guitar collections for the festival. We’re proud of these remarkable 2023 offerings, and the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to the Crossroads Centre with pride. And, remember, if you visit the 2023 Crossroads Guitar Festival, don’t forget to check out the Guitar Center Festival Village. See ya there!

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