This is a special electric guitar. They didn’t make many like this in the first place. Originally a custom order, it would be a rare find on the vintage market, presenting a triple-humbucker version of the SG all dressed up and doing the town with MOP block inlays, gold hardware, and multi-ply binding on the headstock.
You would typically see these in white – “99 times out of 100,” says Bonamassa. But this was Cherry Red by request. The original owner, who played guitar in the Casuals back in the day, had different ideas. Bonamassa says the similarities between the Epiphone and its Gibson forebear are remarkable. Though there is quite a big price differential.
“It is something that looks aesthetically the same but it’s not the $50,000 version,” says Bonamassa. “It’s a much lower, affordable price. It does exactly the same thing.”
What it does is present you with a lot of tone options from a trio of ProBuckers, with ProBucker 2s at the middle and neck positions, and a ProBucker 3 at the bridge.
The middle position of the three-way pickup switch selects the bridge and middle pickups in unison, and when Bonamassa demoes this, it’s as though this is the signature voice of this guitar – hot but balanced, the quintessential blues guitar that can eat up some overdrive for all manner of rock applications.
“It’s wired in phase like the original guitar,” he says. “It’s got the smooth neck heel. It is kind of a unicorn for SGs back in this era. It has a nice feel. It’s a nice feeling neck.”
That smooth neck contour is something a little bit different, too, and as per the high-end Epiphone models we have an ebony fingerboard opposed to the more commonly found Indian laurel.
The 24.74” scale length and 12” fingerboard radius will be familiar, and so to the build, which pairs a solid mahogany body with a glued-in mahogany neck that’s carved in an amenable ‘60s profile SlimTaper C.
There’s single-ply binding on the fingerboard, five-play on the headstock, which wears its split-diamond inlay nicely, and Epiphone has ponied up for a set of Kluson ‘Waffleback’ tuners, which is something you don’t ordinarily see at this price. Why? Well, Bonamassa says they’re expensive nowadays but were a non-negotiable when putting this SG Custom together.
“You’ve got to do it right,” he says. “If you’re going to recreate a guitar you’ve got to do it right and I think everyone is really gonna enjoy this. And it’s at a price point where it doesn’t break the bank.”
Another noteworthy feature is the Epiphone-branded Maestro Vibrola, which is joined by a LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge that’s fitted with nylon saddles – and this, says, Bonamassa, is another factor that makes this SG sound a little bit different from its siblings. Epiphone has used high-quality Switchcraft output jacks and switches, and wired those pickups up to CTS pots and Mallory capacitors.
There is one thing missing, however. There is no mention of Joe Bonamassa’s name anywhere on the instrument – “probably a good thing for a lot of people,” says Bonamassa. But that’s in keeping of his previous collaborations with Epiphone, such as the superlative ‘Lazarus’ 1959 Les Paul Standard and 1962 ES-335, which hew closely to their brief of vintage reproduction at budget-friendly price points.
Speaking of which, the Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom is priced £1,499 / $1,399, and the price includes a custom hard-shell guitar case and certificate of authenticity. You will find Joe Bonamassa’s name stencilled on the case – and yellow plush within.
For more details, head over to Epiphone. To hear Bonamassa put it through its paces, check out the demo video above. In other Joe Bonamassa news, the bluesman has just announced two dates at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He will play the legendary venue on 4 and 5 April 2024. Tickets go on general sale on Friday 29 September.