Introduction: welcome to the Bonamassa collection
Aside from his incendiary playing and exhaustive release schedule, Joe Bonamassa is known for his staggering collection of guitars and amps - and now, the blues guitarist extraordinaire has narrowed his collection down to 35 top picks to share with MusicRadar readers.
So, prepare to feast your eyes on 50s Fenders, impossibly rare Gibsons and pristine amps aplenty, as Joe takes you on a guided tour through the Bonamassa vault. Just don't get too jealous, now…
Joe Bonamassa’s new album Blues Of Desperation is released on 25 March via Provogue.
Joe Bonamassa March 2016 UK dates
Birmingham Barclaycard Arena, Saturday 19 March 2016 - tickets available from The Ticket Factory
Bournemouth BIC, Sunday 20 March 2016 - tickets available from BH Live Tickets
Plymouth Pavilions, Monday 21 March 2016 - tickets available from Plymouth Pavilions
Joe Bonamassa in Concert: A Salute to the British Blues Explosion
Joe Bonamassa pays homage to the music of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page - tickets for all dates available from Ticketmaster
Hoghton Tower, Saturday 2 July 2016
Glasgow Clyde Auditorium, Sunday 3 July 2016
Bristol Colston Hall, Tuesday 5 July 2016
London Greenwich Music Time Festival, Thursday 7 July 2016
Newark Castle, Friday 8 July 2016
1. 1950 Fender Broadcaster (s/n 0280)
“Before the Telecaster and Nocaster, there was the Broadcaster. These guitars had a few interesting characteristics like no channel rout and a blend knob instead of a tone knob. The blend disappeared around 1952. Plus, you get flathead screws all the way around, including the truss rod!
“This example is one of the lightest Broadcaster guitars I have ever played. I am lucky to own it, and is one of my cherished Fender guitars in my collection.”
2. 1956 Fender Stratocaster Blonde (s/n 12739)
“Ash body, Bakelite parts and the best neck I have found on a 1956 Stratocaster.
“This guitar I found in Nashville a few years ago. It was being sold at a substantial loss after fetching almost $100,000 a few years ago. It still has the original receipt and pictures of the original owner. Best heard on my song, I Gave Up Everything for You, 'Cept The Blues.”
3. 1955 Fender Stratocaster Howard Reed Black (s/n 10041)
“I had pictures of this guitar on my wall as a kid. It was featured in Guitar World's Collector's Choice in April '88. It has been in many books, and is widely considered one of the very first if not the first black Stratocaster guitars ever made.
“I purchased it from Bill Blackburn via George Gruhn in 2014. I can't believe it sits in my house to this day. It is a fantastic piece of Fender history and rock 'n' roll history for Howard's time in Gene Vincent's Blue Caps and 15 years spent in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.”
4. 1952 Fender Telecaster ex Terry Reid (s/n 2581)
“Terry is a friend of mine and a rock legend, in my opinion. He was responsible for some of the greatest country-tinged folk-rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Terry bought this guitar in 1968 when he was supporting Cream on their final tour in Chicago. By the time they reached Madison Square Garden, Terry had installed a patent number Gibson pickup in the front. It has remained unchanged for the most part until this day.
“Very early features and a killer-playing guitar. I have owned it for about a year.”
5. 1960 Fender Telecaster: the Steve Cropper-caster (s/n 45935)
“You could also say the Page-caster, but I wanted one because of Steve Cropper. Honestly, you will not find a cleaner one. It is in mint condition, and without a question, on the verge of being unplayable because of it.
“Who the hell am I to ruin preserved Fender history? Plug it in and you get over that bullshit quite quickly.”
6. 1963 Fender Stratocaster Blonde (s/n L14080)
“I own five Blonde Stratocasters: a '56, two '57s and two '63s. This guitar is by far one of the best, if not the best rosewood Stratocaster I own. I bought it two days after I found my other '63 Blonde! It was by pure coincidence that the original owner was selling this to help his son fund the downpayment on his house.
“It's the kind of guitar that you don't need to turn a screw on. It has never been apart, and that's the way its gonna stay… Who cares what the neck date is, anyway?”
7. 1966 Fender Telecaster Tuxedo (s/n 204596)
“Reverse tuxedo, like my dad used to wear in the late 1970s at weddings, and maybe even at his own wedding. Olympic White with black binding – I have only seen these guitars in books.
“I bought it from my pal Norman Harris at Norm's Rare Guitars. Perfectly balanced-sounding '60s Tele and in almost mint… This one stays at home.”
8. 1966 Fender Jazzmaster Sea Foam Green (s/n 238194)
“I had been working on buying this guitar, along with two others, for about five years. I finally was able to make a deal and get one of rarest custom colours in the whole Fender line.
“This guitar is mint and fantastic as an instrument; throw in the Sea Foam factor, and it makes it one of the most expensive 'surf guitars' out there.”
9. 1951 Fender Nocaster with a PAF (s/n 1755)
“My friend Keith Nelson wants this guitar, and if I never gave it a second look he would own it. It is my go-to studio guitar; it is my go-to 'Tele', so to speak.
“It was routed in the 70s for a humbucker, aka a PAF, probably out of an SG or Les Paul Custom from '61ish. It howls in all the right ways, and quite frankly, kills my '59 Les Pauls on occasion. It is a lifelong guitar that I will play and cherish.”
10. 1963 Fender Stratocaster Sunburst (s/n L01310)
“My ole keeper from my teenage years. I bought this guitar in 1993 at the fall Philly guitar show for $4,200. All the money at the time. It was mint and I was a kid and didn't care. I was flush with record company advance (Bloodline record) and full of fearlessness.
“Five years later, I was broke and down to my last few guitars, and for some reason I kept it. Even in 2006 when the market exploded and it was worth $30,000, I kept it. I was broke then, too. I've kept it through thick and thin, and it has appeared on most of my 15 albums. Something to be said about old faithful.”
11. 1960 Fender Esquire Custom (s/n 49887)
“One of the best Fender guitars I own. Something about simplicity. It does one thing. It does one thing very well. I play it when I need reminding of the keep-it-simple method.”
12. 1958 Gibson Flying V (s/n 8-2857) 'Amos'
“Shipped May 29th 1958 to Amos Arthur's music store in Indianapolis, In. There are many pictures of Amos posing with the guitar in 1958. A super-rare black pickguard, white jackplate model.
“I purchased this guitar from Norman, who had been storing it for more than 40 years. I am gonna bring it out for another round of touring and recording. Thanks Norm for trusting me to give it life again.
“It's probably the most historically import guitar I own. In the korina world, provenance is everything. This guitar has a cargo ship full. A truly awesome instrument that I am proud to own.”
13. 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (s/n 9-1951) 'Principal Skinner'
“My desert island guitar for a long time until 'Snakebite' knocked it off the ledge. It does not take away from how great of a guitar this is. I use this guitar daily and always have it for sessions and records.”
14. 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (s/n 9-1953) 'Carmelita'
“This guitar was a tough purchase. It came from a guy who has been beat up by the vintage guitar business by buying at the very height of the market and selling most of his collection at a big loss. This guitar was to be Custer's last stand. Unfortunately, the market only sustains the boom for so long, then readjusts itself along the way to a fair price.
“Carmelita spent many a year in Hawaii and with my friend Tom Wittrock in Springfield, Mo, before being sold to the gentleman I bought it from. Important to know about the guitar is it sounds very good and it is very flame-y. It is the flameiest burst I own.
“Do others sound better? Yes, but do they have that top that looks like a tiger's claw? No… By the way, the previous name of the guitar was indeed The Claw…”
15. 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard (s/n 0-7453) aka 'The Runt'
“I purchased this guitar in Germany from Detlef at Guitar Point. Detlef is one of the most honest and trustworthy people on this planet. He would give you the shirt off his back. The first time I met him, he brought three 'bursts with him and left with two, and probably, if you ask him, the two he would not have expected to leave with.
“This 60 was the source of some sour grapes in the States. People were in line to make big money on it and got their feathers ruffled. Detlef stepped up and people tried to badmouth him and the guitar. Little did they know that this particular 1960 Les Paul is one of the best-sounding guitars I own. Originally bought in South Africa and played there until 2010, it truly is an underestimated 'runt', and of the four 1960 Les Paul Standard guitars I own this is among my favourites.”
16. 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard (s/n 0-0162) 'Blackburst'
“Probably the most valuable guitar I own. It is a factory black 1960 Standard that was ordered in lieu of the more expensive Les Paul Custom. Underneath that black paint is a super flame-y sunburst top. It is one of a kind, and I won't get into the backstory here 'cause it's all over the internet.
“I have the receipt and the payment plan dating January 1960. To see it in person is quite the sight! I am never scared of guitars, but for this one I might make an exception.”
17. 1959 Gibson ES-345 Blonde (s/n A32732)
“These guitars are so sought-after and I really don't get it. It's a natural-finished guitar. Gibson charged more for the natural finish, people pay way more for the natural finish… I don't understand.
“Super-clean example that makes all my Mickey Mouse ear friends and enthusiasts weak in the knees.”
18. 1961 Gibson ES-335 (s/n 10069)
“The basis for my signature model and a guitar that I bought at a meet and greet in 2011. The folks have since become my friends, and I have used this guitar on many records and tours including the Muddy Wolf [At Red Rocks] DVD last year. A very special guitar to me.”
19. 1954 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop (s/n 4-1728)
“A true sleeper in the Les Paul world. Many people look at wraptail P-90 Les Paul guitars and go 'Wow! That would make a great conversion!' I am including this guitar on the list to bring attention to the horrible carving-up of good guitars of late. Conversions are not '59 Les Paul guitars, nor will they ever be, no matter what these luthiers tell you.
“I just played this guitar on the Three Kings tour and it killed my 'burst… Shows ya what I know! P-90s rule!”
20. 1962 Gibson SG Special (s/n 44208)
“Bought in a pawn shop in Ft Wayne, In. Killer in every way. I am not a fan of SG Standards at all! They don't sound right to me and are very unbalanced. I have tried and tried and tried to find a good one, but ultimately sell them all except this one!
“Perfectly balanced and the sound that comes out of it is intense. I see why Pete dug these.”
21. 1952 ES-5N (s/n A-9708)
“I have three ES-5 guitars, but this one is the best. It's essentially an ES-350 thick body with an extra P-90, but it's the early BB King guitar, 'cause he wanted to be T-Bone Walker.
“We all want to be someone else. Goes to show even the King of the Blues, rest in peace, had heroes…”
22. 1957 Gibson ES-350 (thin body) (s/n A26570)
“Chuck Berry is one of my heroes. Always has been and always will be. Despite all the shenanigans and skullduggery, he still is Chuck freaking Berry… That's why I wanted this guitar.”
23. 1952 Gibson Les Paul Standard (no serial number) First Year
“Not a perfect guitar in the slightest, but the guitar that started the revolution and the forecast for things to come.”
24. 1953 Les Paul Custom (no serial number) First Year
“Not a perfect guitar, but again, it evolved into a music-changing instrument. I still prefer Jimmy Page on the three-pickup Custom versus the 'burst…”
25. 1958 EDS-1275 (s/n 8-6725) code-named 'Electric Double Spanish'
“This very rare spruce-top sunburst double-neck is one of two made with a six-string neck and a 12-string neck in sunburst in the year 1958. These guitars were special-ordered from Gibson. Dealers wouldn't have stocked such a specialty item nor would they have wanted something so expensive in their shop just on a hunch someone would walk in and buy a double-neck guitar.
“It sounds fantastic, and quite frankly, Gibson should have experimented further with the spruce hollowbody concept, because they are some of the greatest-sounding guitars of that era.
“Four PAFs and three sets of tuners for a '58-'60 'burst make these prime targets for the goons of the world looking to fake guitars, convert guitars, lie about guitars and commit crimes in general within the vintage guitar community. This one is safe with me.”
26. 1969 Grammar Johnny Cash model (s/n 5411)
“A super-rare, great-sounding acoustic guitar that is probably the rarest guitar I own. I have a pair of them, so two of the rarest guitars I own.”
27. 1968 National Bobbie Thomas Model (s/n 2-37128)
“Bought indirectly from Deke Dickerson – just a crazy-low production signature model from National of Chicago for a local Chicago guitar hero… Look him up.”
28. 1959 Fender High Power Twin
“The cleanest tweed amp I have ever seen. I have some really clean tweed amps, and this screams past it. On the cover of the [Tom] Wheeler book Soul Of Tone, it is the best example of Fender's best amp around.”
29. 1957 Fender Bandmaster
“It has three 10s, and it just screams. It's cleaner in both condition and in sound than most, but with a Gretsch Country Gentleman it does Won't Get Fooled Again very nicely…”
30. 1963 Fender Vibroverb
“I have two original brown Vibroverbs, but the one in the picture sounds the best. Imagine a great tweed amp with reverb.”
31. 1962 Fender Deluxe Amp
“Desert island amp - all you need right there…”
32. 1952 Gibson GA-75
“Best-sounding amp you never heard of.”
33. 1959 Gibson GA-83S
“The Gibson amp you never heard of that actually exists… and the wheels are original.”
34. 1958 Fender Super
“A stellar tweed amp with the perfect amount of headroom, and in a recent shootout, schooled a bunch of Marshall 18-watt combos. I mean, destroyed.”
35. 1958 Gibson GA-40 Les Paul Amp
“The matching amp to the Les Paul Guitar. Great overdrive and cheaper than the Fender counterpart.”