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Amps (plural) are perhaps one of the most important aspects to Joe Bonamassa’s tone. For several years now he has been using the “Eric Johnson” setup (to whom he always gives credit) of having multiple amps running simultaneously to blend different tones together into one. In fact, Joe typically runs a four-amp setup, with two amps running at any given time. Bonamassa describes it as “the most expensive channel switching amp in the world”. But boiled down, you basically want a Dumble/Fender style amp and a Marshall style amp, played simultaneously.
The “always on” amp in Joe’s setup for years has usually been a Marshall Silver Jubilee 100W head (though they also make a 50W version). After years of only being available on the used marked, Marshall has released a reissue of Jubilee heads, combos, and cabinets. There are also some other amps that are similar. The Slash signature model is rumored to be exactly the same, and a Marshall DSL (dual super lead) series would also be very close, as would anything in the JCM category.
Category 5 has also released a Joe Bonamassa Signature amp head, which is supposed to be a clone of the Silver Jubilee. Joe agreed that Category 5 hit hit the nail on the head.
If you haven’t heard of Ceriatone amplifiers, you’re really missing something. They are builders of high-end amps without a high-end price tag, and they build just about anything you could ever want. As it happens, they build a British Style 2550/2555, which is a Marshall Silver Jubilee clone. And they also build Overtone Specials, which are Dumble clones. So, a great way to save some money would be get one of each, and run them both at the same time. You’d have a true Bonamassa-style Marshall/Dumble two-amp setup, for probably close to the price of one typical boutique amp head. You can hear a demo of a guy getting wickedly close to Joe’s tone with one of these on the Media page.
Again, remember that the foundation of the Bonamassa tone is blending a Marshall and a Fender (or Dumble). Joe described his “low volume” home rig recently, saying it was a good approximation of his live rig:
” I live in LA at a condo complex. Very Hollywood types live here.. They have no interest in hearing the bluesboy crank up the jams late at night so I devised a rig for my house. (1) 1987 Marshall Silver series Marshall 50 watt 1X12 combo. (2) 1965 Fender Princeton Reverb or a 1957 Fender Vibrolux with a Kendrick reverb unit. (3) THD Hot Plate (for Princeton Only).”
He also includes some his pedals, which are discussed next on the Pedals page. In a recent forum post where someone asked what a cheap way to go would be, Joe replied:
“A twin and a tubescreamer run with a DSL-2000 on the crunch channel.. Avoid speakers that collapse or are two low wattage. That’ll get you close..”
So you can see that the theme of a Fender/Marshall combination remains constant. Most of his Fender recommendations have been Blackface-style amps such as the Princeton Reverb or Twin Reverb. Since Fender makes a variety of reissue Blackface style amps, we should review some of the most popular models, as they vary in wattage, size, and price.
The smallest and least expensive would be the Princeton Reverb, which houses a single 10″ speaker, and is rated at 15W. This is an excellent amp, and the size means it easily portable – something to consider strongly if you are going to be carrying around two amps.
The next step up is the Deluxe Reverb, which moves you up to 22W through a 12″ speaker.
From there you can go up to a Twin Reverb, which is 85W, and has two 12″ speakers.
Or jump all the way to the Super Reverb, which comes down in wattage to 45W, but jumps up in size with four 10″ speakers. Hope you have a good chiropractor.
All in all, these vintage reissue amps all have somewhat similar voicing, and will likely need to be overdriven with a pedal at any reasonable volume. But thanks to Fender you can pick the one that fits your budget, and your vehicle, and get half-way to your JB amp setup.
Next you need to find a Marshall amp to complete the equation. We’ve explored some of the larger heads, but there are other more readily available amps that can do the trick as well. The Marshall 2525C Mini Silver Jubilee combo amp would be your best bet if you’re looking for a combo setup. They’re just 25W, so you can really crank them for tone, and if you’re micing it for a show or playing it in your bedroom, that’s plenty of power.
If you’re on more of a budget, you should look at the Marshall DSL combo series, which come in three sizes (and three price points). The first is the Marshall DSL5C at 5W, which is super portable if you’re doing the two amp setup.
Next is the Marshall DSL15C which is, of course, 15W, and a little larger.
And finally, Marshall has a 40W version in their DSL combo line, the Marshall DSL40C.
Of course these aren’t ALL of the amps Marshall offers – there are many, many more. But these are the smaller more affordable combos that could pair nicely with some of the aforementioned Fenders.
Back to JB, Joe’s dressing room has frequently been spotted to hold a Marshall Bluesbreaker combo with a TS808 attached. It’s a fairly expensive amp, but it is a combo, and it is still readily available. It gets great reviews as well, as is worth checking out if you have the money for it.
Finally, don’t forget to check out any other amps, such as the Egnater Tweaker series, which have switches for Fender (USA) and Marshall (Brit) voicing. Two Tweaker 15W amps together, one on USA and one on Brit, might do wonders for you, without breaking the bank.
But bottom line, if you want that illustrious thick, complex Joe Bonamassa tone, get two amps: one Fender, and one Marshall. Also be sure to read up on how to hook them up safely, as running two amps presents some electrical challenges. Safety first!
One of the final things that should be mentioned on the amplifier page that can be useful for any player even if you don’t play live is an Auralex Gramma. The Gramma is basically a sound-isolation platform that does a number of things for your amp. First, it keeps the sound from bleeding all over the place – such as into your floors and walls, or into your stage if you happen to playing on one of those giant wooden-box stages that we all love (not) so much. It is basically a carpeted piece of wood that sits atop special acoustic foam. The second thing it does is keeps your the low end of your sound tighter. And finally, it gives your amp something nice and clean to sit on. That may not sound so important, until you drag that $2,000 Two-Rock into a local dive with a sticky floor.
I have personally purchased one of these and think they are great. And they’re not expensive. It was especially helpful when I lived in a two-story condo and didn’t want to flood the whole downstairs with sonic goodness. They’re fairly lightweight as well, and come in various sizes for your amp.
So that about does it with the main amps that Bonamassa uses on stage. But don’t forget the pedals! Yes, endless pedals. Check them out on the Pedals page…