Unlike Slash, Zakk Wylde, Dave Navarro, John 5 and other more outwardly recognizable Los Angeles guitar heroes, Joe Bonamassa can walk through a bustling music store totally unnoticed.
A few years back, in a Reno guitar shop, Bonamassa was tempted by a pristine 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee head (“I can’t have too many of those”). He asked for the price.
“The guy at the counter said, ‘It’s $4,000,’ ” Bonamassa recalls.
“I asked him why the price was so high, and he said, ‘Well, Slash used Jubilees for the Guns N’ Roses tone, and now this kid Joe Bonamassa is using them, so it’s $4,000.’ ”
Of course, Bonamassa’s amp collection extends way beyond Marshalls (“I have Dumbles, and at least one of every tweed Fender model ever made, in mint condition”), and his collection of über-valuable vintage guitars continues to grow.
“I have every year of Les Paul from ’52 through ’61, including three PAF goldtops, six ’bursts, and one factory black Standard, which is actually more valuable than a ’burst,” says Bonamassa, who also has some cherry ES-335s.
“And I’ve got five original [Fifties] blackguard Telecasters, as well as every year of Stratocaster from ’55 through ’61, including four blondes and the very first black Strat ever built, which was custom made for Howard Reed, Jr., of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps.”
While Bonamassa’s astounding amassment of near-priceless guitar gear certainly qualifies as a collection, a better word for it might be “stable,” because, metaphorically speaking, Bonamassa rides these horses.
“I play what I own,” he says. “There are no glass cases in my house, and I’m not a huge believer in hanging guitars by their necks. I wouldn’t want to be hung by the scruff my neck on permanent display, and I think a guitar feels the same way - especially if it’s glued together, like an eight-pound Les Paul.”
Bonamassa’s storage tips are simple. “If you’re in a cold climate, don’t keep guitars by the heater,” he says. “Generally, guitars like to be in a place that’s between 68 and 72 degrees with about 45 to 55 percent humidity, which on any given day is what a typical house provides.
"Guitars don’t like extremes, and they certainly don’t like to be wet. Moisture is the worst. It’s better for a neck to dry out and require new frets than it is for it to get wet, because wood tends to go back to its natural state [and warp] when it’s wet.”
According to Bonamassa, it doesn’t matter if you’re holding millions of dollars worth of guitars or just 800 bucks worth.
“The trick with guitar collecting,” he says, “is to ask yourself, ‘If these were worth nothing at the end of the day, would I still love them and play them?’ If the answer is yes, you’re doing all right.
"If your dream guitar is a beat-up 1965 Harmony Rocket that’s been through a fire and a flood and looks like somebody took it into the backyard and shot holes into it with an old pistol, then that’s your dream guitar.”