Joe Bonamassa has spoken about his experiences playing three iconic guitars from blues-rock legend: Eric Clapton’s Hare Krishna ES-335 and ‘Blackie’ Stratocaster, as well as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Lenny Stratocaster.
Speaking on an episode of Cory Wong’s podcast Wong Notes, Bonamassa described how he ended up playing the unique trio of guitars. “One afternoon through my friends at Guitar Center, they brought out these gig bags, a couple of gig bags, and cases were in the gig bags,” he said.
“I got to play the ‘Hare Krishna’ [Gibson] ES-335 – it’s that guitar, Clapton At Albert Hall, he’s the reason I wanted to play Albert Hall, it’s because of him and that guitar. And Blackie, and Lenny, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Lenny, so I got to play all three of those in a single afternoon.”
He described Clapton’s ‘Hare Krishna’ ES-335 as “the most vibrant, lively, explosive-sounding ES guitar I’ve ever played in my life. And I tried to weigh the experience, ‘Is this what I want to hear or is it what I’m actually hearing?’ Because this is hallowed ground, and a lot of people, I go, ‘No, this is actually really f-ing good, I could see why they liked it.’”
On the other hand, “Blackie was a rough ride for me. Maybe it’s that the strings were rusty, but it was not the most easy-playing Strat. But it sounded fine. He played this guitar throughout the 70s, and that was his guitar.”
Bonamassa’s most recent studio album, Royal Tea, paid tribute to British blues stars such as Clapton. Recorded at Abbey Road, he compared the pressures of tracking in such a legendary studio to playing guitars such as Blackie.
When asked if the environment added any pressure, he told Guitar.com: “Not to sound flippant, but no! And I’ll tell you why. I’ve played Peter Green’s Les Paul on stage at the Albert Hall, I’ve played Alvin Lee‘s guitar, Rory Gallagher‘s guitar, Clapton’s Blackie, the Hare Krishna 335… and what I’ve learned from that is that there’s one of two things that can happen – you can play the guitar how you want to play, or you can let the moment play you!
“It’s the same thing with a venue – you can play the Albert Hall, but do you want the Albert Hall to play you? And that’s how it was with Abbey Road. You walk in and yeah, you recognise Studio 2, you recognise that staircase, you know exactly what’s gone down – that’s the Hey Jude piano, there’s the EMI console that did Dark Side Of The Moon… I ran into my friend Nick Mason who gave me a tour of Studio 3 where they made that album, and I was like, ‘This is fantastic! Let me see the John Lennon Revolver mic again!’
“But guess what all of that will not do for you? Write the fucking songs!”