Joe Bonamassa’s
Guitar Safaris

The guitar titan gets personal about his hunt for vintage gear in his new monthly column in Guitar Player magazine.
The Ragin' Cajun

By Joe Bonamassa

It’s time to tell another tale of guitar safari goodness: a story about a much played and loved—but not abused—1955 Gibson Les Paul Standard, one of the first batch of Tune-o-matic equipped Les Pauls produced in late 1955. As you can see from the picture, it has been played heavily but miraculously it has never been cracked, broken, or repaired in anyway. I think I was the first person to ever look at the control cavity, given the years of nicotine, liquor, and rust this guitar had accumulated on the screws after so many years playing in the bars and juke joints of the New Orleans area bayou and southern Louisiana.

As we navigated through used stereos, Makita power tools, and PlayStation 2s, we noticed there were also a fair amount of guitars, including what I thought initially was a Pete Townsend Polaris White Gibson SG Special reissue. I glance at it briefly and continued walking around the shop. About five minutes later I glanced over again and noticed that the bridge was at the pre-'63 angle- something not offered on the reissues - and that guitar came with the original soft-shell alligator case. "Wow! Nice guitar," I said. First year SG Specials in Polaris White, sans tremolo, don't exactly come up for sale very often and, if they do, they are expensive. This was a very rare guitar, and especially cool for a Who fan/nerd like me.

To set the scene, we find ourselves having a day off in New Orleans on a cold gray Monday. As usual, my tech Mike, Colin (our bass and keyboard tech), and I are bored. We do a quick Google search of area guitar shops, and we’re off to wreak havoc on the local merchants. On this particular day we hit three shops without any luck. It is now about 4 o’clock and there is one shop left on my list but it isn’t nearby. It’s called International Vintage Guitar.

We show the driver the address and he asks, Are you crazy? That’s a pretty rough area, fellas. Being adventurous (and seekers of great guitars and guitar stories) we convince him to take us over the bridge and into Algiers Point. As we get closer to the shop, the neighborhood gets more residential and a little scarier. Finally we pull up to a little white house with the smallest blue guitar-shaped sign out in front. We head around back to a small shack behind the house. Not exactly a prime retail location, but the store is not only open but also full of cool vintage guitars and amps.

The first thing I notice upon entering is a mint brown 1962 Fender Princeton amp. I am a sucker for these chocolate-colored Fender amps. I can’t get enough of them. (I currently own 17 of them in different variations). I quickly make a deal for the amp and continue to look around. Mike shouts out, Hey dude, check out this goldtop back here! I go around back behind the main room and see what would come to be known as the Ragin’ Cajun hanging on the wall. It was honestly love at first sight. Being a guitar of the south, it has that great greenish patina and checking you only normally see in high humidity climates. In terms of my personal taste in guitar collecting, I love guitars in mint condition or really worked over. Because this guitar was definitely in the latter category, I immediately grabbed it and plugged it in. There is usually a reason a guitar becomes that beat up over the years. Most of the time the reason is because it sounds and plays great! A five minute chat and a little chiseling on my part and the extremely nice shop owner and I reach an agreement on the price.

I always say if guitars could talk, the stories they would tell would blow our minds. The Ragin’ Cajun could definitely keep us entertained for years.