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.
“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.”
Big thanks to Jake and Valen for bringing this one owner mint 1972 Marshall Super Lead 100 stack down to Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass. this afternoon. Nerdville East is proud to give it a loving home. 😎👍 pic.twitter.com/tb8VmdGeauNovember 24, 2023
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.