Talkin' "Treasure" Tone, and Firebirds with a blues legend

Over the last decade, Joe Bonamassa has become such a regular visitor to Epiphone that it's easy to forget that when he's not dropping by the House of Stathopoulo to show us a rare gem from his guitar collection or collaborate on a new signature design, he's headlining sold out concerts in 2,000 seat theaters around the world with a band that can go from a B.B. King inspired groove to blistering British Invasion rock upon hearing the slightest new inflection in one of Bonamassa's signature licks.

Born in New Hartford, New York in 1977, Joe Bonamassa was playing guitar before he turned 5. By 12 years old, he was touring locally and by his 20th birthday had released his first album, A New Day Yesterday. He's attracted the attention and praise of Gregg Allman and legendary Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd, and has since led to a full time career and a string of sold out tours along with a steady stream of albums with longtime producer Kevin Shirley as well as collaborations with vocalist Beth Hart and Black Country Communion, which plans a reunion in 2017.

Bonamassa has been a longtime fan of Epiphone guitars both as a collector and a player. His original signature Ltd. Ed. Les Paul Goldtop, featuring the trademark mis-matched volume and tone knobs of his vintage late 50s Goldtop along with Gibson USA Burstbucker™ pickups, went through two limited runs by popular demand. More Les Paul designs followed including a Les Paul Standard in Pelham Blue and the "2015" Les Paul Standard in Inverness Green with a Bigsby® vibrato.

Now Mr. Bonamassa is back again with the new Ltd. Ed. Joe Bonamassa "Treasure" Firebird 1, featuring a custom wound ProBucker™ FB720 pickup, reconstructed at Epiphone to the original specifications of Gibson Firebird pickups from the mid 60s along with Kluson®'s superb re-issue of the original Firebird/Banjo style tuners.

As usual when Bonamassa visits our Research & Development team with a rare guitar that he'd like to recreate, his suggestions are thoughtful and exact. This is a man, after all, who knows his vintage guitars. (Just visit his website which offers regular features on a range of exquisite--and priceless--classics.) So it's no small measure of success to Epiphone's luthiers when they impress an artist like Bonamassa who studies--and plays--vintage guitars for a living. "The guitar is called 'Treasure' as it's based on the '63 Firebird that was graciously gifted to me 4 years ago," said Bonamassa. "We A/B'd the new Epiphone with my two original 63s. The Epi's play and sound better! Ugh... I just paid $12,000 for one!"

Bonamassa premiered his new signature Firebird-1 at the Gibson Brands showroom on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the site of the original Tower Records building. "I gotta tell you, in today's day and age I'm not impressed by much. But when I got these in the mail, these blew me away the first time I saw them," Bonamassa said "They really came out great."

The new Joe Bonamassa "Treasure" Firebird-1 is available in Tobacco Sunburst and Polymist Gold and was inspired by Bonamassa's 1963 Firebird-1 made at the Gibson & Epiphone factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Original Firebird-1s are rare and hardly ever seen on the market. The vintage Firebird-1 "was loaned to me by a gentleman who won't take it back--Dan Silverman. He came to a show in Portland and he's like: Joe I want you to play this in good health. He bought it new in 1963 and I immediately called it "Treasure"--it's one of my most prized possessions within the collection. It's a beautiful guitar--really alive and vibrant. So when Epiphone approached me about doing a Firebird-1, I said we have to base it on "Treasure."

During his years on the road, Bonamassa has amassed an incredible collection of guitars and amps and is well versed on how subtle changes in vintage models can have drastic effects on a guitar's tone and feel. But Epiphone's recreation of his original '63 Firebird-1 far exceeded his already high expectations.

"As the owner of three vintage ones, I'm a bit of a vintage snob sometimes. And when I plugged them in, I thought these are just as good as the originals and I started taking notice of how they made them; same way they did in the 60s--9-ply (piece Laminated Mahogany/Walnut) body. They put the Kluson tuners on there--expensive if you had to buy them in the after market. And when I plugged them in, they sounded identical and in some cases a little bit better than the originals so they did a great job. And they're more in tune. I'm very impressed with the whole package."

Like the original, the new Joe Bonamassa "Treasure" Firebird-1 features just one Epiphone ProBucker™ FB720 pickup, reconstructed to the original specifications of vintage Gibson Firebird pickups. The ProBucker™ FB720 has two Alnico II bar magnets used as blades in coils along with a steel reflector plate to achieve the classic Firebird tone of the 60s. Because the DC resistance is around 7.85Kohm, the ProBucker FB720 provides a clean, brighter output with incredible touch sensitivity and a warm low end compared to mini humbuckers, which are used in most Firebird reissues. Controls include Master Volume and Master Tone with Gold "Top Hat" knobs with metal inserts and pointers.

"It's pretty straight forward since it's such a simple guitar," continued Bonamassa. "All you have is one pickup with a volume and a tone. And the rule of thumb with the Firebird-1 is the lower the volume on the guitar, the higher the tone. If you want to get a clean chimey tone--you can play country music. If you wanted to get more like a Les Paul earthy tone, I turn the tone knob down to 4 or 5--depending on the guitar--and then you turn the volume all the way up. These Epiphone pickups react just the same way as the originals. They aren't very high output pickups. But that's the magic of them being so simple. It forces you to work to get the sound."

With Bonamassa, there are no secrets when it comes to helping players of all ages discover that a good guitar has everything you need to find your tone without pedals or effects. "First thing you should do is mess around with the tone control and the volume," advised Bonamassa. "You'd be amazed at how many sounds are in the guitar." Epiphone also recreated the original Firebird Adjustable Wrap-around Lightning Bar bridge and tailpiece. "With a pre-fixed bridge... they play really nice in tune. Good weight and the necks are not too big not too skinny."

One of the original Firebird-1's most distinctive features has also been recreated in the Firebird-1 "Treasure" with Kluson® Reissue Firebird/Banjo tuners with a 12:1 ratio (14.6:1 winding rate), the best and most accurate reissue of the original Firebird tuners from the early 60s. "The Kluson tuners are a big deal for Firebirds," noted Bonamassa. "They actually provide some counter balance. And I think it adds a little bit to the sound. The headstock mass is a little different so if you don't have it it's not a Firebird in my eyes."

Bonamassa will bestow his own gift of gratitude to the original owner his vintage Firebird-1. "The very first sunburst (Epiphone) "Treasure" I'm going to send to Dan. It's just one of those great stories. He buys it new in '63 and plays it for 45 years. And now I've put a few marks on it. A guitar should be played and it should have a life and not just be looked at. I would say thank you very much to everyone at Epiphone and everyone who worked so hard on this."

Visit your Authorized Epiphone Dealer for more information and see more of our videos with Joe at Epiphone's Official YouTube channel.