REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amato was drawn to guitar when he was just a little tyke.
“My dad said that at 4 years old, I had a ukulele and I would just strum that thing with my fingers until they were cracked and bleeding!” Amato told Gibson.com. “I started playing guitar and taking lessons at 8 years old, and I’ve never looked back.”

Now, one of Amato’s major guitar dreams has been actualized: having his own Dave Amato Les Paul Axcess from Gibson Custom.

“It’s amazing,” Amato said of the guitar. “I don’t even have words for it.”

Amato spoke with Gibson.com about his journey into playing guitar with REO Speedwagon, the specifics of his Dave Amato Les Paul Axcess (“It’s a lead player’s guitar,” he said) and why his father told him, “If you’re going to play guitar, you have to play a Gibson.”

You have a really interesting backstory in the music business. Originally from Massachusetts, you moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to pursue music. What were those first days of breaking into the L.A. scene like?

There was a lot of time spent going to auditions and trying to make it. I played Top 40 music in Massachusetts, so I knew how to do that, so I got into a Top 40 band in L.A. I figured that if I was playing cover tunes, someone in Hollywood would see me, and it kind of happened that way. Jonathan Cain, the keyboard player in Journey, was married to Tané at the time, and she was looking for a guitar player. She came in and saw me singing some Journey tunes and asked me if I’d want to do an audition. I got the gig, and we did a small tour with Eddie Money. It got me out of the clubs, which was great.

During the 1980s, you played with big names such as Mötley Crüe, Richie Sambora, Ted Nugent, Cher and Rick Springfield. What were those gigs like?

It was an exciting time for me. In 1985, a friend introduced me to Ted Nugent, and he came into the club and saw me, and then all of a sudden, I started doing records with Ted Nugent. That was a big thing for me. I did both lead singing and playing guitar with Nugent. After that, I did background vocals for Motley Crue, David Lee Roth and Rick Springfield.

You joined REO Speedwagon in 1989, filling a vacancy left by Gary Richrath. How did the gig come about?

I was doing a lot of sessions, both vocals and guitar. A friend of mine, Jesse Harms from Sammy Hagar, was writing songs with Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon. They needed a new guitar player. He said, “Would you come down and play a couple of REO songs? They’re looking for a guitar player.” On a Friday, I had the audition at 1 p.m., and by 5 p.m., they asked me to join the band. I’ve been there ever since that afternoon!

REO Speedwagon spent most of the summer on tour with Def Leppard and Tesla. How was that trek?

It was great! It started in May of this year, and this is the last week on the tour. I’m kind of sad about it, because everybody is getting along so well. I love the Def Leppard guys. They’re fantastic musicians and people. Tesla have also become friends of ours. It’s a really sad week for us!

Let’s discuss guitars! Why is Gibson your guitar of choice?

I’ve always played Gibsons, all of my life. I played Gibsons even when I was a little kid. My dad told me, “If you’re going to play guitar, you have to play a Gibson.” That stuck in my head. I’ve always had a Gibson, and finally, I have my signature model, which is just an honor. I think we have a great product here.

Congratulations on the new Dave Amato Les Paul Axcess from Gibson Custom. What particulars did you want in the design of this guitar?

We came up with a beautiful guitar. It’s a HD TV finish, which was big in the ‘50s, and nobody has really reissued that color. It’s an old-meets-new feel. We also put a Floyd Rose on it, which is kind of new, and one pickup instead of two. It’s a lead player’s guitar, so you can really wail on it and do some bending with it.

This is the first guitar by Gibson Custom to feature a solid, White Ebony fretboard.

Yes! That was Phillip Whorton from Gibson’s idea. He said, “There’s this White Ebony that’s never been put on a Gibson Custom before.” It makes the guitar really unique. We were trying to make the guitar as different as possible. It’s fast and plays amazing, and I like its uniqueness.

How has this guitar been holding up on the road?

Great! I got the prototype last February, and I’ve been playing it every single night, and it’s amazing. It hasn’t needed any adjustments. It’s an incredible guitar.

What are your main Gibson guitars, both on tour and in the studio?

I’ve had almost all Gibson Custom ‘59s or ‘58s. I also have some ‘57 Goldtops and ‘57 Customs. A lot of them are ’59 reissue Sunbursts. They’re all great.

What’s next for you and REO Speedwagon?

Later this month, we have a little bit of time off. Then, we do our own headlining shows in November. In December, we go to Europe, and I get back on Christmas Eve. We’re working on new music all the time. We haven’t recorded anything lately, because we’re so busy on the road, but we’ll get around to it in the spring, because we’re so busy this year and have so many gigs.