Some guitars are true celebrities in their own right, even beyond their owners. There is no need to identify them by their reference or year, just their nickname is enough. Among the great sunbursts in this world, Spot holds a special place, and has the reputation of being one of the best in that very exclusive universe.
Spot began its life as a Les Paul Standard Sunburst in 1959, with the serial number 9-688. From the outset, it sported a particularly superb and striking tiger-finish top. Its two PAF pickups have two cream-coloured coils, the famous “double white” which have become the Holy Grail for sunburst collectors. But that would not even be known until a previous owner removed the chrome cases, which have since disappeared. Another owner had the indelicacy to install a Bigsby, and the beautiful specimen retains very discreet traces of that mistake.
It is best known as Joe Bonamassa’s preferred instrument. He played it extensively in the studio and on stage, to the point that it appears on most of his DVDs (including the Royal Albert Hall). But there are also photos of Spot in Billy Gibbons’ hands, and it has belonged to the greatest sunburst collectors. Finally, it has been played on stage by Derek Trucks, Bernie Mardsen, and Marcus King, a list that continues to grow according to the lucky ones to whom the instrument gravitates.
Meanwhile, the wear and tear of the years is what earned Spot its nickname, since there is still some of the original red left in the form of a stain on the lower body, and it has gained some superb scratches like the obvious trace of a belt buckle on the back. The original machine heads were replaced with Klusons during that same period, and it has been refretted, but still has its original Lifton case.
To say that Spot is a legendary guitar does not do it justice, because it is above all an excellent Les Paul, both full and brilliant, very easy to play, and inspiring. The fact that it is in a French collection is both new and very exciting.
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.