On big and small amps – Joe Bonamassa

Okay, as I mentioned in the last post, Guitarist recently spent a couple of days on the road with blues torchbearer Joe Bonamassa. We had eight pages to fill – which you can digest in our April edition – so not everything from the interview made it in to print. Here’s a snippet of what Joe had to say about big and small amps, after we asked him why he uses four 100-watt heads on stage…

Joe soundchecking at Shepherd's Bush

“Sure, why don’t I just use a smaller amp or turn down? It's a fair question,” he begins. “But taking the Vox AC30 out of the equation for a second, give somebody an 18-watt amp, a 100-watt amp, a Les Paul and one cable. Then tell ’em to play an E chord. Which sounds better? Tell me you have more tonal fluctuations and expression with the 18-watt amp. You don’t – it just collapses. Even worse, put a master volume on it and it collapses even more! It’s unusable for me because you can’t be very expressive with low wattage, or at least I can’t. A small amp gives you a small sound. But if you take a 100-watt amp, and baffle it off – there’s a certain sound quality that’s created with high sound pressure hitting diaphragm of a microphone. And when you roll off your volume control – I don’t care if it’s a Strat, a Tele or a Les Paul or an SG – you roll it off to five and there’s clean headroom. And that’s so essential because there’s all your expression. There are so many variations that you can get wth a high volume amp, that you can’t get with a low-wattage amp.


“Now let’s cut to the real world. Not everybody plays the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I understand that. But you can take a 100-watt amp into a small pub – I’ve done this many times, and you can baffle it off and find a way. I mean I can do more damage with a Deluxe Reverb facing forward than I can with a Marshall 100-watt Super Lead, baffled off in the right way: absolutely. It’s loud – the sound's gotta' go somewhere, but it’s a much more pleasant listening experience for the audience than if you just aim your shit forward…”

So now you know!

See Guitarist issue 301, April 2008, on sale 13 March for the full interview, and a detailed look at Joe’s on-stage rig.

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