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“It’s not the car – it’s the driver”: Gear nerd Joe Bonamassa explains why tone is, in fact, in the fingers

The blues legend sets out plans for an experiment to prove it once and for all.

Joe Bonamassa performing live

Credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Despite being a certified gear nerd himself, blues maestro Joe Bonamassa concedes that a guitarist’s tone is mostly in the fingers, as opposed to the equipment they use. “It’s not the car – it’s the driver,” he explains in a new episode of the Let There Be Talk podcast with Dean Delray.

Bonamassa has made his stance on the matter clear in the past, saying in May last year: “You don’t need a Dumble. You don’t need a ’59 Les Paul. Those do help in the search… But it’s not a prerequisite for success”

Explaining his position on the new podcast episode, Bonamassa says sets out an experiment he hopes to try in the near future, in which he’ll try out different combinations of guitars, amps and pedals, each with a modest budget of $1,500.

“I’m gonna do this with my friend Jim,” he says [via Ultimate Guitar]. “We’re gonna go to Guitar Center with a budget of $1,500 and we’re going to come up with three scenarios”.

He continues: “So $1,500 – guitar, amp and pedal. We’re going to spend most of the money on the guitar, less on the amp and the pedal. Conversely – more pedals, less amp, less guitar. Thirdly – better amp, cheaper pedal, cheaper guitar.

“And then we’re going to AB them with Dumble, my Power Twin, and real vintage guitars, very valuable stuff. And what the conclusion is going to be… Not to give away the movie, but I’ll tell you right now before the before the movie ends is – spoiler alert – it’s the fucking driver. It’s not the car.”

We have yet to see JoBo make this experiment a reality, though he hypothesises that whether the bulk of the $1,500 budget goes on a guitar, amp or pedal, he’ll still sound like himself every time.

The experiment – if it happens – will have a secondary benefit, too, Bonamassa suggests, in that the gear used would be auctioned and sold to raise money for charity.

Bonamassa goes on to reference blues guitar legend BB King, saying he’s an example of why guitarists shouldn’t despair if they don’t feel like they have the right gear.

“It’s like, ‘I could sound like that if I only had…’ Wrong. BB King played a Lab Series [amp] for the last 20 years of his career. A Lab Series L5.”

“Two reasons. One, it was loud and it distorted and it was consistent and it didn’t have tubes. And two, because he was such a company man, he goes ‘Man, I like it because it’s a Gibson.’ Gibson made them. Norlin [Corporation] made them.”

“And BB King would sit down, pick up a Lucille that Gibson had given to him, the same thing you’re gonna buy off the rack… “He hit one note, and guess what it sounded like? BB King. If I played his guitar, it sounds like me. It’s the driver.”

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