Joe Bonamassa Will Share His Guitar Collection with Five Lucky Fans

October 28th, 2015

This is an excerpt from the all-new NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story, plus features on Rolling Stone guitarist Ron Wood’s revealing 1965 diary, David Gilmour’s new album, country rebel Dwight Yoakam, rare photos of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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MAJOR PLAYER: Joe Bonamassa wants to share his world-class guitar collection with five lucky fans.

By Alan di Perna

Joe Bonamassa has gotten used to people turning green with envy over his guitar collection. “They go, ‘You’re a lucky son of a bitch,’ ” he says with a laugh. “Yeah, I am, but I work every day of my life to pay for it all. Collecting guitars is something I’m very passionate about. I enjoy doing it and meeting people around it. I’ve met a lot of my best friends this way, almost exclusively through the guitar.”

Bonamassa has put his acquisitions to work on some 15 years’ worth of albums, videos and live shows that have helped catapult blues-based riffology into the 21st century. Currently at work on a new album due out in mid 2016, Bonamassa has brought a sizable selection of his most drool-worthy instruments into the studio with him. In fact, he’s lovingly eyeing a gaggle of his 1964 Firebirds—he has seven in all—as he speaks with Guitar Aficionado about the motives and madness behind his lust for vintage wood.

“It’s a place to invest money that I’m comfortable and happy with,” he says of his collection. “It’s not a hedge fund. It’s not 200 shares of some stock. It’s a functioning tool for me and—at least in my world—a pretty sound investment.”

Bonamassa may be “a lucky son of a bitch,” but he’s also willing to share his luck. He recently put together the Bonamassa Experience, a promotional contest with Ernie Ball that will send five fortunate winners on an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to spend some quality time with Joe and a selection from his vintage collection, not to mention taking home a new custom Ernie Ball Music Man guitar, Dunlop JB95 Bonamassa Cry Baby wah and JBF3B signature Fuzz Face pedals, and a big bag of Ernie Ball strings and accessories (details at ernieball.com.)

“I wanted to show people that my collection is not a white-glove situation,” he says of the idea behind the contest. “These are playing guitars. And they’re cool.”

The guitarist started developing his keen eye and dialed-in sense of market values quite early in life. “My father owned a guitar shop in the Nineties,” he says. “He would always buy and sell. In my teenage years I socked away some money and bought what I could. This was back when you could buy a cool Strat and still have change left over from your thousand bucks. But then I had to start socking away every cent I had to launch my solo career.”

There was no keeping Joe away from the vintage ads and shops for long, however. “I bought my original ’63 Strat with money I got from EMI Records in 1992,” he recalls. “I showed the Strat to my father, and he yelled at me because he thought I paid too much. And I only paid $3,000, so that was probably my best bargain ever. There was a time about 10 years ago when those guitars were over 25 grand, but I never sold it. I still have it.”

Bonamassa adds that he entered what he calls his “serious reacquisition mode” around 2007-8, “right after the crash, when prices came way down. My first big purchase was my first ’59 Les Paul. I got that from Eliot Michael at Rumbleseat Music. He said, ‘I’ve got a ’59 Les Paul that you’d like.’ I said, ‘I’d like to drive a Ferrari too, but there are things I can’t afford.’ He said, ‘Here, take this one. You can make payments until it’s paid off.’ I took that Les Paul around the world—Australia, South America, Europe—so I named it Magellan. So that was the beginning of a kind of addiction. I’ve been able to acquire a second, third and fourth ’59 Les Paul…and now a ninth.”

Bonamassa says the ’59 Burst he paid the most for is the one he calls Carmelita. He stops short of naming the actual price but says, “There was a four in the number. It may have been the first number.”

His favorite ’59 Les Paul sunburst, however, is the one he calls Snakebite. A Bigsby tailpiece had been installed on the guitar but subsequently removed, leaving behind two side-by-side screw holes that resemble a serpent’s fang marks. He rates that guitar his most satisfying acquisition.

“Any collector would gravitate toward it,” he says, “because it has such a great patina and it’s worn in the right way. Not only is this a beautiful example of the iconic ’59 Les Paul, it’s also the best Gibson I own. I’ve never had a guitar attach itself to me like Snakebite.”

Categorizing his collection, Bonamassa says, “It’s mostly Gibsons and Fenders. But one guitar I have that has been so valuable in studio sessions is a ’58 Cadillac green Gretsch Country Club that’s really rockin’. I’ve got flatwound strings on it, naturally.”

Bonamassa sometimes buys guitars from fans who bring them to his shows. Such was the case with a particularly nice 1961 dot-neck Gibson ES-335. “The guy’s father had owned the guitar, but it hadn’t been played in a while,” Joe recounts. “I plugged it in and it sounded fantastic, despite the fact that the strings were all rotten, the pots pretty bad and the tuners all fucked up. But the deal was—for the great price I got—that I had to play this guitar during the show that night. That was a little easier said than done. My guitar tech and I went into action like a NASCAR pit crew. I had pot duty, and he had the tuner duty. We restrung it and tried to get 25 years of dirt off the thing. By 7:45 we had it up and running and sounding good. And the more I play it, the better it sounds…”

This is an excerpt from the all-new NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story, plus features on Rolling Stone guitarist Ron Wood’s revealing 1965 diary, David Gilmour’s new album, country rebel Dwight Yoakam, rare photos of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

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Comments

  1. Posted by Daniel DJ Reiner on November 1st, 2015, 14:38 [Reply]

    Thanks just heard hillside review do going down but I miss hearing you and Randolph playing it at Claptons Guitar Festival it was the greatest version of that song and may be of any song I ever heard I cannot help but get extremely high everytime I hear your effort on that song it’s amazing thank you for what you learned and thank you for sharing it with us going down at Clapton’s Guitar Festival I wasn’t going to buy that the festival I had all the others and then I heard 3 or 4 seconds of you and Randolph doing going down and I had to hear the rest you are the best

  2. Posted by Mark Lorre on February 21st, 2016, 00:38 [Reply]

    Love it

  3. Posted by Sherry Clark on October 27th, 2016, 02:31 [Reply]

    I’m so disappointed Joe would use that kind of language. I thought he was classier than that.Anyway I adore him

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