The ‘Dark’ Bonamassa Interview, Part 2

March 11, 2010 | By | Reply More
Joe playing his signature Les Paul in candy apple blue (source:

Joe playing his signature Les Paul in candy apple blue (source:

Part 1 of this interview was about the music Joe Bonamassa has been recording lately. In part 2 below, it’s all about tone and gear (yeah!). Joe has a great ear for tone (for woody tone), so it’s always interesting to see what he has to say.

WoodyTone: There’s Black Rock, Black Country and now I’m seeing you with what looks like a black Les Paul – what’s going on there?

Joe: It’s coincidental. I’m actually in a really good mood. The Black Rock studio album came about because of the name of the studio [Black Rock] where we recorded it. Black Country totally was not my idea, but it’s a good idea if we can use it. So coincidentally there’s a lot of black things going around my name but it’s not like that. And the Les Paul is actually blue.

What color blue is that?

Candy apple blue. They [Gibson] made four candy-apple-blue Bonamassas [his signature model Les Paul]. They sold four, and I got the fifth one – I said, ‘Hey, can I get one,’ and they said okay. So instead of gold it’s painted candy apple blue. It photographs black, but if you get right up on it it’s blue.

I know you prefer 100-watters. It’s obviously not because of the volume difference [negligible] vs. 50s, so what is it?

It’s the clean headroom with 100 watts that you don’t get with 50s. You back off the volume and the guitar comes clean. I very rarely do anything with the guitar with both the volume and tone [knobs] on 10. You can get lots of tones [by using those knobs]. Paul Kossoff [of Free] used to use a Les Paul and a couple of Super Lead 100s, and if you watch footage of him his [guitar] volume and tone are very rarely on 10.

If the guitar is up to 10, and if you have a tone control and don’t use it, you’re missing out on many different variations of sound. So the way I use the [100-watt heads] is a very organic way of doing it [getting more sounds out of his rig].

I admire your ear for tone and have heard you talk about just about every piece of gear in the signal chain except for one: pickups. Why is that?

A close-up of the candy apple blue LP (click to see it bigger – source: BostonGuitar @

A close-up of the candy apple blue LP (click to see it bigger – source: BostonGuitar @

I’m not a tweaker. When I find a guitar that I like, unless the guitar physically breaks I will never take the pickups out and put others in for the sake of finding the magic – the reason being you chase your tail with much of this stuff. I like the Burstbuckers that come with [some, including his] Les Pauls. Lollar makes some good [pickups], WCR makes some good ones, Duncan makes some good ones. If they happen to be in a guitar I like, that’s what they’re going to be.

I get guys all the time – sometimes they want to bring their own soldering gun [to change out his pickups]. I’m like, ‘You’re not going to get near my guitar with a soldering gun.’

So I don’t have many pickups or opinions on pickups. I have five guitars with original PAFs and a reissue [Les Paul] with them but I didn’t put those in there. [Someone] just happened to put those on there. [I look at] a guitar as a whole.

That’s my 2-cent opinion on pickups.

I don’t think you’ve talked much about strings either.

I use Ernie Balls, 11-52 nickel Power Slinkys. I love their strings. They never break…[though] in the course of a tour…strings get changed whether they need to or not. I love the Ernie Balls because they intonate well and have a very good top-end in the sense that it’s rolled off a bit – very organic and warm.

Some [string brands] come out of the package dead, some feel like they’re hurting your hand. I love Ernie Balls – and Music Man guitars as well. I’m really a fan of all their stuff.

Were the Music Mans used on Black Rock?

They were. We used the Steve Morse and the 25th Anniversary. I don’t remember which songs – I think the 25th was on Bird on a Wire.


> Here’s what Ernie Ball says about the Power Slinkys. Note that the standard string gauge is lighter than what Joe uses. “…a perfect match for those who like chunky rhythms for rock and roll or blues. Power Slinkys have long been favored by Slash, Metallica and Kenny Wayne Shepherd due to the thicker gauge combination providing a slightly more powerful tone. These strings are precision-manufactured to the highest standards and most-exacting specifications to ensure consistency, optimum performance and long life. Power Slinky wound strings are made from nickel plated steel wire wrapped around a hex shaped steel core wire. The plain strings are made of specially tempered tin-plated high-carbon steel, producing a well balanced tone for your guitar. Gauges .011 .014 .018p .028 .038 .048.”

– End of part 2 (of 2) –

Category: Bogner, Ernie Ball/Music Man, Joe Bonamassa, Les Paul, Marshall, Music Man, Paul Kossoff, Van Weelden

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