In our ongoing series, Gibson.com examines the work of some Gibson guitar greats. Let's get some gritty blues-rock with the tireless Joe Bonamassa...

Who is he?

To his fans, Joe Bonamassa is the messiah of post-millennium blues. As a pre-teen prodigy, he even got to open for B.B. King when he was just 12 years old.

His releases are incredibly prodigious. Fifteen studio albums, 15 live albums, plus albums with “supergroup” Black Country Communion, collaborations with Beth Hart and numerous live DVDs. Eleven of his solo albums have hit #1 on the Billboard Blues charts.

Joe Bonamassa by Laurence Harvey
Photo Credit: Laurence Harvey

Along that journey, he's dueted with the likes of Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and many, many others.

Bonamassa's a massive gear-head. On tour days-off, Joe doesn't relax by the pool – he and his tech tend to go guitar shopping. His own website is a heady mix of news updates, videos, lessons, recommendations, profiles and pics of his own guitars, endless JB merchandise (for when you crave that Venezuela or Belgium-themed JB t-shirt!) and more.

Bonamassa also runs a nonprofit organization called the “Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation” whose mission it is to further music education by funding scholarships and providing music education resources to schools in need. This guy never stops. Like another “JB”, he just might be “the hardest working man in showbusiness”.

Signature Sounds

Bonamassa's critics say he doesn't really have his own guitar “voice”. Thing is, Bonamassa is such a scholar of blues-rock he's soaked it all up like a sponge. And wrings it all out with finesse.

“Initially, I had no clue that the Lonnie Johnsons and even the Robert Johnsons of the blues world existed. I just wanted to play like Paul Kossoff, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton when he was in Cream,” he once told Guitar World. “As a 10-year-old, the subtleties of traditional blues are lost on you, especially after you hear Alvin Lee on “I’m Going Home” busting out the Gibson ES-335 with four double-stacked Marshalls. British blues was my favorite music, and it still is. It’s big and ballsy and dangerous, and that all appeals to me. The country blues came later.”

JB's usually modest about his melange of sounds: “I still feel I’m struggling to step into my own shoes as a musician,” he said recently. “Every day I work on refining my phrasing. Whenever I hear my playing, I can’t detach from my influences: there’s my Jeff Beck, there’s the Clapton bit, the Eric Johnson bit, the Birelli Lagrene bit, the Billy Gibbons...”

Joe Bonamassa by Marty Moffatt
Photo Credit: Marty Moffatt

He told Guitarist magazine, “I love Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and T-Bone Walker and stuff like that, but I couldn't sit down. I was always forcing myself to listen to whole records by them, where I'd rather listen to Humble Pie do "I'm Ready" than Muddy Waters, you know? I think, the English interpretation of the blues just hit me a lot better, you know?"

If you want to think blues-rock soloing technique, Bonamassa reckons, “It’s all about the internal bends. A guitar is so tactile, and when you’re playing bends – and bending notes is a big part of my style - there are so many notes within the note you’re bending from and the note you’re bending up to. For me it’s about filtering out the bad notes and finding these little quarter-tones, as you drop down the bends, to make a very crisp statement that people can feel.”

In a nutshell, Bonamassa is about slow bends with sudden flurries of shred-like speed, spot-on intonation, fat tone, plus controlled feedback. Easy!

Joe Bonamassa and Gibson

Joe plays many makes of guitars, many types of guitars, but he's a certified member of the Gibson family. He owns many Les Pauls, his favorite being one of quite a few vintage '59 sunbursts he owns. “Serial number 90829. It’s the first ’59 that I bought, and I never thought I would pay that much for anything other than a house.

“That guitar is perfect for me. The neck shape, the way it plays and responds – no matter how good you are, that guitar doubles back and says: Is that all you’ve got for me today?”

Gibson worked with Joe to produce the replica Gibson Skinnerburst 1959 Les Paul . It's hand-aged by Gibson Custom to precisely reproduce Joe's unique guitar, from its “dirty lemon” finish to back-body wear to precisely-replicated pickups.

Joe Bonamassa Les Paul

2016 adds the Les Paul Joe Bonamassa Tomato Soup Burst , in a richer color. There's a hardtail version and one with a Bigsby vibrato. It's Joe's homage to the early '60s, with his favored knobs arrangement and the pickguard and case hand-signed by Joe. So get one quick, as it's a Limited Run.

Joe Bonamassa Les Paul

Gibson Custom also makes the Bonabyrd – a Les Paul body with Firebird headstock in, of course, the color blue. Radical!

Joe Bonamassa by Marty Moffatt
Photo Credit: Marty Moffatt

Joe's massive Gibson haul also includes various Goldtops, reverse and non-reverse Gibson Firebirds, a '62 Polaris White SG, various ES-335s, Flying Vs, a Gibson U-Style Harp guitar, a one-off Gibson Skylark and... many more.

Joe Bonamassa Gibson Skylark

This guitar addiction started young for Bonamassa: “My father owned a guitar shop in the '90s,” he recently told Guitar Aficionado. “He would always buy and sell. In my teenage years I socked away some money and bought what I could.

“I work every day of my life to pay for it all. Collecting guitars is something I’m very passionate about. I enjoy doing it and meeting people around it. I’ve met a lot of my best friends this way, almost exclusively through the guitar.” Amen brother!

Essential Listening

Whoa, where to start? The live Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks was a big commercial success. Tour De Force – Live From The Royal Albert Hall is another great live album, also on DVD/Blu-ray video. His blending of ZZ Top's “Just Got Paid” and Zeppelin's “Dazed And Confused” on a Gibson Flying V (with added Theremin) is mind-boggling.

The Ballad of John Henry album takes on blues folklore, Driving Towards The Daylight is Gary Moore-esque in its heaviness of guitar on some cuts.

Inevitably, there's yet another new album: Blues Of Desperation out March 2016 and in summer 2016 Bonamassa also tours the U.K. in a Salute To The British Blues Explosion. Clapton, Page and Beck rockin' will abound. And you can almost guarantee there'll be a DVD.

Watch!

There are many live DVDs out there, so here's just one example from Joe B's official YouTube channel. It shows how JB's he's inherited British Blues Explosion guitar style into classic blues tunes, in this case Howlin' Wolf.

Or, for more ideas for your own playing be sure to watch his Bona Jam Tracks via JoeBonamassaTV (website and YouTube). Here, Joe shows us how he plays “The Ballad Of John Henry”.

Learn more at Jbonamassa.com and the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation.