At first glance, you might think this guitar was a secret lovechild resulting from an affair between a Les Paul and a Skylark lap steel. In fact, it is a unique model made by the Gibson Custom Shop for Joe Bonamassa in 2008. It could have become a production model, as revealed by the term Prototype on the back of the head instead of a serial number. But Gibson decided against it, and this brilliant and completely crazy design remains the only one of its kind.
To design it, Bonamassa turned to his collection of 20 Skylark lap steels and kept the Korina body, the original Flying V chrome headstock logo, and the numbered fingerboard markers. The two single pickups mounted on a metal plate are controlled by a blend button that allows them to be mixed as finely as possible. Finally, an important detail, Joe added a magnet to the back of the head as a place to store a steel slide when not in use.
Indeed, as its look clearly indicates, the Skylark was designed for slide play, and that’s just what it was used for on most of Joe’s recordings between 2008 and 2016.
This guitar can be seen in Joe’s version of Burning Hell at the Borderline, on the Tour De Force DVD, and when he played One Of These Days at Nowhere In Particular. In short, this guitar is both a unique curiosity and an excellent highly-specialised instrument.
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.