Joe Bonamassa Reveals One Simple Upgrade for Modern Guitars, Explains Why ’Mystique’ Is Also Important

According to the blues rock legend Joe Bonamassa, there’s one fairly simple way that you can implement on modern electric guitars.

Bonamassa is pretty much synonymous with guitar collecting these days. And the biggest portion of his arsenal is all vintage guitars, amps, and effects. Nonetheless, he’s also known for owning a few somewhat unexpected guitars here and there, like the John Petrucci Ernie Ball Music Man signature model. But it’s still mostly a boomer town, if you will, over at Joe Bonamassa’s place.

But appearing in an interview with Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett for Premier Guitar, Bonamassa addressed how changing the pots can make a huge impact on your sonic performance.

Joe Bonamassa Talks Les Paul Bursts, Dumbles, and the Blues | Shred with Shifty

When Shiflett mentioned that some modern electric guitars have pots that don’t evenly turn up the volume but just go from quiet to loud quickly, Joe then explained (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“If you have a modern guitar and it’s bugging you, there are some good pots. I know they’ve tried to do the deep dive. I know CTS has been working on them. They still make pots — I mean, these are CTS pots, the Centralabs. And the thing is, if it’s really bugging you, you can go back or go online on Reverb or eBay.”

This is far from a complicated upgrade and you can even replace the entire wiring harness without much trouble. However, Joe also adds that there’s no need to go full-on vintage.

“I don’t suggest buying an original harness from the ’50s and shoving it in a new guitar,” he continued. “But you can buy individual pots — like, if the volume on the treble pickup is bugging you, then just buy one, stick it in there, and you’ll hear the difference right off the bat.”

As he also explained, it’s not just about the tone. The thing is, you may lose on the overall value if you just put expensive vintage electronics in a brand-new guitar, so it’s not the most financially responsible decision.

“You don’t have to spend $2,500 on a harness,” Bonamassa said. “Because when you start modifying reissues with old parts, it’s hard to get your money back. And if you want to trade the guitar, if you want to sell it, it’s not going to really overly increase the value of the guitar unless you stick real PAFs in there — then I would suggest taking those out and putting the newer pickups back in.”

More importantly, there’s also a bunch of great stuff to find these days and it doesn’t necessarily have to be old to sound good. “But again, there are a lot of great new pickups that sound almost identical, if not identical, to the original PAFs,” Bonamassa explained.

Joe Bonamassa - "The Last Matador Of Bayonne" - Live At The Hollywood Bowl With Orchestra

And all of this checks out. There’s an abundance of little things that you can do to improve your instrument and make it more suitable for your needs. “It’s the whole chain,” Bonamassa points out. “The pots, the wood, the pickups, everything, the craftsmanship — that makes the entirety of one of these.”

But on top of all this, there’s also the mystique. Yes, it may sound a little out there. And while it obviously doesn’t have anything to do with the tone, people tend to idolize certain brands if big names use them, even if they’re on the lower end. Joe continued:

“And it’s also the mystique. If Jimmy Page played a Tokai, everybody would want a Tokai Les Paul. You know what I mean? If Jeff Beck played a Burny or a 1972 Les Paul Deluxe on those classic records, everybody would be like, ‘Oh, that’s what I gotta get!'”

Joe Bonamassa - "Twenty-Four Hour Blues" - Live At The Hollywood Bowl With Orchestra

“The mystique winds people up in their minds,” he said. “And I think that’s a good and a bad thing. It makes certain items not affordable to the player — unless you just stumble on them in a garage sale — but it has also created a worldwide market.”

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.