These Are the Best Guitars for Blues, Joe Bonamassa Says

According to the modern blues rock master Joe Bonamassa, there are three classic guitar models that are the perfect go-to instruments for blues.  

To be fair, when it comes to finding the right guitar for a specific genre, there are no rules set in stone. Unless you’re a highly trained classical music performer, everything’s fair game. On the other hand, some guitars might just work better for what you’d expect to hear in a certain genre. This isn’t directly about the instrument’s tone but also about how it feels in one’s hands, which can, in return, also impact the final results.

“To me, those are blues machines”

Be that as it may, according to what Joe said in a chat with Total Guitar, three classic guitar models stand out when it comes to the blues. When asked about the matter, he first mentioned two guitars:

“A Strat and a [Gibson] ES-335. To me, those are blues machines. A Strat can do so much, kinda like [how] Buddy Guy [used one]. And the 335 is like the classic instrument that a guy like Freddie King used.”

Joe Bonamassa | 1965 Fender Stratocaster & 1954 Fender Telecaster Black Guard

Of course, there’s also the obvious choice. Joe continued:

“I’d have to include a Les Paul, too. The British guys, like Jeff Beck, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor, took the classic Les Paul ‘Bursts from ’59 and used them as weapons for the blues.”

You can see Les Pauls with the same exact hardware and electronics used in a variety of genres. But when it comes to blues music, these three are just perfect, according to Bonamassa:

“Those ‘Bursts plugged into a Marshall became a common denominator. So, the Strat, 335, and the Les Paul – those are the quintessential three.”

The “Les Paul Killers”

So, obviously, a related question came up during the same interview — what are the best guitars of these three models that he ever owned? After all, Strats, 335s, and Les Pauls come in so many different forms.

“Oh, God. The ’55 hardtail ‘Bonnie’ Strat is the best one for me,” Joe replied. “As for the 335, there’s a couple of ’62s that I play live – they’re Les Paul killers.”

But despite sharing what he believes are “Les Paul killers,” there are still mind-blowingly awesome Les Pauls in his collection. He added:

“And with Les Pauls, it depends on what I’m playing. It’s hard to name a favorite as it depends on the job. You’ve got a Goldtop with P-90s, and then there’s ‘Bursts with PAFs, so it all depends.”

Joe Bonamassa on his 550 vintage guitars | On The Record

Is Tone In Your Hands?

But despite these recommendations and his insane vintage guitar collection, Joe Bonamassa is still the proponent of the idea that the very core of the tone is within a player. During an interview from 2023, Bonamassa pointed out that one doesn’t need super-expensive gear to actually sound good. Instead, it’s all about knowing how to use what you have.

“You don’t need a Dumble,” Joe said. “You don’t need a ’59 Les Paul. Those do help in the search… But it’s not a prerequisite for success.”

When asked about his sensibility as a player and where it comes from, he replied:

“I would say it’s the two Erics, Clapton and Johnson, right in the middle of their sounds.”

Joe Bonamassa on His Iconic Guitar Tone

“You can give me anything, any of those amps, and I’ll sit there, and I’ll turn the cabinets around, I’ll twist knobs until at least a semblance of what’s in here [points to head] comes out of there – and it’s any guitar, any amp.”

“If you have a really nice, thick tone, there is a weight on the instrument, there is a weight on the strings that feels really nice, and you can really get into it. And you can vary the attack. You can vary the attack on the right hand where it blooms a little bit more, or you can turn it into a weapon where it’s real bright.”

“That’s the thing, when I hear other people playing my rig it is way brighter than when I play it, so that’s just the tactility of the instrument and these [fingers].”

Joe Bonamassa Skinnerburst | Kentucky Collectibles | KET

“There are certain guitar sounds you can only listen to for three minutes, and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m fatigued, and I need a martini.”

Photo: Dmileson (Joe Bonamassa – Radio City Music Hall Jan 2014)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.