Joe Bonamassa: the World Guitar Day interview

(Image credit: Edyta Krzesak)

Has it been freeing for you to be able to explore the rockier side of your playing with the band?

"It is and I can tell you why, because I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that the majority of my fans want to hear me make a solo record that’s amped up like that. They like the sludgy blues rock but they also like the more light and shade songs. We’ve been doing Driving Towards The Daylight on this tour and people always clap at the beginning. I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know people remembered that song.’

"At the end of the day, if you purchased the Black Country Communion record in the hopes of hearing lots of subtlety and restraint and ballads, you’ve clearly come to the wrong place. And by design."

You’re an incredibly hard working guitarist, and you’re prolific too, but do you encounter periods when you don’t feel inspired? How do you work through them?

"I think every working musician gets to a point where you’ve got to be careful you’re not mailing it in. For me when we’re on the road it is a show, it’s pretty much the same show every night but there are subtle differences in communication that happen between the group that give it a spontaneity, that’s different than say a Monday night, we’re on a Wednesday night. It’s different spontaneity things, little glances and throwing different things in every night. That’s an important part of it all.

"I think when writers and musicians get in their own heads and they start thinking about stuff, that’s when the inspiration kind of drains out of them. That’s the best stuff I’ve ever done, when I’m not thinking about it and when I don’t care. The worst stuff I’ve done is the stuff that’s overthought out and I’ve over-calculated it thinking, ‘I think they’re really going to like it’."

I play a lot of old guitars on the road and I just marvel at the ingenuity of Ted McCarty over at Gibson in the early fifties

You’ve got a passion for collecting gear and a broad knowledge of it. Do you think that respect for the craft behind building and creating tone has benefited you as a musician?

"A hundred percent. I’m very lucky I’ve made a few shekels in this business and I’ve basically spent it all on guitars and amps. But I go out tonight and three of my main amps were made in 1959, the fourth one being a new one I’m just putting through its paces right now; they’re going to come out later this year, Fender’s doing a high powered 80-watt twin, a Joe B twin. It’s basically a copy of my main amp I use onstage. And quite frankly, they nailed it and it sounds better. It’s got a little more gain than the old ones which I like. Anyway, three of the amps were made in 1959 and mostly have 1959 parts, other than the tubes that are probably long gone. 

"I play a lot of old guitars on the road and I just marvel at the ingenuity of Ted McCarty over at Gibson in the early fifties. When I look down at a Flying V from 1958 and I think, ‘God, how whacky of an idea was this?’ I’m still playing it, even though it was a flop in ’58. It was so forward thinking that this was going to be cool to somebody. I’m plugging them into what I think is the greatest amp ever made; the ’58 through to 1960 high power Tweed Twin, the 80-watt version. Because that thing will do everything. It will play jazz, country… it will play freaking heavy metal if you put a pedal in front of it and kick ass. God willing it will even take 892 pedals and a Fender Jazzmaster for the shoegazing crowd playing indie rock up at Silver Lake.

"But at the end of the day, I do marvel at it and that’s why I collect it. It harkens back to a time when people built stuff to last. It was forward-thinking ingenuity that was built to last a lifetime. One of my Twins was owned by Tony Dunning who played with Brian Poole And The Tremeloes. The first high-powered Fender Twin ever imported into the UK by Rose Morris [Denmark Street] and Tony owned it from 1960 to 2014 when I bought it from [him]. And that was his amp. A lifetime of music and he had one amp; a Tweed Twin. Think about that in terms of an iPhone. The iPhone just turned ten years old and they made a big deal about it. How many people own the original iPhone? I’m on my tenth. That’s why I collect."

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.