Even after a cursory glance at Joe Bonamassa’s Twitter and Facebook page, it’s easy to tell this guy is into great vintage gear. From the rows and rows of Fender combos to a few vintage Marshall stacks, Bonamassa doesn’t discriminate—if it’s a benchmark for a great guitar tone, he has one (or seven). “I love talking about amps. It’s so much better than talking about other stuff,” Bonamassa gleams from his home in Los Angeles. With a collection that’s comfortably in the three digits, he has literally seen and played them all. When talking about his most underrated amps, the excitement in his voice was palpable. A genuine curiosity and interest came across, and when he touched on each amp it was as if he was reconnecting with an old friend. Set aside the Dumbles and Silver Jubilee Marshalls—these choices are not only quirky and interesting, but in most cases, they’re affordable.
Lab Series L5
Everyone knows it as the “B.B. King” amp, but it’s also the Ronnie Montrose amp—and the Ty Tabor amp. They can readily be had for less than $200 because people just want to get rid of them. It’s simply a kick-ass, solid-state amp. I like the immediacy of the older solid-state amps—they’re so punchy. The new digital solid-state junk is another story, but the old stuff is killin’. B.B.’s tone is great with the Lab Series. It’s warm and creamy and much more consistent than a Twin.
You can generally get one of these for between $350 and $500. It’s a really cheap, Russian amp made of military parts with poor solder joints that’s basically a hot-rodded Bassman. They were made in the early ’90s and are definitely road-worthy. Mike Matthews from Electro-Harmonix came up with the design. My amp tech, Bob Dixon, loves them. He even likes the MIG-60. They also made a MIG-100, but the MIG-50 is great.
1963 Fender Deluxe
Everybody gets all hot and bothered about the Deluxe Reverb, but not many people get worked up about a “brownface” ’63 Deluxe. But you put a mic in front of it and there’s just something about that circuit—it just explodes with tone. It’s one of the biggest-sounding, small Fender combo amps ever made. But, they’re pricey—usually between $2,500 and $3,000. You can hear it on “Trouble Town” and “Living On the Moon” from the new album.