“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”: Joe Bonamassa sets the record straight on the humble beginnings of his world-famous guitar collection

Joe Bonamassa
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

It goes without saying that Joe Bonamassa is one of the world’s foremost collectors of electric guitar gear, with an enviable assortments that totals well over 500 pieces.

While it's easy to marvel at the swarm of vintage Fenders, Gibsons, Marshalls and more that populate Bonamassa’s gear museum/home, Nerdville, this collection didn’t just appear out of thin air.

And, while some spectators online would be quick to tell you that Nerdville’s inventory was handed to Bonamassa by way of a wealthy family, the reality could not be further from the truth.

The origins of JoBo's gear collecting habits – and the start of his world-famous gear collection – were one topic of conversation when Bonamassa recently sat down for an in-depth chat with Rick Beato.

During the 80-plus-minute interview, the guitar aficionado shot down those who are quick to downplay his collection, and reflected on the start of his collecting journey as proof.

“I’m known as a collector now and I have access to just about everything, but back [then] I had an amp and a guitar,” he explained. “I had a Silvertone 1481, [which] maybe put out eight watts, but it was just low enough where I could crank the cassette deck and have enough headroom to play.

“Then I got a reverb pedal. It was some DOD – not to knock ‘em, it was terrible – but in my mind, when you’re 10 and you have your first reverb pedal and you’re achieving these kind of sounds that you’re hearing on record, it was like, ‘It sounds like the Albert Hall.’ It really didn’t. It didn’t matter.

“That was it, then I got a [Fender] Twin Reverb with the red knobs. I was like, ‘Man, I can get high gain, clean, and reverb?!’ I was on top of the world. Then I had four guitars. I saved up all my gig money. I thought I was the biggest collector in the world. I would set them all up on stands.”

Nowadays, Bonamassa sees himself as the same avid gear fan, but the only thing that has changed is the substantially larger “budget for purchase” he has – something he's amassed over his 35-year career.

Joe Bonamassa

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

“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,” Bonamassa continued. “All I do is collect guitars and things that I’m into, because that's what my heroes played. 

“I don't collect esoteric things that I don't have a connection to, that maybe somebody else would have a connection to. I like Fender and Gibson and Marshall, and Fender amps, because that’s what my heroes played.”

That’s not to say Bonamassa doesn’t acknowledge the issues that young aspiring collectors today are faced with, however: “I feel for younger people, because there are a lot of younger folks that are into old shit.

“But back in the ‘90s when I started buying stuff, I had $300, I did a gig and my mom would take most of the money and put it in the bank for me, [and] leave me a couple of hundred.

“Okay, now I can buy a [Fender] Princeton Reverb. Had the Princeton Reverb – ‘Okay, not really working for what I’m doing, I’m gonna trade that Princeton in. Maybe I’ll try find a Super.’ And a [Fender] Super [Reverb] was $375, so I save some more money. You could experiment with all this stuff and it wouldn’t break the bank.

“Now, if you want to try a Tweed Deluxe, it’s gonna cost you $10,000. That’s a supply-and-demand marketplace. You’re dealing with a finite amount of gear.”

See more

The humble origins of his assortment of vintage gear wasn’t the only popular online narrative concerning his world-famous collection that Bonamassa sought to address during his chat with Beato.

Later on, JoBo turned his attention to those who believe his collecting habits are actually damaging to the second-hand gear market, and fired back at the notion that, by purchasing more gear, Bonamassa is taking away stock from other aspiring players.

“The narrative online is that, by buying stuff and collecting stuff, I am keeping some kid from buying that,” he outlined. “That reasoning doesn’t hold water with me, because… stuff finds me.

“A gentleman and his daughter brought me a 1972 Marshall stack from Kingston, New York. He wanted me to buy it because he has autism, doesn’t play, and inherited it from his father – and he wanted it to go to a good home.

“That’s the end of the argument that I’m keeping other people from having this stuff. That’s the end of the argument. It’s the beginning and the end. That amp was only going to one person. If I didn’t want it, he probably would have just kept it.”

As mentioned, Bonamassa's gear collection needs no introduction. One highlight in particular is the Bolin 'Burst, which JoBo acquired during the strangest guitar deal he ever did.

As for the most expensive guitar in his collection? Why, that would be a mint ’58 Flying V, worth over $400,000.

Visit Rick Beato's YouTube channel to watch the full interview with Joe Bonamassa.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

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.