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Welcoming Joanna Connor Into Clan BTLX

Updated: Nov 8, 2021


They say you should never meet your heroes. They are of course very very wrong. How can I be so sure? Well, on Tuesday I met one of my heroes - legendary Chicago blues guitarist Joanna Connor.


Here at BTLX, we've been huge fans of Joanna and her music for years now, and have desperately wanted to catch one of her gigs for ages, and we've been even more eager to work with her. Unfortunately we've been separated by both an ocean and the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

Joanna has Irish roots with her family originating in Donegal, and just before the covid pandemic she was planning a trip over to visit the land of her ancestors. Even back then, Joanna was in constant communication with us as she was planning a trip to visit the BTLX workshop. Yes, that's right, the old tiny garden shed workshop. And we had planned to surprise her with a BTLX guitar to take back home with her.

Of course those plans got shelved and nothing happened.


Fast forward a couple of years and the world is slowly starting to return to normal again, so you can imagine our excitement when we learned that not only was Joanna planning a Eurpoean tour following the release of her incredible 4801 South Indiana Avenue album, but she was ending the tour with a truly epic performance right here in Belfast. During this time, we've been fortunate enough to become good friends with Joanna, and we really wanted to do something nice for her - kind of a way to say thanks for all the happiness she's brought us with her amazing music. But how could we ever repay her for bringing so much happiness into our lives? We were going to make a guitar for her a few years ago and never got the chance, so lets take that a step further and instead of just making a guitar for her, we decided to modify our Tuagh solid body design slightly to create the Tuagh Artist Series. In this case, the Joanna Connor Artist model.


In order to ensure we were making the perfect instrument for Joanna, we took a look at her history and her playing style to help us get creative.


Joanna's sound is HUGE, and her playing is packed with raw power, emotion and energy. Think classic Chicago Blues, but cranked all the way up to eleven. Since the mid 1980's, Joanna has been playing alongside the giants of the blues including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, BB King, Robert Cray, Jimmy Page, ZZ Top, Joe Cocker, Etta James and many many more, and now she's considered one of the giants of the blues herself, with her most recent album being produced by none other than Joe Bonamassa himself. Joanna's playing style is predominantly slide. Powerful slide, and she's not afraid to explore the entire neck and beyond with the most stunning switches from the worn-out end to the dusty end of the fretboard and back again in the blinking of an eye.


So what we needed to produce was a guitar which had a big full sound, was lightweight and easy to handle for prolonged periods, and offered complete unecumbered access to the entire scale length from nut to bridge while still looking epic.


The upper fret access was achieved by reducing the body thickness down to just over one inch. While this created some difficulties getting pickups and harware to fit inside, it did allow us to create a guitar that has absolutely no heel where the neck and body meet. This coupled with the position of the fretboard allows completely free and easy access to every fret on the board and beyond.

This also assisted in bringing down the weight of the guitar as the body was less than half the volume of a regular solid electric.


The big sound was achieved by the use of a Warman humbucker, Joanna's preferred 10-guage strings, and our unique BTLX Additive Tone Control. Okay, what's an additive tone control you're asking.

Well, without giving away any trade secrets, I'll give you the gist of it.

You see a regular tone control on a guitar uses a vairable potentiometer - essentially a resistor.

This shapes the tone by taking the overall sound and removing parts of it - making it less than it was before - so you're always working to a compromise, reducing the performance of your pickup in order to make it sound a little different.

Well, I don't like this destructive approach to sound shaping. It feels a bit like buying a cup of coffee and throwing half of it away. So I've devised a tone control system that shapes the sound by adding to it. At its simplest, I place a number of piezoelectric pickups in a resonance cavity below the bridge with a few metal transferrance rods, and then the signal from those sensors is blended into the main pickup signal using a second volume knob. The result is a tone control that works slightly differently to the ones you may be used to, but it results in a much more powerful sound.


The two other features that make the artist series unique are the forward offset body shape, and the spliced scarf joing that attaches the body wings onto the through-neck. It's the same kind of joint that's used in a traditional cricket bat, and it allows for a huge gluing area and great transferrance of sound.


So with the guitar designed and made, we had to find a way to get it to Joanna. As she was in the midst of a European tour, time was tight for her so again she missed the opportunity to visit the workshop, but as luck would have it, we had tickets to go to Joanna's Belfast gig so we knew we'd get the opportunity there.


Come the big night on November 2nd in the Ulster Sports Club we were humbled and honoured to learn that we were on the guest list, and the moment we walked into the venue, Joanna rushed over to greet us and welcome us like long lost family that she hadn't seen for a long long time. Getting to spend time backstage and after the show had ended with Joanna was like a dream come true. She truly is one of the loveliest, most friendly, modest and humble people you'll ever meet, and if it wasn't for the bar staff needing to lock up and go home to their families, I'd happily be sat there still talking now.


As you can see from the photo above, Joanna was absolutely delighted with her new BTLX Tuagh, and has now returned back to the USA with it. She's off to Florida for a week to perform on a Blues Cruise (how awesome does that sound?), and then it's back to the Windy City to resume her residency at the world famous Kingston Mines Blues Club, where we've been told the JC Artist Tuagh will be making its debut performance, so we'll keep you all updated and hopefully we'll have a video to share too.


Getting to know Joanna slowly over the last few years, and finally meeting her in person has been a truly wonderful experience, and it's no exaggeration when I say it feels like she's a part of the family now. A welcome and truly valued member of Clan BTLX. We love you loads Jo, and we're missing you already. Hurry back to Ireland, as we want to show you more of your ancestral homeland. The weather here might be cold, but the welcome is as warm as a roaring fireplace.


Just a final note. If like us, you're a huge fan of the blues, you might want to check out three other artists who appeared with Joanna on Tuesday. Eamonn McCormack. Davy Kerrigan.

And Grainne Duffy.


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