Joe Bonamassa has had such a collection of guitars that it is difficult for even the most observant fans to remember them all. Of course, we remember his various sunbursts, but the others are not so obvious. However, one of them is a guitar that remains the stuff of legend to this day and—for many fans—represents the moment when they became interested in Joe’s music: the famous Flying V Korina that he always played on Dazed And Confused as well as Just Got Paid, two of the highlights of his shows at the time.
It appeared on stage every night for a long time, travelled to the Royal Albert Hall, and found itself on the 2009 DVD (the reason Bonamassa nicknamed it the Royale V), as well as the 2014 tour poster. In those on-stage appearances, you will notice that the truss-rod cover is not the same as it is now, simply because the cover stamped “The V” has been put back as it was originally. For a time, Joe had judged that a simple black cover brought this guitar even closer to an original. The pick guard remained white as it was when Bonamassa bought it, whereas it was generally black on these 1981 models.
So then, as legendary as it is, this guitar is a reissue? Indeed it is. Joe only started taking original Flying Vs on the road at a later phase. But this Flying V is not just any reissue: it is a Heritage Korina A Series from 1981, the first identical reissue of the great original, and one of the very first creations of the Custom Shop, which had just opened. This superb Flying V is even a “first rack”, i.e. one of the very first models manufactured. To get an idea of the sound it can produce, simply pull out the DVD of the Royal Albert Hall concert and turn up the volume... A guaranteed thrill!
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.