Player Spotlight – Joe Bonamassa

“BONAMASSA’S JUST GOOD. ONE OF A KIND. THE KIND THAT WILL BE A LEGEND BEFORE HE’S 25”
— Billboard Magazine

This edition see’s us head over to the big apple 🍏. The place where big dreams happen and the skyline glows and lights the midnight shadows in the city that never sleeps.

8th May 1977 was a significant day for guitar culture as we know it, from as young as 4-years-old this guitar icon knew and felt the symbolic relationship with the six string. I don’t tend to use the word often but Guitar ‘virtuoso‘ is definitely a way to describe this weeks string slinger 🤘.

Let’s enter the world (and the Bona-seum) of Mr Joe Bonamassa.

“Guitar playing to me has been something that I’ve done for 35 years. I’ve been around guitars, in guitar shops, played them, sold them, bought them. It’s defined my life for the last 35 years. I love it, and I wake up every day excited to play.”
-J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball String Theory 

THE PRODIGY OF THE PICK

The formative years of any young man’s life always significant and influential. Joe was born into a world of guitars and guitar culture, Born into a family of musicians down the generations, encapsulated by music and everything related, you could almost say he was born to do this. 😉 

The idea of a true virtuoso is an early start first and foremost, and by Joe’s standards he was somewhat of a late starter at four years old.

“Well, I started on the Erlewine Chiquita guitar that were made in Texas. And they were little travel guitars, and I think they still make them. And I basically, for all intents of purposes, I wanted to be an electric guitar player. I didn’t want to be an acoustic guitar player.”

“Yeah. I mean, because the kind of music that I was gravitating towards was electric, so I didn’t want to play acoustic, playing electric. You know? So, my father, well Santa, bought me an electric guitar for Christmas. And that was it. That’s how I started. Really that simple.”

“Yeah. I mean, because the kind of music that I was gravitating towards was electric, so I didn’t want to play acoustic, playing electric. You know? So, my father, well Santa, bought me an electric guitar for Christmas. And that was it. That’s how I started. Really that simple.”
– J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball Striking A Chord Podcast by Evan Ball

For those of us that know and have encountered Joe Bonamassa’s incredible playing in some form will understand that this guy is a monumental Guitar Player! When he plays and begins to let rip it looks like it’s always been part of him and you can’t see anything but him, the guitar, and this elevating connection… Along with a trail of smoke 🔥 

I believe he started out young, not by choice but simply by necessity; the guitar was something he needed to do out of necessity, right up there with breathing in and breathing out.

His father was a guitar player and his grandfather was a musician, Joe’s dad also ran a music store in the ’90s when he was growing up as a teenager. These familiar surroundings lead him onto a natural path.

The sheer talent he possessed didn’t go unnoticed and was quickly picked up upon at a young age. 

“They were hearing stuff coming out of the room that was a little bit more advanced than, probably I should have been. But again, I’m a product of hard work, not natural born talent. I mean, I was just tenacious. I am tenacious. And I like it. And I really enjoy playing. And I really enjoy the challenge of playing, I really enjoy everything about it.” – J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball Striking A Chord Podcast by Evan Ball

As younger people we all had our heroes and icons, people and things to aspire to along with mentors and teachers. Now in his pre-teen years at 11-years-old Joe B had a very different level of mentor.

He has described many times how he crossed paths with the iconic Danny Gatton at a festival when he was only 11 – he actually sat in on Danny’s set that very day! Danny Gatton would prove to be a massive influence and mentor, definitely significant in Joe’s development and discipline as a player.

Joe always cites Danny as a huge part of his journey but defines his dad as his core teacher and avid supporter from the beginning. 

https://jbonamassa.com

If this story wasn’t remarkable enough already and the achievements weren’t already life-changing at 11-years-old, when Joe hit 12 years old he took things that bit further to mark a landmark occasion.

Armed with a 1972 crimson Fender Stratocaster affectionately nicknamed “Rosie” gifted to him by his father, Joe and his band that had been put together around him through his support network – “Smokin’ Joe Bonamassa” began to pick up serious momentum and the young man’s genius certainly didn’t go unnoticed.

Through circumstance (and clearly fate) Joe and his band began to open up shows for the father of the Blues B.B King!

“Bonamassa opened for B.B. King at approximately 20 shows in 1989.[9] In 1991, he performed on The Mickey Mouse Club where he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.[10] Before he reached 18 years old, Bonamassa was playing in a band called Bloodline with the sons of Miles Davis, Robby Krieger, and Berry Oakley. Although Bloodline did not become a famous act, it attracted some attention to Bonamassa’s guitar chops.” –Joe Bonamassa – Wikipedia 

https://jbonamassa.com/who-is-joe-bonamassa/

ONE IN EVERY COLOUR 🎸 

As a guitar player in the industry Bonamassa’s status preceded him and he rocketed to serious success!

“ONE OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN BLUES ROCK”

BONAMASSA HAS TWENTY-TWO #1 BILLBOARD BLUES ALBUMS… AND COUNTING.

“Almost every album Joe has produced instantly rockets to the #1 spot. His previous studio albums have even debuted on Billboard’s Top 10 album chart, proving that a Blues album could debut next to the biggest names in popular music.” – https://jbonamassa.com/who-is-joe-bonamassa/

The man is a prolific guitar player and a joy to watch. He’s the type of guitarist that just keeps doing things you need to watch twice, or maybe three times to truly understand what went on! His playing is exciting and continuously fresh and always interesting; what he does he does well, very well.

“I have the aptitude to adapt to any situation. I have the aptitude to basically go into any musical situation and play confidently, and I was taught that by a guy named Danny Gatton, who basically shaped my musical tastes in my formative years. He’s like, “You got to learn something about jazz. You got to learn something about country music. Rock and roll. Blues. And be ready to play it at a drop of a hat. So, I know a lot of people that are just rock guitar players, but you put them in a blues situation and they fold. I’ve been more of a, kind of a, I would say jack of all trades. Master of none. But it works for me.” –J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball Striking A Chord Podcast by Evan Ball

Now we can’t visit the life and playing of Mr Joe Bonamassa without briefly touching on his incredible guitar collection. To say this man has a problem is an understatement, I think he puts the word addiction into the term: ‘guitar addiction’.

When I first discovered Bonamassa’s love for all things vintage and historical he was much more of an enthusiast and avid collector of all the holy grail era of guitars from the ’50s and ’60s.

Over the years this enthusiasm has turned into what looks like a life-consuming, slightly out of control addiction.

Joe’s Guitars

The only way to cover even the surface of his guitar and amp collection would be to write a small book (which is in progress I’m sure), it will probably be some kind of guitar bible or manual or something.

The man is obsessed evidently. So in this amazing video giving you a tour of his collection and how he’s converted his home to live around the collection.

Welcome to the Bona-seum!

EVERYTHING ERNIE, EVER SINCE

With a guitar collection this vast it would seem that Bonamassa could probably keep a string manufacturer in business all year round simply restringing the Bona-Seum!

His choice of string has always been with one brand from as long as he can remember he was born into the culture of this brand through his family and surroundings.

“I’ve been an Ernie Ball endorser for, oh my God, 15 years. And the Ball family’s been very generous, extremely generous to me, not only with their endorsements, but their friendship and I consider them family, consider all of them family. You too, being the grandson of Ernie Ball. And Sterling especially, because he always has my back on a personal level and I’ll never forget that, especially at a low time in my life at one point where I stepped in a bunch of shit and he was the first guy to reach out and say, “Listen, don’t worry about it. Just stick the landing.” –J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball Striking A Chord Podcast by Evan Ball

Bonamassa has a few preferences on string choice for different types of guitars with the focus on the right sound and feel for each individual instrument. He’s always stated that he prefers the sound of ERNIE BALL!

Regular Slinky 10-46 Nickel Wound Electric Guitar Strings on Les Paul guitars as they sound and feel is right for this types of instruments.

For general use he has always been clear that 11-52 has been the go to gauge for everything for very long time. This is always reiterated by his long-serving guitar tech and righthand man the legendary Mike Hickey. Some great restringing tips right here from one of the hardest working techs in the business.🤘

“11-52 for everything – electric and acoustic.” – J. Bonamassa – https://www.seymourduncan.com/blog/artist/talking-tone-with-joe-bonamassa

“Basically for strings, would best be described as the Burly Slinky set, 11 to 52s. And I used to use 10 to 40, 48s, on my Fenders and then 11 to 52s on the Gibson. Over the years, I’ve just kind of cross faded to 11 to 52s for everything. I like the fact that the 11 on the high and the low and the bottom, you can hit hard and the cords stay in tune. You can bend hard, but it’s not like “Oh my God, I’m going to get carpal tunnel here.” It’s still slinky enough, no pun intended, but it also stays in tune right, and it also sounds fat through the amp. It’s just the go-to string of mine, and I’ve been using since … oh God, I’ve been using 11 to 52s on at least Gibson guitars for 20 years or more. On Fenders, off and on, depending on the situation, same, about 20 years.” – J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball Striking A Chord Podcast by Evan Ball

As Joe states above he basically uses an Ernie Ball Burly Slinky 2226 Nickel Guitar Strings 11-52 set. Of course we see the only difference is the B string is a .013 not .014. Joe Bonamassa String Gauge – .11 – .13. – .18 – .30 – .42 – .52

Joe B does also state he uses 11-48 Power Slinky so he’s pretty variable but I think 11-52 is his true staple and has been for some time mainly for the reasons of playability live and to avoid the possibility of overbending.

“Unfortunately, the way I play, I need some more resistance, especially live, because as you start getting your adrenaline going, you need more resistance, so the 11s work for me. And because now I use pretty much a natural overdrive, I don’t have a pedal board, it’s just two pedals taped to the floor, and then most of the sound is derived from the amplifiers. The 11s bark the amps harder, so that it hits them harder in the front. That’s an integral part of the sound, it’s this like symbiotic relationship between guitar and the amp, speakers, all creating the sound. It’s not one thing.” –J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball String Theory 

So what have we learnt from the great Bonamassa? [Apart from the fact that he has become Simpson!]

https://www.jbonamassa.com/features/2016/the-simpsons/

You just need a few 1959 [Gibson] Bursts and an array of Vintage Tweed Fender Amps to get the pinnacle of guitar tones…. or do you? 

An inspiring quote to leave you with from he man himself

“You listen to Hound Dog Taylor, that’s organic guitar playing, his stuff is just raw and, it’s like Teisco Del Rey’s through Univox amps, cheap junk, but the passion is there, and it would just transcend the instrument. You don’t have to have a five figure vintage guitar. You can do it with a $20 Squier. It’s the intent. It’s not the gear, it’s the intent. When you play, you play with bad intentions. And you play, the soul of the music has to come out.” –J. Bonamassa – Ernie Ball String Theory 

References 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Bonamassa

https://ernieball.co.uk/strikingachord/joe-bonamassa

https://www.facebook.com/ernieball/videos/joe-bonamassa-on-his-paradigm-strings/5693866203


https://www.musicradar.com/news/joe-bonamassa-reveals-his-guitar-tone-secrets-what-surprises-me-now-more-than-anything-is-the-affordability-of-a-great-sound

https://ernieball.co.uk/stringtheory/joe-bonamassa

Comments are closed here.