In 1955, guitarist Howard Reed Jr. placed an order in a Dallas store for a Fender Stratocaster, an instrument that was only a year old back then.The Texan had a very specific request: instead of the two-tone sunburst in which the guitar came by default, he wanted it black. Unbeknownst to him, that guitar was to be the first black Stratocaster, and one of the first custom color Fender overall.
That Strat would already have been a significant historic artifact should the story end there, but in 1958 Reed became the new guitarist for Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps. That gave him the urge to decorate his guitar with the initials H.A.R. in big letter stickers (the infamous briefcase letters) so the audience would know who he was.
After Reed's death in 1981, the guitar found its way to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame from 1988 to 2013, at which point it went to Joe Bonamassa's collection (Joe's reputation as a connoisseur of rare and historic guitars is second to none). Finally, in 2017, the Fender Custom Shop got together with Joe to offer a series of dead-on replicas of the HAR Stratocaster, with master builder Dennis Galuszka in charge of the heavy lifting. Galuszka has also built guitars for the likes of Andy Summers, Paul McCartney and Johnny Marr.
The final result is baffling, each and every detail being extremely realistic. This guitar was the first one built by Galuszka and it comes from Joe Bonamassa's own collection. The guitarist had to give the green light to this prototype before the official run could begin. The following 25 copies are very rare and sought after, but this one is the original replica.
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.