Joe Bonamassa Amp Settings – Signature Blues Guitar Tone!

Author: Liam Whelan | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

From boyhood blues prodigy to bona fide rock star, Joe Bonamassa is one of the chief proponents of modern blues.

Bonamassa began his playing career at the age of four and went on to perform alongside some of the biggest names in music. Before he was even old enough to walk into a bar to buy a drink, Bonamassa was touring with BB King.

It’s no surprise that these days, he’s one of the defining artists in modern blues and rock playing.

Although Bonamassa’s distinctive sound comes largely from his phrasing and technique, getting the right gear will get you in the ballpark of his soulful tone.

In this article, we’ll look at Bonamassa’s expansive collection of guitars and amps as well as some more affordable alternatives.

Guitars

Considering Joe Bonamassa’s deep affection for the British and Irish blues-rock legends of the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s no surprise that he favors vintage instruments from the era.

Bonamassa’s taste in instruments leans old and expensive, with some of his guitars commanding prices around half a million dollars.

Bonamassa’s professed favorite guitar is a 1951 Fender Telecaster nicknamed “The Bludgeon,” armed with his Seymour Duncan “Bludgeon” pickups. On tour, he uses a 1968 Telecaster Thinline with the same signature Seymour Duncan pickups.

Bonamassa also employs a variety of ‘50s-era Fender Stratocasters on the road. His main Strat is from 1955, with era-correct appointments – we’ll get to those in a moment.

For heavier numbers, Bonamassa deploys a heavier guitar. Literally. Bonamassa tours with several vintage Gibson “Burst” Les Pauls from the 1958-1960 era of production, widely regarded as the pinnacle of Gibson’s guitar building.

These Les Pauls cost a fortune and weigh almost twenty pounds… each.

For extra blues authenticity, Bonamassa echoes one of his earliest heroes and mentors, BB King, with a Gibson ES-355.

He also plays a Gibson Firebird and a vintage Flying V.

Now, most of us don’t have the budget to buy even one of these vintage instruments, and that’s to say nothing of the eye-watering premiums required to insure them for gigs and tours.

Fortunately, there are modern, more competitively priced alternatives to all Bonamassa’s vintage gear.

To emulate Joe Bonamassa’s Fender tone, the Fender Vintera line offers 1950s-spec Telecasters and Stratocasters. These have the alder bodies, maple necks, era-correct hardware and smaller headstocks of the mid-50s guitars that Bonamassa prefers.

A big part of Bonamassa’s tone is his choice of pickups, so if you can, I’d recommend replacing the stock Fender pickups with Seymour Duncan’s signature line of Joe Bonamassa pickups.

For his beefy Les Paul sound, you can check out the Epiphone Les Paul Standard ‘50s model. This boasts an era-correct thick neck and PAF humbucking pickups as well as the attractive sunburst finish.

For Bonamassa’s BB King style tones, the Epiphone 335 makes a great alternative. It lacks the Vari-Tone knob of the 355, but you can manage that with some creative EQ-ing.

I would recommend replacing the stock pickups in an Epiphone guitar with Seymour Duncan PAF-style pickups.

Strings

Joe Bonamassa prefers to string his instruments with Ernie Ball Burly Slinky .011 to .052 sets.

Joe Bonamassa Amps

As with his taste in guitars, Joe Bonnamassa prefers amps with some miles on the clock. He tours with an array of vintage Dumble and Fender tweed amplifiers. Bonamassa also tours with his own signature model Fender amps and no less than four 100-watt Marshall Silver Jubilee models.

Bonamassa’s main tone comes from vintage Fender amps, so I’d recommend running a vintage-voiced Fender Twin. For those playing in smaller rooms, the Fender Princeton Reverb makes a great alternative.

For his Marshall tone, the 25-watt Silver Jubilee head is a very attractive alternative. It’s effectively an identical amplifier with lower output, less volume (helpful when you’re playing in bars instead of theaters) and a lower price point.

Pedals

Joe Bonamassa gets most of his tone from his guitar and amp. The most expensive pedal he runs is the Klon Centaur overdrive, which will set you back several thousand dollars.

Fortunately, there are plenty of Klon “Klone” overdrives that aim for a similar transparent drive tone. You can get similar results from the J Rockett Archer, the Soul Food, or the Keeley Oxblood.

Bonamassa also uses an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808, a more “colored” drive favored by many blues guitar heroes.

For delay, the Boss Digital Delay is Bonamassa’s favored option.

His wah pedal of choice is his own signature model Cry Baby, which has a subtly different voicing from the regular Cry Baby.

Bonamassa also employs the Fuzz Face for Hendrixian fury and an MXR Micro Flanger with a Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere for modulation effects.

Joe Bonamassa Amp Settings

Joe Bonamassa’s amp settings are set to allow for maximum articulation.

Most of Bonamassa’s drive tone comes from his amplifiers. He firmly believes that most of his tone comes from his hands.

His advice for guitarists chasing his sound is “all you’ve gotta do is turn the treble down. Turn the gain up, and the treble down… and that’s pretty much the sound.”

Gain: 6-7

Let your Marshall or Fender amp provide most of your overdrive.

Volume: 6

Most tube amps have a sweet spot around 5 or 6. Start here and turn up until you hit a nice, roaring saturated tone.

Mids: 7

You want plenty of midrange to get that articulate Bonamassa tone.

Treble: 3

Let most of the treble in your tone come from your picking technique.

Bass: 5

Bonamassa prefers to let keys and bass players take most of the low frequencies.

Let The Guitar Do The Talking

The other feature of Joe Bonamassa’s tone is his extensive twiddling of the knobs on his guitar. Amp settings will only get you so far.

You’ll also want to control your guitar’s tone with your guitar’s volume and tone knobs.

Leave both on 10 when you’re setting your amp’s lead tone.

Then dial back the volume knob on your guitar for a cleaner rhythm sound, and pull back the tone knob if you want a sweeter blues tone.

Every guitar is different, but you can get a nice crunch out of a Les Paul with the guitar’s volume knob at six and the tone knob at seven or 8.

Roll the volume knob back up to 10 for your lead work.

Practice your pentatonic blues licks and you’ll be well on your way to Bonamassa’s blues tone paradise.

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About Liam Whelan

Liam Whelan was raised in Sydney, Australia, where he went to university for long enough to realize he strongly prefers playing guitar in a rock band to writing essays. Liam spends most of his life sipping strong coffee, playing guitar, and driving from one gig to the next. He still nurses a deep conviction that Eddie Van Halen is the greatest of all time, and that Liverpool FC will reclaim the English Premier League title.

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