“I have a couple of skills in this world: I can play guitar pretty good and I can spot a fake guitar”: Joe Bonamassa reveals one common fake ‘59 Les Paul ‘Burst scam – and how you can avoid it

Joe Bonamassa playing a Les Paul live
(Image credit: Rick Kern/Getty Images)

Joe Bonamassa is one of the most prevalent guitar collectors and vintage gear connoisseurs in the world today, and so when he comes along and offers his top piece of advice for identifying the real deal in a market flooded with fake articles, it’s wise to pull up a pew and listen to what he has to say.

That was the topic of conversation during JoBo’s recent interview with Dean Delray, in which the multi-brand signature artist proffered aspiring collectors some words of wisdom when it comes to avoiding scammers.

Specifically, Bonamassa discussed one of the many ways you can differentiate a fake ‘59 Gibson Les Paul ‘Burst with a genuine one.

Naturally, his discussion was caveated with the advice that all new collectors should be wary of scammers, and should do some due diligence concerning the ins and outs of the vintage guitar market before diving in and procuring some gear.

But, when ready to take their first steps into snapping up vintage instruments, there are a few things collectors should bear in mind – and one common scam that is easy to spot.

“I have a couple of skills in this world: I can play guitar pretty good; I can sense the slightest human suffering – it's the Roman Catholic shit in me – and I can spot a fake guitar,” Bonamassa said. “Fakers know the ins and outs, and they always put a little anomaly.”

Elaborating on a common trick that scammers use to trick potential buyers into purchasing fake Bursts, Bonamassa continued,  “[They'll say], 'Oh, it's a factory second.' Who would fake a factory second? Well, they would. When you see a fake '59 [Les Paul], it's always going to be a striking top. 

“One of the tells is if you look at the top, and it's too convenient, like, 'Oh my God, it's one of the flamiest things,' and it's priced way under what you think it's worth – there's no deals on those.

“All the big guitars are spoken for and they trade hands for fair market value. There's no deals. People get in trouble thinking they quietly get into something and they hit the Babe Ruth home run. If it's a deal, you got scammed.”

And therein lies the solution to avoid any scams: just ask questions. As JoBo nicely puts it, “Never, never feel ashamed [to ask for help]. A question costs nothing. A fake costs a lot of money, and it's worth nothing.”

Like we say, do not sleep on Bonamassa’s guitar collecting advice – you’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows more about vintage gear and the art of collecting than the Nerdville curator.

Joe Bonamassa with his 'Holy Grail' 1959 'Burst Les Paul guitar and 1963 Fender Vibroverb amp

Joe Bonamassa with his 'Holy Grail' 1959 'Burst Les Paul guitar  (Image credit: Alex Crawford/Heritage Auctions)

After all, his own exploits in the vintage market are the stuff of six-string legend. Though he recently revealed he passed up the opportunity to buy Greeny a few years back, Bonamassa has a number of high-profile instruments in his collection, including the Tommy Bolin ‘Burst that he bought in the strangest guitar deal he ever did.

Overall, his collection is estimated to run to a total of around 1,000 to 2,000 pieces, and in a recent interview with Rick Beato, Bonamassa said that the entire assembly of gear is the result of “sweat equity over 35 years”.

Indeed, in rebuttal of those who claim his collection was “handed” to him, JoBo explained, “The narrative is I grew up in a rich family – wrong. The narrative is it was handed to me – wrong. It’s sweat equity over 35 years, and I make no apologies for it.”

Such is Bonamassa's passion for vintage guitars, he recently launched a plea for help in support of Guitar House of Tulsa, which recently had $80,000 worth of vintage gear stolen.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.