This is a Guest Post by James Abel
Joe Bonamassa is arguably one of the hottest blues players currently on the planet. His virtuosic ability and soaring tone have seen him become a guitar hero to many generations of fans. This article takes a look at how to achieve his guitar tone by spending money like it’s going out of fashion, and for those wife fearing men that are kind to their wallets. But yes, suit and shades are optional.
For those with some cash to spend, it’s worth trying to hunt down one of Joe’s signature model Les Pauls. These can generally be found on Ebay for anywhere between $1500 to $4000, depending on whether you purchase a studio or custom shop model; they also all feature the classic appointments found on a Les Paul. All of Joe’s signature models prior to 2013 featured Gibson’s Burstbucker pickups, whereas the most recent models have the Bluesman’s signature Seymour Duncan models. Both of these are great for getting that creamy and wide Bonamassa tone, but it has to be said that his signature set does possess a marginally clearer tone with more of a bell-like quality. So if you can find one of his Lesters from 2013 it’s worth the tears from the wallet and wife as you will find yourself a step closer to JoeBoe’s sound. For those that want the Bonamassa tone but don’t fancy a signature model due to the name on the headstock, or because gold’s not their colour, fitting new pickups on a Custom Shop model or USA model is worth a punt. A Les Paul without chambering is preferable as it will help to keep the sound dark and tight, much like Joe’s. If you do go down the route of pickup replacement, sourcing a set of Joe’s signature pickups can be both an expensive and difficult task due to the limited number available. Gibson’s Burstbuckers, as mentioned earlier, are perhaps a slightly better option as they cost a fraction of the price and are still pretty damn close to the mark. For getting close to Joe’s searing tones on a budget, it’s worth taking a look at replacing the pickups on an Epiphone Les Paul. Burstbuckers are the definite option here due to the extravagant price of the Seymour Duncan custom shop pickups. Another option that’s worth a look at is Vintage’s V100MRJBM. At $599 it’s not too painful on the wallet and is essentially an unauthorised take on Joe’s signature models. Either way, both would be fine options when attempting to capture JoeBo’s tones at a low price.
Marshall DSL100s and Silver Jubilees are good options here. Although the latter proves harder to find, and is a lot less caring to your pocket, it’s a one way ticket to Bonamassaville and will give you the gorgeous bell-like, creamy, hot and sustaining tone Joe is known for. Joe’s also been known to heavily use DSL100s and so for a cheaper and more easily sourced alternative the DSL is a superb option. If you can afford both, then go for it. Combining the two really will get you close to Joe’s tone, it will also help to thicken the sound with the two amps support each other. Loading cabinets with EV200s, Joe’s speaker of choice, can also help put you in the Bonamassa ball park. Their ability to handle high power ratings will help give you that clarity his sound possesses. For those on a budget, look no further than Marshall’s new for 2013, DSL40C. The amp is the little brother to the DSL100 and provides all of the whopping tone in a practical and more affordable combo.
FX and other bits
Joe’s main pedal board tends to consist of; a Dunlop Bonamassa Wah, Lehle ABY switcher, Way Huge Pork Loin, Dunlop Bonamassa Fuzz Face, TS808 Tubescreamer, Boss DD3 and a Hughes and Kettner Leslie simulator. If you really do have cash to splurge then cloning this pedal board should be no issue, as each pedal can easily be purchased. However, if you’re on a budget then the essential tools for Joe’s tone are a Tubescreamer, a Wah and a Fuzzface as he is generally never seen leaving home without these. Dunlop produces cheaper alternatives to Joe’s signature gear such as a standard Wah or the pedal board friendly mini germanium Fuzzface, which will see you shelling out $100 and $150 respectively. Finding a Tubescreamer for a good price is far from difficult as the little green gems can go for as little as $75 on Ebay. If you’re on an even tighter budget, and are after a Bonamassa in a box, the Way Huge Pork Loin is the best option. Weighing in at a reasonable $199 it produces ounces of the creamy, soft top end that is recognised in Joe’s sound. Another way of getting the Bonamassa sound is changing your pick. Joe’s pick of choice is the Dunlop Jazz III which is also favoured by, that’s right you guessed it, Eric Johnson. Yep, go figure! Nevertheless using this pick is a quick way of reducing some of the top end in your sound, a tonal feature that is synonymous with Joe and is also a cheap and cheerful way of getting closer to his sound. If you own a Les Paul wrapping the strings over the end of the stop-bar, as well as installing nylon saddles at the bridge can also get you closer to Joe’s tone. The modifications reduce the angle and tension on the strings causing them to sound somewhat darker and softer, they also help to get that juicy sustain that oozes from Bonamassa’s axes.
Hopefully it’s easy to see that Joe’s sounds can be achieved regardless of the size of your wallet. Whether you want an identical rig, or a cheaper one that gets you pretty darn close, Joe’s sound is available in many shapes and sizes.