“It doesn’t say my name on it anywhere – that’s probably a good thing for some people…”: Joe Bonamassa’s latest Epiphone signature guitar recreates his ultra-rare 1963 Gibson SG Custom

Epiphone joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom signature guitar
(Image credit: Epiphone)

Following the success of his 1962 ES-335, Joe Bonamassa has once again teamed up with Epiphone for a new vintage-inspired signature guitar, this time opting to recreate a particularly special 1963 Gibson SG Custom.

“This is a really cool one. It’s based off of a guitar that was special-ordered in 1963,” explains Bonamassa. “As you can see, it’s a triple-pickup SG Custom.”

As the guitarist explains in the accompanying clip, that original triple-humbucker model stands out among Bonamassa’s immense vintage guitar collection for a number of reasons.

First off, it’s got a smoothly contoured neck heel, meaning you get much less of an angle where the neck joins the body, making it easier and more comfortable to access the upper frets.

Bonamassa shows off the smooth neck heel

The ’63 SG Custom has a much smoother neck heel than you’d commonly find on an SG of that era (Image credit: Epiphone)

Secondly, the Dark Cherry finish is unusual on SG Customs. As Bonamassa puts it: “99 times out of 100 you'll see a guitar like this and it will be white but this guitar being from 1963, it's particularly rare.”  

A third and final notable quirk comes in the form of the pickup circuitry, which sees the middle and bridge pickups wired in-phase, something that was not always a given on the SG Customs of the day.

“Most of the time you find a Black Beauty Les Paul Custom or an SG custom these two pickups are out of phase,” notes Bonamassa. “And it’s really quacky and sometimes unusable.”

The Epiphone signature recreates all of these positive quirks of Bonamassa’s original Gibson SG Custom and, having been created under his collector’s eye, adds in a host of other high-end features.

On the hardware front, you’ll find the vintage correct Kluson Waffleback tuners (“I’m told these are expensive now,” says Bonamassa), plus the Maestro vibrola bridge (albeit Epiphone branded), CTS pots, Mallory capacitors and a Switchcraft jack.

Things have to diverge somewhere, though, if you want to avoid the $50,000 price tag of the vintage model, and it seems some acceptable compromises have been reached. 

As such, there are ProBucker 2 pickups in the neck and middle and a ProBucker 3 in the bridge, a Graph Tech nut and nylon saddles at the Tune-O-Matic bridge (“which does make a difference to the sound”, notes Bonamassa). 

Concluding his walkthrough, Bonamassa nods to his position as a lightning rod for armchair critics, noting: “Probably a good thing, for some people… It doesn’t say my name on it anywhere – only on the case!”

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s a tempting spec list and puts the blues-rocker’s expertise to good use in finding something genuinely different to add to the Epiphone lineup.

That custom neck heel and a highly usable selection of tones from that triple humbucker configuration should mean it has an appeal well beyond the vintage puritan on a budget, too.

The price is definitely in the ‘wait, how much for an Epiphone?’ category, coming in at $1,499, but on the plus side, you get a hardcase and certificate of authenticity thrown in and you know that Bonamassa’s involvement means the quality control is going to be on point. 

In other, er, ‘rare SG Custom news‘, back in June Gibson announced it had tracked down Mary Ford’s 1961 SG Custom – as used in her collaborations with Les Paul – on Facebook Marketplace.

For more information on the Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom, head to Epiphone.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.