Let’s talk gear. You mostly used a ’59 Historic Les Paul for the electric-driven cuts on this album. Can you take me through that rig?
Sure. I have four Historic ‘59s of varying degrees of flame toppage but I use one in particular a little more. . . That main one I use is a 2003. And it has original Bumble Bee caps. To be honest with you, I’m not really a fan of people tearing up Melody Makers from the ‘50s to rip 500k pots and Bumble Bee caps out of ‘em, but someone had already done this to what was an unusable guitar that my dad bought. So, we put a legitimate set of ’59 pots and Bumble Bee caps in this Les Paul and I put in a set of PF humbuckers from 1953. It just opened up the guitar, giving it that very 800 Hz to 900 Hz very human quality to it. For me the moment of truth on any Les Paul is when you go to the G string, B string and high E string – does the bottom end stay tight and bright. This one does and I use it for that particular reason.
Your D-28 sounds amazing. How’d you record it?
We used a Neumann 87- the studio had a newer one. We used it through a 1083 Neve and basically an 1176 UREI compressor. We were going for that early Crosby, Stills & Nash tone. Moderns have a tendency to get a little scooped out in the mids so you don’t really hear all the notes but that particular D-28 doesn’t have a ton of bottom and it doesn’t have a ton of top, which of course bluegrass guys would pick it up and say, ‘Oh, this is a crappy one,’ but for a recording guitar it’s very direct. I think it’s a ’57 or a ’58.
Pick up anything new lately?
Yeah, I’ve got a Gibson Custom Shop prototype- it’s called a Skylark. It’s based on a late ‘50s – early ‘60s Korina lap steel. It’s shaped like a Les Paul and it has the old Flying V logo on it, but the Skylark headstock and the ’59 profile neck. The cool thing is, all the frets are numbered which is really wild.
|“I think people are getting back to that mentality of 'Let me work on my playing first' and then finding gear to augment that and make it easier.”
You’ve seen a lot of changes in the guitar industry over the years, plus you know a lot with your dad owning a music store and all – what excites you right now?
You know, to me what’s exciting is seeing guys like Jeff Beck plugging straight into a JCM2000 with pretty much a stock Strat he’ll just make you cry, you know. I just saw Johnny Winter; we just did a show with him in Dallas. He’s still a guy plugging the Firebird straight into the amp and it sounds like Johnny Winter. I think people are getting back to that mentality of ‘Let me work on my playing first’ and then finding gear to augment that and make it easier. It’s gotten back to the basics of -- can we just buy a little Fender Champ and a Les Paul and make it sound like something. That’s the new thing.
Amp-wise, this guy Peter Van Weelden from Holland is building some great Marshall-type stuff, some Dumble-type stuff. Alan Phillips of Carol-Ann Amps, the guys at Two-Rock are making some nice stuff and Marshall – I like their new vintage modern thing. I love the clean channel on that. But again, all this good stuff is about getting back to basics.
What’s next on your horizon?
Next year we’re going to start working on the World Blues Album. We’re going to six continents to record with indigenous musicians playing the blues. I want to show people how the blues are interpreted by others all over the world. It’s a pretty ambitious project, something no one has ever attempted before so we’re going to try to be the Magellan’s and sail around the Horn without killing ourselves!
Joe Bonamassa's new album, Sloe Gin
, is in stores now. He is currently touring the Midwest and will hit the East coast by mid-November. He is scheduled to tour India and Europe starting in Februrary.
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Photos: Ross Halfin, Eckhard Henkel