Reverb Interview: Joe Bonamassa Discusses his New Record, “Blues of Desperation”

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Blues rocker Joe Bonamassa has been called the best living guitar player you’ve never heard of, but he’s no stranger to Reverb readers. Since opening for B.B. King as a preteen in 1989, he’s been among the vanguard of blues guitarists, releasing more than 15 solo albums, playing as many as 200 dates around the world per year and releasing albums with Beth Hart, Black Country Communion and Rock Candy Funk Party.

His most recent tour, the Three Kings, pulled from the songbooks of blues greats Albert King, Freddie King and B.B. King, and put Bonamassa in front of a huge, horn-driven band with backup singers. It also offered him an opportunity to show off his guitar collection, which apparently does extend beyond the Gibson Les Pauls he’s long been associated with, including Stratocasters, several ES-345s and 355s and Amos, his ‘58 Korina Flying V.

Even with his tour of Germany just days away, Bonamassa offered a free download "Drive" and made time to speak with Reverb about the gear he used on his most recent recording Blues of Desperation, embracing new technology and the challenge of keeping it fresh when writing in the blues idiom.

What was the setup you used for the new record and what led you to choose those pieces?

1987 12 String Fender Stratocaster

I used about 12 guitars ranging from a 1959 Les Paul to a 1987 Fender Stratocaster 12 string. The right tool for the right song. The amps pretty much ended up being my live rig, consisting of two 1959 Fender Twin amps a 1957 and 1958 Fender Bassman, all set for stun.

You're known as a lover of vintage gear, but for recordings, do you use any modern pieces or techniques to maintain that vintage style?

I use what I collect. As I get older, I'm tending to play with fewer effects and a more straight-in approach. I honestly feel it's been liberating.

How do you choose what guitars you take on tour? Do those choices differ when preparing for a recording session?

I rotate the Les Paul guitars and take the 1958 Flying V. The new album has a bunch of different tunings, including open-D minor, so I will have to bring specialty guitars for that.

Set aside guitar gear, do you get equally excited about recording gear? If so, what are some of your favorite mics or other pieces to use?

Nothing excites me about recording gear or the studio in general. I want to get in, nail the take and get out as soon as possible. I know how to mic an amp, so I usually do it myself. “Play loud and be in tune,” is my motto. The rest requires too much patience for a 38-year old with ADD.

1960 Fender Bassman Tweed

How involved are you in production and recording? Do you think it's important for a musician to have that kind of start-to-finish ownership of their sound?

I'm involved with the songs. Kevin Shirley does the rest. After 11 years, he and I know what to expect of each other. I trust him 100%, and he always has my back and delivers more than he says.

Stylistically, your music is rooted heavily in the blues. How do you approach writing within those structures and still keep it fresh?

It is very hard. The mere fact that the guitar has ruled music up until very recently makes it even tougher. We've had a good run, almost 70 years. Now it's time to embrace the age of the robots, MacBook Pro and Pro Tools as your source of entertainment in music. Why learn the instrument when the computer can play it for you? I for one welcome our new digital overlords. The long and short of it is that it's tough to reinvent a wheel that's already been reinvented.


Any guitars or amps you have your eye on? Anything on Reverb you're watching?

I feel the need to rescue any mint Tweed Fender amp I see. Why do you know something I don't? Man, I shouldn't be chatting with you. I should be on Reverb! A tweed amp deal is going down without my knowledge! Blasphemy! Great site fellas. Congrats on all your success!

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