Photo by Brittany Durdin
The rising guitar star blends classic and stoner rock, Motown, and more influences with modern pop flourishes in songs replete with fat, fuzzy, fizzy tones from her new Epiphone Sheraton signature.
For so many artists, the return of live shows means the return of the thrill of performing, much-needed income, and, in a way, purpose. The third definitely goes for guitarist Emily Wolfe, who, when asked about her goals, immediately responds, "I just want to play arenas every night for the rest of my life. When I go up there, something could hit me at any point—an emotion that I felt 10 years ago could come out in a bend on the low E."
As she sharpens her sound, Wolfe is helping to keep the rock genre alive—not by mimicry or séance, but by taking the grit of the past and expanding it with a broader emotional vocabulary, confidently concise guitar work, and pop-inspired arrangements.
Wolfe, who's toured and performed with Gary Clark Jr., the Toadies, Heart, and the Pretenders, doesn't get why people can be so confounded by the third descriptor. "Some of my rock friends say, 'Pop isn't relevant,' and I'm like, 'What are you talking about—it's everywhere!' It's so sticky for people, and that's really fascinating to me. I want my music to have that quality … but also the realness of a raw guitar tone."
Epiphone Exclusive | “No Man” by Emily Wolfe
What's exciting about her latest full-length release, Outlier, is how she captures exactly what she's talking about. The songs bleed like a wounded gunslinger over a silvery backdrop of deftly layered synths, tight vocal harmonies, and blended acoustic and electronic drums. Over the course of the album, she sings, "I just can't get close enough to you," ("Vermillion Park"), "I'm addicted to the broken," ("Never Gonna Learn"), and "I'll chase you 'til my lungs give out," ("My Lungs Give Out"). It's through her adept genre fusion and aching romanticism that Wolfe offers her audience something to connect with that's not just clever, but also powerful.
"An emotion that I felt 10 years ago could come out in a bend on the low E."
Stone Age Methods
Outlier was produced by Michael Shuman, bassist of Queens of the Stone Age, who Wolfe describes as "like, the coolest guy that I've ever seen in my life." It started out as a long-distance project, as she's based in Austin and Shuman is in Los Angeles. They sent demos back and forth before Wolfe went into the studio in the fall of 2020. (She was later joined by bassist Evan Nicholson and drummer Clellan Hyatt.) With Shuman's encouragement, Wolfe set aside perfectionist leanings and took a more adventurous approach to the recording process than she had in the past.
Emily Wolfe's semi-hollow Epiphone signature model, the Sheraton Stealth, is a modern take on John Lee Hooker's longtime favorite, the Sheraton. It has a layered maple body with a mahogany neck, signature inlays, a Tune-o-matic bridge, CTS pots, two volume controls and one tone control, and Epiphone's Alnico Classic PRO pickups.
Photo by Barbara FG
On her 2019 self-titled first album, Wolfe exacted every tone before entering the studio, but this time around, she allowed more room for spontaneity, which made things far more relaxed. "It was easy to get into the flow and be really present," she says. "I think I'll probably do the next record like that because it was a lot more fun." One trick she made use of with engineer Michael Harris involved an MPC (music production center) controller and a few floppy discs of drum samples. Throughout the recording process, the samples were layered on top of the acoustic drums.
But that experimentalism came with some apprehension. "I said to [Shuman], 'How am I going to replicate this sound live?'" Wolfe says. "He was like, 'It doesn't matter, dude, just make the best record you can and figure out the live stuff later.'" Shuman's attitude toward recording contributed to the flexible atmosphere that enabled Wolfe to evolve, but not without some challenges. "There was one instance when, on 'Damage Control,' I didn't have anything prepared [for the solo]," she says, "and he was like, 'Go up to my living room and write something and come back down when you have it.'"
"If I get a new piece of gear, I have to figure out every single part of it before I can really use it."
The Persistence of Pop
On Outlier, Wolfe's ambition was to create a golden blend of classic eras, drawing upon '60s Motown, '70s glam, '80s synth-pop, and '90s grunge to produce something as enduring as those styles. "If you listen to Motown, in the first minute or so, the hook is there. I wanted to bring that in, too," she relates. "There's so much rawness [to classic rock]; the edges are not perfect, but there's a magic in that. There's also the side of modern stuff where the edges are really perfect and very computerized. I wanted to mix those together and see what would happen."
Wolfe believes that modern pop stars are not given enough credit for their work ethic, daring, and conceptual talent. If you doubt that, consider Carly Rae Jepsen, who wrote 200 songs in the course of producing her albums Emotion (2015) and Dedicated (2019). And there's the prolific Ed Sheeran, who in 2015 sold out the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium for three nights in a row as a solo act, and Swedish writer and producer Max Martin, who's written 25 No. 1 hits (split among 10 different artists), which is five more than the Beatles have as a band. "I have a theory that Max Martin is an alien. He's in the Illuminati, I swear to God," says Wolfe, laughing.
Emily Wolfe's Gear
Although she has just two albums, Wolfe‚ caught here onstage at Cambridge, Massachusetts' Middle East nightclub in November 2021, released three singles and an EP before her first full-length, Emily Wolfe, arrived in 2019. Her new Outlier shows remarkable album-to-album growth.
Photo by Brent Goldman
- Epiphone Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth
- 2018 Gibson Firebird
- Fender Hot Rod DeVille 4x10
String and Picks
- Ernie Ball Slinky Cobalt (.010–.046)
- Dunlop Tortex Jazz III .88 mm picks
- RJM Mastermind PBC/10 switcher
- Origin Effects Cali76
- Dunlop Cry Baby Q Zone
- EarthQuaker Devices Tentacle
- EarthQuaker Devices Dirt Transmitter
- MXR Six Band EQ
- Fulltone OCD
- Klon KTR
- Walrus Audio Julia Analog Chorus
- MXR Carbon Copy
- Strymon Flint Tremolo and Reverb
- Vertex Boost
"The backbone of so much of our industry is pop," she continues, expressing her admiration for artists like Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande, and pop production as a whole. "I try to dive in and analyze: 'How did this producer make this song stick in my head immediately and live in my soul?' If it comes on in a restaurant and I know every word.… I want my music to have that."
An Ear for Overdrive
We mentioned earlier that Wolfe can be exacting when it comes to finding the right tone. She fuels those analytical tendencies with as much gear knowledge as she can imbibe, saying that she feels lost if she doesn't know something about a piece of gear in her palette. "If I get a new piece of gear, I have to figure out every single part of it before I can really use it," she says.
TIDBIT: Wolfe's latest album was produced by Michael Shuman, bassist of Queens of the Stone Age. The guitarist describes Shuman as "like, the coolest guy that I've ever seen in my life," and he encouraged her most adventurous work.
In her spare time, Wolfe explores every pedal she can get her hands on and entertains herself by searching for the perfect combination for her signature sound. She's put together a "desert island board" comprised of three pedals: the EarthQuaker Devices Tentacle analog octave-up pedal, running into a Fulltone OCD, and an MXR Six Band EQ. "That's the sound that belongs to me," she says. The sequence creates a "crazy fuzztone" from the overdrive. Then she uses the EQ to reduce some of the lows and boost the mids for a sound she says will get her guitar to cut through any mix.
She says she never really liked using chorus until she stumbled across the Walrus Audio Julia Analog Chorus/Vibrato pedal. "It's pretty inspiring. 'My Lungs Give Out' was pretty much because of that pedal," she shares. "It kind of wrote the intro for me." The song's gentle vocal and subtle use of the pedal in the intro, followed by her singing paralleled by quietly distorted guitar in the pre-chorus, calls St. Vincent to mind. That's a comparison Wolfe responds to favorably.
Rig Rundown - Emily Wolfe
On top of her signature pedal combination, Wolfe now has a signature guitar. In March, Epiphone debuted the Emily Wolfe Sheraton Stealth, a black, semi-hollowbody electric guitar with diamond-shaped soundholes and gold hardware, set up with two Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers. "The Stealth is my dream guitar and gift to the music community," says Wolfe. "Playing it is like putting on a perfectly worn-in pair of jeans. It just fits. The guitar is the perfect frequency range for my soul." And for her music—from her stinging blues-rock bedrock to the expressionist colors of her newest work. (It was first featured in our Rig Rundown above.)
Wolfe was only 5 when she found herself intensely drawn to the guitar after seeing one hanging on the wall at a thrift shop. That instrument became her first. But it wasn't until she was in high school that she fell in love with it, which is also when Wolfe first got into songwriting. Her early creative process involved writing down lyrics by L.A. indie-rockers Rogue Wave, her favorite band at the time, on one side of a page, then writing her own lyrics on the other. "They obviously weren't great," she says, "but over time I sharpened that skill."
Wolfe has a reputation for high-energy shows that bring the bones of her songs and the classic rock and blues foundation of her guitar playing to the fore.
Photo by Brent Goldman
Today, she fosters a kind of spiritual connection with her music. "Whenever I get an idea, I try to nurture it and treat it like this thing that wants to be born, then listen to it and what it wants to be," she says. She remembers that someone once suggested she pray to the song she wants to write, to make sure it comes from her and no one else. This advice made a lasting impression. "I was like, 'Oh shit, okay,'" she laughs. "Sometimes I'm like, all of these artists that have passed away—where did their talent go? Where did their songs go? Maybe they're sending these songs down to other people."
In a more concrete sense, Outlier is a departure from Wolfe's first album, which was slightly more traditional and featured a guitar solo on almost every song. Switching her mental focus to hooks and arrangements breathed new life into her writing. While she still feels proud of her earlier work, Wolfe feels she's headed in the right direction. "I wanted to make something that would be classic 10, 20, 30 years from now," she says. "That was the goal, and I think we achieved it."
Emily Wolfe - Damage Control (live in the studio)
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epiphone guitarists interview queens of the stone age michael shuman no man epiphone sheraton sheraton guitar player guitar guitars earthquaker devices fender mxr walrus audio fulltone gibson gibson firebird ernie ball jim dunlop fender hot rod deville emily wolfe
December 2, 2021
Photo by Steve Trager
For his stylistically diverse new album, the fiery guitar hero steps back from his gear obsession and focuses on a deep pool of influences and styles.
Twenty years ago, Joe Bonamassa was a struggling musician living in New York City. He survived on a diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ramen noodles that he procured from the corner bodega at Columbus Avenue and 83rd Street. Like many dreamers waiting for their day in the sun, Joe also played "Win for Life" every week. It was, in his words, "literally my ticket out of this hideous business." While the lottery tickets never brought in the millions, Joe's smokin' guitar playing on a quartet of albums from 2002 to 2006—So, It's Like That, Blues Deluxe, Had to Cry Today, and You & Me—did get the win, transforming Joe into a guitar megastar.
Since achieving fame and fortune, Joe has spent most of his time in his various residences across the country. He's got Nerdville in sunny California and Nerdville East in Nashville. Both are almost-literal museums that house Joe's arguably unmatched collection of vintage guitars and amps. You will be very hard pressed to come across a finer collection. Yet in 2019, Joe found himself drawn back to New York City.
Joe Bonamassa - "Time Clocks" - Official Music Video
"It's a mid-life crisis. I always wanted to go back to where I lived 20 years ago, but not have to worry about hustling down sessions and gigs to make the rent every month," he says. "For as cool and exciting of a time as it was, it was also a very stressful time. I had this thing in my mind where I just wanted to be able to enjoy New York City and not have the stress of, 'Oh shit, it's either a subway ticket or ramen noodles tonight.'"
In February 2021, Joe went to Germano Studios in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood to record Time Clocks, aka "The New York Album." Because of the pandemic, this recording session was like no other Joe had been involved with. Kevin "the Caveman" Shirley, Joe's longtime producer, was stuck in Australia due to strict COVID travel restrictions. The two have had a long working relationship and they've been inseparable for most of Joe's career. Shirley produced the guitarist's fifth studio album, You & Me, and has since produced over 30 of Joe's subsequent projects. So, when it came time to record Time Clocks—travel restrictions be damned—they found a way to work together. "We recorded it virtually with Zoom and some other technology where my producer in Australia could get the actual tracks from the session in real time or with about a second latency," says Joe. "It was totally fine. It was an odd record to make because of what we were doing, but it was also an odd time. So, why should anything be normal anymore?"
"I just wanted to be able to enjoy New York City and not have the stress of, 'Oh shit, it's either a subway ticket or ramen noodles tonight.'"
Even with the differences in time zones (Sydney, Australia, is 16 hours ahead of New York City), they found a way to make it work. "We would get there about noon. Kevin's an early riser so he would get to his studio, which is by his house in Sydney, by about 2 a.m. So, we would go from about noon to 6 or 7 at night, and he would go from 2 to 9 a.m., and then take naps."
Time Clocks is full of unexpected twists. It was recorded live as a trio with drummer Anton Fig and bassist Steve Mackey, and then other parts were layered in. The album has a diversity of sounds that belie Joe's blues categorization. "Notches" opens with an Ali Farka Touré-inspired 12-string riff, "Time Clocks" has a country-esque, Americana vibe, and "Curtain Call" is an homage to Led Zeppelin. "My ADD transcends into my musical life. It's a very different record for me. It's not a blues record, for sure. I just try to make records that don't bore me all the way through—we've got this groove covered, we've got that groove covered, let's put a sorbet in, something out of left field," says Joe.
TIDBIT: Bonamassa's longtime producer, Kevin Shirley, had his hands on the wheel again, but remotely. He produced from Sydney, Australia, while the band recorded live on the floor in New York City.
"Some people think that all I do is play blues. I don't just play blues. I play whatever. We've all been in this game for a long time where we can adapt to any musical situation. It's fun. Every once in a while, I'll go sit in with friends. I just sat in with Nir Felder [at NYC's famed 55 Bar]. If I sit in with Nir, I'll be like, 'When these chord changes get too fucking adult for me, I'm bailing.' You just know your strengths and your weaknesses."
For the Time Clocks sessions, Joe used a much leaner gear selection than you might expect, especially given his cavernous collection. "In New York City, you go with what you got. There were only three amps. I had a [JB signature] high-powered Twin sent from our inventory that's still in the spare bedroom in the apartment. I ended up using two Deluxes. I had one Deluxe Reverb and one brown Deluxe," says Joe. We wonder if Joe was referring to a reissue Deluxe Reverb that might have happened to be at the studio, or one of his rare closet classics. He immediately snaps, "Think about that critically and ask yourself again, 'Who are you talking to?'" Point taken, Joe!
Joe Bonamassa’s Gear on Time Clocks
“I’m not going to live my life in indentured servitude to the fucking guitar.”
- Gibson Les Paul
- Gibson ES-335
- Fender Stratocaster
- Fender Telecaster
- Martin acoustic guitar
- Ernie Ball Burly Slinkys (.011–.052; .011–.056 on down-tuned guitars)
- Fender black-panel Deluxe Reverb
- Fender brown-panel Deluxe
- '59 Fender Twin-Amp JB Edition
- Klon Centaur
- Dunlop Joe Bonamassa Signature Wah
"When I was a kid, I had a black [panel] Deluxe Reverb. I think this is probably one of the ones that I had for 25 years," he clarifies. "The black and brown circuits are totally different, so you get that kind of sweet/salt mix. The brown Deluxe does the real thick midrange stuff and the black does the low and the high. That's kind of always been my M.O. It's never just one amp. You're mid-stacking with amps that don't necessarily do the same thing. The bigger, thicker tones you hear on the solo, that's the high-powered Twin. The more jangly stuff was the Deluxes."
"'When these chord changes get too adult for me, I'm bailing.' You just know your strengths and your weaknesses."
Joe also only used a handful of guitars on Time Clocks. "I don't keep a lot of guitars here," he says. "All I had was a Les Paul, a Strat, a 335, a Rickenbacker 12-string, an old bass from the movie Spinal Tap, the one that Nigel kept telling Rob Reiner not to touch—I actually own that one. But it was less than six guitars. I also used a Martin acoustic. All the acoustic stuff was done with one acoustic.
A recent snapshot of Bonamassa's pedalboard.
"In Nashville, I have all my road guitars, but to be honest with you, over the years I've never gotten into this thing where you bring 50 guitars and use five. I did that a long time ago. It's nothing but a photo op. Most of the time I bring a Whitman's Sampler of what I think would work. The days of humping in 50 guitars and setting up six racks of them and going, 'Look what I got'—that's a young man's game. That's for somebody in their 30s."
"I've been playing guitar and cranking amps for 40 years. Do you know the two things that prompt me to run away? Loud music and crowds. It's a paradox, I know."
Joe's newfound minimalism goes hand in hand with living in a New York City apartment, where even playing with an amp on 1 will get you the "broomstick on a ceiling" retaliation. "I've been playing guitar and cranking amps for 40 years. Do you know the two things that prompt me to run away? Loud music and crowds. It's a paradox, I know," he says. "So, when I'm at home and I'm enjoying a very quiet Sunday afternoon, I have zero, absolutely zero, desire to crank an amp. And I have zero-plus-5-percent desire to sometimes even practice on a given day. It gives you a break. It's important to be good at your job on a given day. It's important to also step away and give yourself some perspective, so you're not so consumed by it."
Rig Rundown - Joe Bonamassa 
Every aspiring guitarist—no matter the genre—longs for their day in the spotlight. They too want to be a guitar god and inspire thousands of players and listeners, just like Joe. But what does it feel like on the other side—when you actually win?
The guitarist onstage with his frequent on-tour sparring partner in recent years, bass giant Michael Rhodes.
Photo by Debi Del Grande
"Then a whole 'nother set of circumstances come into play," he says. "It's managing time, managing your energy. It's also trying to keep in perspective what is it that you really do, because sometimes life comes at you twice as fast as it used to. All my energy is dedicated to the fans that keep me in business and come time and time again. That is 100 percent my biggest priority. When distractions and other things come into play that tend to take energy away from what you're supposed to be doing, that's the challenge. I realize I'm a very fortunate person, but I don't make any apologies for it, because, to be honest with you, that's what everybody strives for. Why should I apologize for working hard? I always tell people it's easy to dismiss, hard to replicate. If it was easy, as some claim, then it would be as easy as starting a TikTok. If it was that easy, then anybody could do it. But to be honest with you, anybody can do it. You've got to have the intestinal fortitude and the drive, and the ability to stick it out through thick and thin."
Bonamassa cradles his famed 1959 Les Paul Standard, Lazarus. The guitar was recreated for a limited-edition issue via Epiphone this year.
Older and wiser at 44, Joe, who started performing onstage at age 12, has now found time to explore other things in life besides guitar. He indulges in Law and Order marathons, is on an excruciatingly strict diet with Diet Coke as his only vice, and has found a new passion in cycling. He'll just as likely post details of his Central Park bike excursions on Instagram as he would another guitar-safari vintage find. Even with the potential danger of a career-ending fall, Joe, much like the late Allan Holdsworth—who was also an avid cyclist—is willing to chance it. "If I fall and somehow my career ends on that particular day, then so be it," he says. "I'm not going to live my life in indentured servitude to the fucking guitar. If it's over, it's over. You've got to enjoy your life."
Joe Bonamassa & Tina Guo - "Woke Up Dreaming" - Live At Carnegie Hall
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guitarists gibson epiphone fender guitar player interview blues time clocks gibson les paul epiphone les paul guitars joe bonamassa