REO Speedwagon are set for another amazing year. The group, which consists of Kevin Cronin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Amato (guitars), Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards) and Bryan Hitt (drums), has set out on what will be an extensive 55-city North American summer tour with fellow rock legends Def Leppard and Tesla.
For Amato, there’s something else to be excited about: his long-awaited signature Gibson Les Paul guitar, which will be available soon.
I recently caught up with Amato at an REO performance to get the goods on his new Les Paul as well REO’s tour and his time subbing for guitarist Doug Aldrich in the Las Vegas show Raiding the Rock Vault.
How did your relationship with Gibson begin?
I’ve always wanted a Les Paul with a Floyd Rose. I had one that Sammy Sanchez built for me in Los Angeles. I loved the guitar for years, but the contour on the Floyd was way up there. Eventually, Gibson started working on one for an Axcess guitar, and I when I saw it at a NAMM show, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in. They gave me a few guitars and I started promoting and playing them while I was out on tour. It led to me having my own model. They were originally going to do a Collector’s Series but decided they want to put out a new line. So we came up with a new model for me, based on the Axcess model.
What do you like most about your new signature model?
There’s really only so much you can do to a Les Paul, but I wanted to make it a souped-up hot rod. It’s not a Junior but it's based on one. I like the fact that it’s really light. I also wanted to incorporate one of my favorite necks into the design. I had a ’58 Reissue I loved that I sent to them. They specked the entire neck and did an incredible job. It’s got a white ebony fretboard and an HD-TV finish. It really rocks.
What made you decide to include a Floyd Rose as an option?
Most guys don’t like tremolos, but I do! So I stuck with the Floyd Rose, and it’s perfect. You can beat the shit out of it and it always stays in tune. But there’s also a stock, tune-o-matic piece if you don’t care for the tremolo. I remember we showed it to the management at Gibson and they just went nuts over it. We have another four months to go on this tour and I’m looking forward to getting them out there.
What can you tell me about your time working on the Vegas show, Raiding the Rock Vault?
REO is my main thing, but that was a fun gig I had the chance to do on the side. I got to see all of my buddies. Huey McDonald (Bon Jovi) and I played together with Richie Sambora and Cher. Then there’s Robin McAuley (McAuley Schenker Group) and Howard Leese from Heart, who’s a legend. I get to do “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California” on a double neck guitars note for note. It’s fun, challenging and everyone is just so happy to be there.
Of all the highlights of your career with REO Speedwagon, is there one moment that stands out to you as most memorable?
Wow! There’s been so many great memories in my 27 years with REO that it’s hard to pick just one. I’m sure I’ll even have some good stories coming out of this tour with Def Leppard and Tesla as well. Getting to play with Def Leppard is a real highlight. It’s a big deal because I respect them so much. I love Phil [Collen] and Vivian [Campbell]. They’re great players who are so inspirational. This is just an amazing tour and we’re so happy to be here. It’s such a pleasure every night, and I’m happy to be on the same stage with them.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.