Bon Jovi Guitar Tone Guide with Amp Settings & Gear

Author: Santiago Motto | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Bon Jovi has to be one of the most successful, best-selling bands in rock history. Yes, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora built a songwriting duo that took the world by storm and topped every chart. The recipe? Nothing but amazing tones and killer songs.

Well, you can also include triple-neck Ovations, Floyd Rose tremolos, stars, golden hardware, and an arsenal of killer axes.

Do you want to join me and the rest of the planet playing your favorite Bon Jovi tunes in the comfort of your house but with a very close tone? Well, jump in because I’m taking you straight into the heart of Bon Jovi’s amazing guitar tone and what you need to recreate it on a budget.

Bon Jovi Guitars

Throughout the 4 decades, Bon Jovi has been an active band the lineup and the instruments changed a lot. This is my attempt to cover some of the main ones you’ll need to nail that Bon Jovi tone. I’m covering Richie Sambora’s tone but also Phil X, Bon Jovi’s new Axman.

Strats & Super Strats

Richie Sambora is a Strat guy. I’m blowing no scoop by starting with that statement. Back in the early days, Richie Sambora played Super Strats such as Jacksons, Hammers, and Kramers.

In fact, the Kramer Jersey Star is kind of a Sambora Signature without being a Sambora Signature. If you can get your hands on that guitar, you’ll be in Sambora heaven immediately.

Indeed, you get a golden double-locking tremolo system and triple humbuckers with a 5-way switch to play with. Of course, you also get the cool star inlays on the guitar and the fretboard.

Later on in his career, Richie was endorsed by Fender and had a signature model but it has since been discontinued. In my opinion, the Fender American Ultra Luxe Stratocaster Floyd Rose HSS is the best substitute. If it’s too pricey for you, perhaps the Fender Player Stratocaster HSS with Floyd Rose could be a great option as well as the Squier Contemporary Stratocaster HH FR.

Teles

For some of the Bon Jovi material, you need that twang and single-coil sound in the bridge pickup. Likewise, some solos require that fatter neck telecaster pickup to bend the string and become a full-fledged, hat-bearing, country rockstar like Richie is.

Although the man himself rocks a double-neck blackguard tele (I mean, how cool is that!?) you can do with a blackguard tele.

The best bet is a Fender American Vintage II 1951 Telecaster which is the closest to the real thing you can be without getting to Custom Shop prices.

A more modern approach could be the Fender American Professional II Telecaster or the more affordable, made-in-Mexico Fender Player Telecaster. Finally, the Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster could also do the trick at a lower budget.

Whichever model you can afford, always keep it in Butterscotch blonde, because that’s the Sambora thing.

P-90 Guitars

P-90 guitars are just the meat and bone of rock and roll tones. They have just enough edge to cut the mix and the right blend of lows and mids to get razor-like sharp tones from them as well.

On one hand, Richie Sambora has been rocking P-90 guitars such as Les Paul and SG Juniors for decades. In that sense, a fancy VOS 1957 Gibson would sound fantastic. Its more affordable cousin, the regular Gibson Les Paul Junior, or even an Epiphone Les Paul Jr can do the job too.

Phil X, on the other hand, just like Jared James Nichols, has been rocking single-P-90 guitars for most of his career. He had a signature Yamaha guitar (Yamaha SG1801PX), then a Framus XG, which he played extensively with Bon Jovi.

Finally, in 2020, he became a Gibson artist and has been using their guitars ever since. For that new Phil X tone, you can grab a Gibson Custom 1963 SG Junior VOS. If that’s too much for your budget, then a Gibson SG Special or an Epiphone SG Special can do the job too.

You can remove the front pickup and a couple of knobs, and put your favorite action hero in the empty neck pickup cavity.

Humbucker Guitars

Hey, I know, Bon Jovi came blazing out of the eighties with smoking guns and a bag full of hits. There HAVE to be humbucker guitars in their sound, right? Besides the Kramer Jersey Strat and the humbucker-equipped Stratocasters (HSS configuration), Richie Sambora also played a blonde Gibson ES-335 and a great collection of Les Pauls.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, the guy is no Slash, but he sure has a palate for thick Gibson tone.

To recreate that thick, mahogany-rich, round, loud-and-proud Gibson tone, you need either a Gibson ES-335 or its Epiphone version, and a Gibson Les Paul or its Epiphone version.

Acoustics

My all-time favorite song was played back in the day using a 3-neck guitar. Yes, it was an Ovation, an eighties symbol. If you had one of those, you made it big.

But coming back to our run down, what’s important is that you have a 12-string acoustic to play that super-cool descending lick in “Wanted Dead or Alive”. If your budget allows it, you can go fancy like Richie does these days and get a 12-string Taylor.

For example, the Taylor 250ce Plus 12-string carries that black-guitar vibe you need to maintain your rockstar status as you play acoustic. Plus, it should match your singer’s black guitar, right?

If that’s too bulky of a price tag, you can keep it in the same lane (at least aesthetically) with an Ibanez AEG5012 12-string for much less.

Bon Jovi Effects Pedals

Richie Sambora and Phil X have a very focused approach when it comes to tone and don’t use many pedals to get their sound. It’s more of a hand thing if you know what I mean.

In recent tours, Bon Jovi toured not only with David Bryan on keys but also with John Shanks. In case you’re not familiar with him, he’s a star producer and guitar player who takes care of all the nuances in Bon Jovi’s sound and lays the foundations for Phil’s raw power and talent to shine.

He plays through a million pedals to get his sounds and embellish the picture but it’s not something you need to mimic or recreate at home to play Bon Jovi’s songs; it’s mostly ear candy. Let me list what you need.

  • Overdrive/Distortion – You need a mildly distorted tone coming from the amp. On top of that, you need the good, old, and trusty Boss Super Overdrive SD-1.

  • Boost – To boost the signal for solos and on top of the SD-1 you can have any Plexi-in-a-box pedal. My favorite is the Xotic SL Drive.
  • Chorus – It’s that beautiful eighties trick of adding a little really slow chorus to make everything bigger. For that, you can just use a Boss CH-1.
  • Delay – Delay use is minimal, but you need it for the trail during solos. I mean, if you bend like Richie or Phil, you have to add that epic element. A Carbon Copy is your best bet.
  • Talk Box – I know, there are so many Talk Box hits by Bon Jovi you just don’t know where to start. Well, start by getting an MXR Talk Box. Oh, and, please, install a clean pipe on it before using it!
  • Wah – No rock guitar hero’s pedalboard can be complete without a proper Wah pedal. Phil uses the Xotic Wah Pedal You could replace it with a Dunlop GCB-95.

  • Octave – Some leads and guitar parts can’t be played without that octave doubling your sound underneath it. A Micro Pog is all you need to get this trick going. A TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up will do the trick.

Finally, you’ll need a noise gate to keep it all quiet and pristine-clean. A regular Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor shall be enough.

Bon Jovi Amps

There’s one word written in fluorescent letters and animal print that rises from the glam and hair rock movements in the eighties: Marshall. Yes, the eighties were completely ruled by the big bad M. Moreover, that decade set the foundations for the high-gain amps coming after.

So, for that eighties tone of records like Bon Jovi, 7800° Fahrenheit, Slippery When Wet, and New Jersey what you need is a souped-up Marshall tone. In that sense, a JCM800 (the 100-watt head or the studio version) will do the trick.

By the nineties, Richie had gone to Fender and had a Fender signature guitar. Behind him, the stage also changed with a wall of white Fender Tone Master Amps. My suggestion, if you can afford it, is a Fender Super Sonic. Other than that, a Bassman 4×10, or a Tone Master Deluxe Reverb could do it.

By the 2000s we all remember the stellar comeback with the unmistakable “It’s My Life” song and video. Well, by that time, Richie was using a JCM2000 DSL 100-watt head. You can hear that distorted EL34 all over the place. It’s brown and nasty.

After that, Richie went to Blackstar rocking the HT-Series (I recommend the HT100 and the HT20) and landed on Friedman amps. These provide players with hot-rodded Marshall tones. So, yes, he went full circle.

Furthermore, Phil X also plays his signature Friedman with Bon Jovi these days, the Friedman Phil X Signature.

Friedmans are expensive amps. Richie plays through a BE-50. But you can get close with a Friedman BE-Mini for a fraction of the price (and the volume).

Bon Jovi Amp Settings

Slippery When Wet Tones

  • Volume – 8
  • Gain – 6
  • Bass – 4
  • Middle – 4
  • Treble – 7
  • Presence – 6

These Days Tones

  • Volume – 6
  • Gain – 7
  • Bass – 5
  • Middle – 4
  • Treble – 7
  • Presence – 6

Crush & Bounce tones

  • Volume – 8
  • Gain – 8
  • Bass – 7
  • Middle – 5
  • Treble – 7
  • Presence – 6

This House Is Not for Sale Tones

  • Volume – 9
  • Gain – 7
  • Bass – 7
  • Middle – 7
  • Treble – 7
  • Presence – 5

The Bottom End

Bon Jovi’s songs cover a vast sonic ground that’s impossible to reproduce with a single guitar. Nevertheless, if you had a single HSS strat, the overdrive pedal, and a delay with a dirty amp, you could play 90% of the material and have tons of fun.

So, pick your favorite era, follow my advice, and rock on, ‘80s style!

Happy (hair metal) playing!

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About Santiago Motto

Santiago is a guitar player with over 25 years of experience. A self-confessed guitar nerd, he currently tours with his band 'San Juan'. Called 'Sandel' by his friends, he has a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. San especially has an immense love for telecasters and all-mahogany Martins.

1 thought on “Bon Jovi Guitar Tone Guide with Amp Settings & Gear”

  1. I saw Bon Jovi twice. Once in 1984 or 85. Sambora is an animal. Great guitarists. The. saw them again in 1989 or 90 and he was just as good and they sounded even better. You have to have a Floyd and a high gain amp for sure. or it helps .
    Thanks
    Tin

    Reply

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