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How Joanna Connor built a guitar rig that keeps her blues sound raw and real

Joanna Connor
(Image credit: Maryam Wilcher)

First seen by many shredding, sliding and tapping her way through an electrified version of Walking Blues in a viral video, Joanna Connor is a powerhouse. 

Her recently released 14th album, 4801 South Indiana Avenue, produced by and featuring Joe Bonamassa, features 10 tracks that Connor describes as “obscure covers from various blues greats”.  

Fiery slide is the trademark of this Chicago-based virtuosa, and there’s plenty of it on the record. Rapid runs lead to languid sequences and there are some astonishing, spontaneous-sounding leaps that halt right at the squealing edges of the final frets.  

While recording, Joanna was invited where many guitarists can only dream of going: Bonamassa’s museum-like collection of vintage gear. She recalls feeling like a “kid in a candy store”, but employed more self-restraint than any wide-eyed kid on a sugar high ever could: “We kept it simple – a 1955 Fender Deluxe. A 2018 Les Paul Custom Mickey Baker with flatwound strings, and my 2019 Les Paul Modern.” 

Her live rig is similarly utilitarian. Armed with the same Les Paul Modern and a minimal pedal selection consisting of a Boss Chorus, Boss Blues Driver and “a delay of some sort”, she uses little else to bolster her raw sound. 

She opts for a transistor amp – an Orange Crush Pro 120 combo – noting “I like an amp with enough clean power because many venues we play there is a possibility I won’t even be mic’ed and my rhythm sections slam”. 

When it comes to slides, Joanna is unfussed by brands but tends to go for metal over glass. Again, this is for practical reasons: the metal ones don’t break. During recording she did however find a new favourite: “Joe has his own slide he makes... It was a perfect fit for me, perfect weight. So, I guess you could say that is my slide of choice now.” 

Although it wasn’t quite off the luthier’s bench in time for recording, Joanna recently collaborated with Delaney Guitars on an interesting signature model. Her custom ‘LaGrange’ has a Les Paul shape, but delivers Strat-like tones thanks to its Stetsbar Trem System and trio of Denali pickups. And it comes in what Joanna laughingly describes as a “girlie colour… it’s a pretty red”.