Live Show: Bonamassa Off the Charts Good

August 14, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

Pre-Show Clinic, Bogner Now in Rig


Red bird! Note the Bogner head.

Someone got it wrong.

Either Chuck Berry misread the divine inspiration he got, or a couple of young parents in upstate New York picked the wrong name for their son.

I’m betting Chuck was mistaken because after seeing Joe Bonamassa Wednesday night at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in New Jersey, there’s no doubt in my mind that he is the guy who plays the guitar like ringing a bell. He’s the country boy who can play. It’s Joe, not Johnny.

If you want a review, here it is: It was great. Joe was great, the band was tight, the show was great.

In terms of a description, I don’t really know where to start. There were no low points in the show, so it’s not really like there was a beginning, middle and end. And clearly Joe and the band were as thrilled to be there as the audience was.

Here's the second guitar Joe pulled out.

Here's the second guitar Joe pulled out.

The show was attended by people of all ages and both sexes. Everyone was having an equally good time. But for guitarists in particular, the show was beyond great. Joe’s tone was, as usual, stellar. Ditto for his technique, phrasing and overall mastery of the instrument. And he used eight different drool-worthy guitars during the show! Awesome!

I shouldn’t leave out the singing or the band: Both were very good. But Joe and his guitar-playing was the focus – for me and every other guit-slinger in the audience, anyway.

Some high points:

> White + red = cool: Joe walked out dressed in white with a red single-pickup Gibson Firebird. Sweet!

> Five, then breathe: The band ripped through five tunes (set list below) – and two guitar changes (Firebird, Les Paul with Bigsby, Bonamassa signature Les Paul) – before Joe said a word to the audience. On purpose! He’s very comfortable on the mic, so he was just firing everyone up. Not that they needed it!

> All wood: The acoustic guitar intro (more like a solo) before Woke Up Dreaming stole the show for a lot of people. Extremely clean, very good and very tasteful but with a lot of speed and flash here and there. It covered the following styles: Spanish/flamenco, blues, New Age (sorta), Al Dimeola/Friday Night in San Francisco, The Who – at least that’s what my ears told me! Sick, sick dynamics in his playing.

> Fig! Anton Fig of Letterman band fame took over the drums on Lonesome Road Blues. He killed! Felt like he picked the whole band up a notch. (If you want to hear just how much a drummer, and Anton in particular, can “make” a tune or album, listen to Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album. Anton plays on all the tracks and is amazing.)bonamassa_joe_v_090812_billtwomey

> Loved the V: Joe apparently had a new sound system (and lights) for the gig. I was stage right, two rows back and to me it sounded like Joe’s guitar was coming out of a tunnel.  In other words, I heard it okay but the acoustics weren’t good for me where I was sitting. That said, when Joe pulled out the Flying V (korina?) for the final (pre-encore) tune of the night – Just Got Paid/Dazed and Confused – for me there was a noticeable difference in tone: It sounded even better, more raw. Of course, it’s tough to say exactly why since I’m not sure which two of the four heads Joe used. I have to find out about that guitar….

I’m sure I’m forgetting some stuff, but there you go. Here is what guys on the Bonamassa forum said was the setlist, with my notes on guitars:

  • Had to Cry Today (Firebird)
  • So It’s Like That (Firebird)
  • Last Kiss (Les Paul/Bigsby – lemonburst?)
  • So Many Roads (same Les Paul/Bigsby)
  • Bridge to Better Days (signature Gold Top Les Paul)
  • Sloe Gin (sig LP) – I think this is the tune where they worked in a little Deep Purple “Perfect Strangers”
  • Lonesome Road Blues (cherryburst Les Paul, capo on 3rd fret)
  • Happier Times (same cherryburst LP)
  • Further on up the Road (Gold Top, cream pickup rings and pickguard – a GT Standard? Under the lights, the cream didn’t look as good as the black.)
  • Great Flood (same)
  • Woke up Dreaming (Yamaha? acoustic, capo 1st fret)
  • Just got paid/Dazed and Confused (Gibson Flying V – korina?)


  • Ball Peen Hammer (same acoustic)
  • Mountain Time (Ernie Ball Music Man Steve Morse Y2D in the purplish color, only bridge pickup used)

Pre-Show Clinic and Bogner

Thanks to someone on, I learned at the 11th hour that Joe was having a pre-show guitar clinic – free if you signed up! Joe’s PR/marketing folks were kind enough to get me on the list, and I’m stoked I heard about it! I believe he said it was the first such clinic he’d ever done, but not sure about that.

I’d say that between 60 and 100 people were there, just about all of whom are guitar players. Joe told some cool stories (a few summarized below), answered people’s questions and even let a couple guys play his signature gold top through his rig! Holy crap! I really wanted to, but all of a sudden I started getting cold feet – or hands.

Anyhow, here are some highlights from the clinic:

> Bogner: Obvious from looking at the stage was that one of Joe’s four heads was a Bogner. So it was: left stack – Carol-Ann JB-100, Van Weelden; right stack – Marshall Jubilee, Bogner Ecstasy. That meant the Category 5 JB 100 (what Joe calls “basically a Super Lead with a mid-boost on it”) was missing. Asked about the Bogner, Joe said he’s had it in his rig for about 6 months. Apparently Bogner is “making him one” (a signature head?) so he has the Ecstasy in the meantime. He said he’s probably the only person in the universe that likes the Ecstasy’s dark switch, and likes the Bogner head because it gives him a “Kossoff tone,” as in Paul Kossoff of Free. (Kossoff liked Super Bass heads, which usually have a somewhat darker tone than Super Leads.)

Here's the Music Man Steve Morse Y2D.

Here's the Music Man Steve Morse Y2D.

> How He Got Clapton: Joe recently filmed a gig (for a DVD out next month) at the Royal Albert Hall in that little country across the pond. Eric Clapton joined him onstage. How did he get Clapton there? He wrote him a letter – as in snail mail. Joe joked that he probably used 30-40% of the Amazon rainforest crafting just the right letter to Clapton, asking him to sit in on one song. He didn’t hear back for a couple of weeks and resigned himself to the fact that Clapton wouldn’t respond. “He’s not going to respond – he’s Eric Clapton!” Joe said. “The military has a saying – he’s above my pay grade.” But then Joe got an email from Eric saying he would do it and wondered about which song. Joe said this put him in a pickle because now he had to write him back! But Joe suggested Further On Up the Road, and Clapton agreed.

> All in the Hands: Joe said Clapton brought a signature model Strat and a tweed Fender Twin Reissue, which was stock – “I looked at it,” Joe said. “He had a Monster cable, plugged straight in and started playing – and it was instantly the Blues Breakers. It was inspirational So it doesn’t really matter what [equipment] you play. It’s how you actually feel it and what comes out.”

> Don’t Blink: He said that Royal Albert Hall gig “basically went by in a blur. I went on complete instinct. It went well, but I was so wound up about the taping and the guests we had….” He said he’s seen the DVD and is “really proud of it. It’s the thing I’m most proud of that I’ve ever done.”

> Two Off the List: After playing with Clapton, Joe later sat in with Steve Winwood. So he said he’s now crossed two “dream” items off his list.

> Tom Dowd: He talked about recording with legendary producer Tom Dowd, and how it helped him define his style. “I would do these long outro solos, and he [Dowd] would say, These eight bars sound like Clapton, these sound like Jimi Hendrix or whoever, these sound like some ’30s trumpet player I’d never heard of…but these four bars sound like you. That helped me find my style. It was like a college education every day.”

> Like an Acoustic: Asked how he gets his articulation, Joe said that he doesn’t use a lot of overdrive [and the 100-watt heads help with headroom], mutes a lot with the heel of his hand and uses nylon saddles [I believe just on the G, B and high E strings]. “It sounds overdriven, but I like it to feel like an acoustic guitar,” he said.

> No More Fender: He was also asked why he switched to Gibsons from Fenders. He said it was due to: a bad experience with Fender; the fact that many people hear a Strat and automatically think of Stevie Ray Vaughan (“you could make a canoe with two [Strats] and row it down the Hudson River, and some people would say that the sound that makes sounds like Cold Shot,” he said); and the fact that he seems to be moving toward an overall darker sound – which might explain why the Bogner is now in his rig.

Other Notable Items

Here are a few more items from the pre-show clinic:

> He said he keeps his guitars’ tone knobs on 5 so he can go up or down with them. He also never, or rarely, opens up the guitar with volume and tone knobs on 10.

> His pedal board has changed somewhat, but I couldn’t get a good look at it and couldn’t find any photos of it.

> He uses Dunlop Jazz 3 picks, and mics his cabs with Sennheiser 421s. Re: the mics, he says he wants his sound to be good not just for him but also for listeners. He added: “Unfortunately the gear I like is never the cheapest.”

> He does not overdub solos in the studio (“I overdub rhythm parts only”) and he doesn’t play solos in the control room (“I like being in the room with the amps”).

> Joe is 33 now and has been gigging regularly for 20 years.

> All photos in this post were taken by Bill Twomey.


Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big old band.
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down.
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying Joe be good tonight.

Go, go
Go Joe go…

Category: Bogner, Carol-Ann amps, Eric Clapton, Ernie Ball/Music Man, Firebird, Joe Bonamassa, Les Paul, Live Shows, Marshall

Comments (5)

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  1. Neil Johnson says:

    First of all, congrats on a great site! came across it..I watched Joe the week after he'd played with Eric, the gig was a small joint in Gothenburg ,Sweden and it was his birthday. I have to say I was gobsmacked! I managed to get a place overlooking the stage and the sound was amazing for such a small place, think Joe was also amazed at the amount of people they crammed in the hall.Guys a guitar genius, his tones and the variations between them and the guitars was simply amazing.If there was anything I would question it would be the "borrowing" of some parts of other bands, like led zepp and stuff, as he really doesnt need too.
    Interesting reading about his volume and tone settings..also impressive he's hung around such greats as Danny Gatton, Clapton, BB king etc..
    Anyway, I'll keep on reading, I also write a blog, but mostly about the guitars I stick together and getting my own tone…

  2. 67Mopar says:

    That’s one of the early 90’s (white chassis) Bogner Ecstasy 101B heads with the dual-selectible cabinet outputs and attenuator loop. Very cool! I have one of those myself. Go Joe!!!

  3. Bogner100B says:

    No. You are mistaken. Joe has already stated in many interviews as well as it being obvious by looking at the amp that it is a 100B. Very different than a 101B. Especially the cab switching ones.

  4. 67Mopar says:

    Oh! Okay…

    The 100B is sweet, but they’re a bit loose and squishy sounding to me. Doesn’t really matter what amp JB plays – they’re all going to sound great! LOL

    I didn’t care for the 2007 XTC 101B I had… I now have a 1994 white chassis with cabinet select that absolutely slays! Best Bogner amp I’ve ever played – and I’ve played many. The Mercury Magnetics transformers Bogner used in the early 90’s really make a huge difference IMO. I spoke to Charlie at Bogner recently, and he told me to “hold on to that amp!” The build quality alone is something you just don’t see very often. It’s SO transparent – yet SO smooth with the just the flip of the excursion switch! The cabinet switching is as cool as it gets. I have a 2×12 Cornford cab w/Alnico Gold’s output #1, and a 4×12 w/V30’s on output #2.

    Someone who goes by the name of “Squarehead” on HC was bad-mouthing the white chassis models? Maybe he’s pissed because he played one – only to find-out that it sounded better than his 100B? LOL! I owned a 100B back in 2000, and while it sounded great, I prefer the white chassis 101B hands-down! The 20th Shiva a sweet amp too.

  5. 67Mopar says:

    Your comments bare no fruit sir! Joe also plays an OD-2 which many players I’ve spoken with don’t care to play… As a former OD-2 owner, I am one of them.

    The 100B and early 101B are VERY close in design and tone. The difference between the two is a matter of a few parts and a minor variance in filtering. By your screen name; “Bogner100B” I can tell you aren’t biased. Not at all! ;)

    Let’s go beyond the Ecstasy 100B hype:

    I owned a 100B model for over a year, and sold it in favor of a 96 Soldano SLO100 which I still own to this day. The 100B “hype” is nothing more than that – hype! You want to believe that you have “the best sounding Bogner ever made” – but the truth is you don’t. If you personally prefer your 100B – than that’s cool. But please stop with all the BS!

    From Bogner;
    “Comparing a cab switcher XTC to a no cab switcher XTC is splitting hairs. Some may prefer the cab switcher model – some may not…”.

    When I purchased a 2007 XTC, the same seller also had a 100B, 101A, 101B (white chassis) XTC with cabinet switching. I played all the amps in his studio (including the 100B), and begged him to sell me the 101B cab switcher model! Which he of course refused. :( I took the 2007 XTC home only to sell it 3 weeks later. I have yet to play a “Classic”, but I hear they are a very nice amp also.

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