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Dear Guitar Hero: Joe Bonamassa

Dear Guitar Hero: Joe Bonamassa

He’s a former virtuoso whiz kid who grew up to become one of the most influential blues guitarists of the day. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is …

As a guitar fiend and noted Les Paul lover, do you think reissue Les Pauls truly are comparable with original Sunbursts [1958–1960 Les Pauls]? This is an ongoing argument on the Les Paul forums. — James Oliphant

A guitar is a guitar. Whether it was made yesterday or 51 years ago, if it’s good, it will stand the test of time. I have played about 20 real ’Bursts in my day, ranging from brilliant to so-so. I think the stuff coming out of Gibson Custom is as good as my original vintage Gibsons, and sometimes better. It’s subjective, but that’s my honest opinion.

A lot of people chase after your tone. How do you feel about that, and do you have any advice for “tone chasers” in general? — Kaji

I’m honored people think enough of my playing to chase my sound. Hell, I chase other players’ tones all the time. I just bought an entire collection of early Mesa/Boogie Mark I and IIB amps, as I was going for that Steve Lukather, early Eighties tone. I have his signature model Music Man, too. I think Steve is one of the great guitarists of all time. He has tone, feel…the whole nine yards. Anyhow, you want to know what I sounded like when I plugged it all up? Me. At the end of the day, you as the player create the tone coming out of the amp. The gear is part of it but by no means all of it.

I hear talk that you have formed some kind of supergroup with former Black Sabbath singer and Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes. Please fill us in on who’s involved, what you guys are up to and how it will impact your own group. — Andy Bradford

I did form a group with Glenn, [ex-Dream Theater keyboardist] Derek Sherinian and [Led Zeppelin/Foreigner drummer] Jason Bonham. It’s ace. They are all so good. We just finished cutting tracks for an album that should be released later this year or early next year. We are still working on a name. We were called Black Country—named after the industrial area in England from which Jason and Glenn both hail—but it turns out someone else already had that. Touring will depend on demand; we’ll have to see as it gets closer.

However it works out, it won’t affect my solo group. I will always tour with that. It does mean a bit more work and travel on my part. I’m totally having a blast, so it’s no problem.

I saw you play with B.B. King when you were around 12 and am happy to see you still out there slugging away and getting better all the time. But do you think there are any disadvantages to having been out in the spotlight so young? — Wyatt Libby

There are some disadvantages. I was thrust into an adult world very quickly, and that can make anyone somewhat socially maladjusted to dealing with people your own age. But I wouldn’t trade any of it. The 17 years of struggle, the epic early European endurance test tours…none of it. It makes me who I am today. I am happy, fulfilled and grateful for the life I have.

It seems to me that your music used to be more focused on blazing guitar playing and is now more about songcraft, with a place in it for guitar work. Why the switch? Was it a commercial decision, or are you just following your instincts? And do you ever get the urge to let it rip? — Phil Dyson

My albums have gotten more song oriented because I didn’t want to be known for a jam; I wanted to be known for a song. [Producer] Kevin Shirley taught me that at our first meeting in 2005. It has always stuck with me. Plus, I play all the time in my shows. We just don’t do the 20-minute “Pain and Sorrow” jam anymore. So the answer is no, I really don’t get the urge to be the three-verses-and-20-minute-solo guy anymore.

I was at the Gov’t Mule show in Chicago last fall when you jammed for two songs, and it was fantastic. That helped introduce me to your music. I’ve been watching those YouTube videos over and over and am convinced that you and [Gov’t Mule guitarist] Warren Haynes should work together for real, recording or touring. What do you think? — Art Hoffman

First, thank you for your patronage. Second, Warren and I have been friends for more than 15 years. He wrote one of my most well-known songs, “If Heartaches Were Nickels,” and is by far one of my greatest influences, both vocally and guitar-wise. I imagine we will do more in the future. Both of us are busy at the moment, but I would really love to record with him again.

Dude, how did you lose so much weight? — Fred Weiss

Low carbs and early bird specials—eating dinner at 4:30, then nothing else for the rest of the day. A systematic light-starvation campaign; learning to enjoy the sight and smell of food rather than the taste of it. To be truthful, between 2005 and 2007 I got fat on success. It was a blast gaining weight but a total blag taking it off. (P.S. My girlfriend is Scottish, so I can use the word “blag.”)

I know you’re a gear whore, but if a vengeful god ordered you to get rid of everything except one guitar, one amp and one pedal, what would be left in your greedy little hands? —Scott Schneider

I’ll take my Gibson Joe Bonamassa Les Paul #001 plugged through my Marshall Silver Jubilee that I have had since 1993. It recently stopped working, so [amplification expert] Peter Van Weelden has it in Holland for a million-mile check-up. You can have my pedal. Now who’s the greedy one? 

Will blues continue to influence guitar players in the years to come? — Rico Jones

Totally! It will always influence guitar playing. Blues will change with time, just like cars. My grandfather drove a Sixties Pontiac back in the day but now drives a Saturn. The concept of the car has stayed the same, but it has been updated for 2010. The same holds true for the blues.

If you had to choose the quintessential Joe Bonamassa song to go into a time capsule, which one would you pick? — Patty Patrick

“The Ballad of John Henry”: blue-collar kid does good, stays sort of humble and never stops striving to make it better. That’s me in a nutshell.



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