What was the first serious guitar you bought with your own money?
“Aha! Well, I was given some type of Sears & Roebuck classical guitar when I was seven years old by my mom. I quit playing after a couple of years and then got interested around the age of 13 again.
“My cousin Fred Waxler owned a pretty serious music store called Bananas At Large in San Rafael, California. He shipped me an acoustic guitar in 1975 called an Aspen. I had the guitar for the next few years. My first serious guitar was a mid-70s Telecaster I bought from somebody in 1980. It was cream and white. What I really couldn’t get into on that guitar was that the neck was like a baseball bat!”
What was the last guitar you bought and why?
“I have been extremely fortunate. My four beautiful guitars were given to me: three from Gibson and one recently was given to me by Mike Delaney of Delaney Guitars. We kind of collaborated and he made me my own signature guitar. It’s a mash-up of a Les Paul-style body with a pure Strat tone.
“However, a few years ago I purchased a used SG Standard from Sam Ash just to travel with. It was a great deal, like $500, so I didn’t feel too bad taking it on a plane in case I had to check it.”
What’s your best guitar-buying tip?
“You really have to sit down and play whatever guitar you want. Even though most are manufactured, there are always slight variations on any guitar. It’s still an organic product. My most crucial factor is the neck, followed by the balance of the neck and body weight. Everyone’s hands are different.
“Everyone’s tastes are different. Everyone’s hips, etc, are different. It has to feel good to you. Now, if you are a real collector and buying vintage guitars and stuff online, you probably know what you’re getting yourself into. But I still say try it before you buy it. You can always modify electronics, but it’s got to feel like magic in your hands.”
What’s the most incredible ﬁnd or bargain you’ve ever had when buying guitars?
“Like I said earlier I haven’t bought a lot of guitars, but the second guitar I bought was a 1977 Les Paul Special ’55 reissue. But this is the kicker: it came as a package deal with a 1964 Fender Twin Reverb. I got both for $400 in total in 1981. A guy that played in a polka band sold it to me. I found it in the classified section of my local newspaper.”
“My present setup is really simple, practical and actually quite versatile and fairly economical. I am blessed to have an endorsement with Orange Amps; I chose the Crush 120 combo. I gig a lot. I can’t use a road case due to many circumstances, so I favour transistor amps for reliability and your ability to achieve a very clean tone, which I do for rhythm work, and lead work for more jazzy tunes. I use a Boss Super Stereo Chorus for a lot of chording – I look for a big, lush sound. It can also give you a sort of [Hammond] B3 thing if you set it that way and a nice fusion-type sound for leads. I also like using delay pedals in place of reverb. I’ve been using MXR’s Carbon Copy Analog Delay. For my lead work I have the overlooked Boss Blues Driver, which can be subtle like a Tube Screamer or really crunchy. For my new album I used no pedals at all – a first for me – though I was able to use some of [producer] Joe [Bonamassa]’s gorgeous vintage gear.”
What’s the strongest case of ‘buyer’s remorse’ you’ve ever had after buying a guitar or piece of gear?
“Well, I hate to even put this in print, but that Fender Twin I just talked about I traded for a Peavey Bandit 65 at a music store in Hyde Park, Chicago, in 1985. I did this because it had an overdrive channel; I didn’t know much about anything back then. I didn’t really become any kind of guitar player until I was 24.”
Have you ever sold a guitar that you now intensely regret letting go of?
“I had to sell a gorgeous natural wood finish Gibson ES-335 that a fan had given me because I was pregnant with my daughter, who was a lovely surprise, and I needed the cash.”
When was the last time you stopped to stare in a guitar shop window and what were you looking at?
“I am in love with resonator guitars. I want a National Steel really badly. The sound of guitars like that are mesmerising to me.”
Are there any common design features on electric guitars that are an instant turn-off for you?
“Yes. I love the U-shape on my Delaney and my Les Paul Modern, and I really love the ultra-thin neck of my Les Paul Classic ’60 reissue. When I pick up a guitar and it’s like a baseball bat or a severe C shape it’s like… No!
“My hands are about the size of an average man’s hands, I have large hands for a woman, but big chunky, round necks tire me out. In Chicago, before the pandemic, I was playing really long nights. I averaged 24 hours a week on stage, so [avoiding] hand fatigue is crucial.”
If forced to make a choice, would you rather buy a really good guitar and a cheap amp – or a cheap guitar and a top-notch amp?
“I would much rather buy a great guitar and have a cheap amp, although that can be a real struggle. Neither situation is optimal, but your tool, your weapon of love, your appendage, is that intricate piece of wood you are holding in your hands and against your body. The tactile aspect of playing guitar is very crucial to me. Touch is everything, even when I am playing slide.”
If you could only use humbuckers or single coils for the rest of your career which one would you choose and why?
“Humbuckers! They emit big, fat, round, juicy tone and power, and I feel a kinship with that.”
What’s your favourite guitar shop and why?
“Chicago Music Exchange is a premier shop with incredible product variety and quality and a super- knowledgeable but down-to-earth staff who really seem to love to be there. I used to live two minutes from there. Now I live maybe a half-hour drive away, but I’m fortunate a store of that calibre is nearby.”
- Joanna Connor’s new album, 4801 South Indiana Avenue, is available now (opens in new tab) via KTBA Records.