It’s hard to keep up with the avalanche of models released by Gibson or Epiphone that bear the Joe Bonamassa stamp, whether replicas of his sunburst in the Collector’s Choice series or the Chinese version of his Flying V Korina, or Les Pauls in improbable colours. It all started in 2007 with this guitar, the first one built by Gibson that bears the name Bonamassa. This one is not even called Artist Proof yet, it is stamped “Proto JB”; the prototype. Patient zero. If this Les Paul hadn’t been excellent, Joe would have had his models made elsewhere.
For his first signature model, he chose a ‘57 Gold Top in a “dark back” version, i.e. with the back of the body and neck painted black. The two humbuckers are Burstbucker 2 and 3 controlled by unmatching control knobs, in the same configuration as Peter Green’s and Gary Moore’s Les Pauls (Top Hat for the treble pickup, Amber for the bass one), a nod to two of the master’s major influences. Lastly, the pick guard, pickup rings, and toggle switch ring are black rather than the usual cream, producing an instantly recognisable look. In fact, it’s the same prototype that we saw on stage in Joe’s hands every time he played a Gold Top during his most rock period, when he was plugging it into a Marshall Silver Jubilee. A historical guitar that has travelled thousands of miles.
Main guitar : Gibson Les Paul Standard 1959
An absolute “must-hear” track : Sloe Gin
It is not easy to invent yourself as an adult artist when you have been a child prodigy. Joe was Danny Gatton’s student and protégé to B.B. King before he was even old enough to drive a car, and was touring with the band Bloodline (with other child prodigies, the sons of stars like Miles Davis and Robby Krieger) before he could vote. But it all could have ended there. Indeed, the other members of Bloodline have all disappeared into the ether of show business. But Bonamassa has always had an unstoppable work ethic, and by dint of touring he ended up imposing his own sound and solo discography.
It all began in 2000 with A New Day Yesterday, a completely honest blues album on which guests like Leslie West, Greg Allman, and Rick Derringer accompanied the young musician. At the time, Bonamassa played Strats and Telecasters, and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s influence could still be in much of his phrasing. But little by little he found his own voice when he switched to a Les Paul and combined his Marshall Silver Jubilee with a few other boutique heads for a result as bluesy as it is fat and organic. It was also the time when producer Kevin Shirley began collaborating with Bonamassa. They first worked together on You & Me (2006) and still do to this day. Sloe Gin (2007) and Ballad Of John Henry (2009) are tracks that established Joe’s reputation as the saviour of the blues, the future of a style that was thought to be reserved for baby boomers on the eve of retirement.
Since then, Bonamassa has never slowed his touring pace. In fact, he has redoubled his inventiveness to vary his shows, whether in a tribute concert to Muddy Waters and Holwin’ Wolf, a tribute tour to the three Kings of Blues, or to the British Blues Boom. He also plays on the albums of singer Beth Hart as well as with the bands Black Country Communion (alongside bassist and singer Glenn Hughes) and Rock Candy Funk Party. At the same time, the collector’s instinct of the man who was born with a guitar in his hands (his father owns a store) has only intensified, to the point where he owns about ten sunbursts, two korina Flying Vs, and a staggering number of rare instruments. However, those guitars are not just stowed away in a safe place. They go on the road with Joe. After all, that’s what they were made for.