When Gibson set up its Custom Shop at the lowest point of its slump in the 1980s, the brand’s objective was to restore its image by reminding aficionados of its glory days. Among the first re-releases, we find the Explorer 58 in all its splendour, with the essential characteristic that makes the originals particularly sought-after instruments: the body crafted out of korina, a wood with an immediately distinctive colour and grain. There were only about one hundred korina models made in 1983, and they became guitars that specialists agree are among the greats put out there by Gibson.
Of those hundred, one of them arrived in Joe Bonamassa’s collection, who then played this beauty with its black pick guard (a good way to recognise it in photos or videos) on stage all over the world. It was used so much that it had to be refretted, and the maestro replaced the original pickups with his signature Seymour Duncan models. Even unplugged, this superb Explorer has a particularly rich and snappy resonance. Once plugged in, that snappy sound combines with the thickness of the pickups to produce an ideal blues rock sound. Even if few of us will have the opportunity to compare it to a genuine ‘58 that would cost the price of a very beautiful house, we can undoubtedly say that this ‘83 korina is one of the best “recent” Explorers out there.
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.