How to sound like John Mayer on a budget
In this blog we are going to look at an artist who often divides people’s opinions when it comes to musical taste, but someone who nobody can deny is a modern day guitar hero, and a gifted player. John Mayer is one of the most successful musicians of the last 20 years, and is well known for albums such as Continuum, Battle Studies and latest release, The Search For Everything. As well as his talent for songwriting, Mayer’s guitar playing has earned him the respect of legends like Eric Clapton, BB King and Buddy Guy, among others. He is heavily influenced by the blues and artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and these influences shine through in his gear as well as his playing. Let’s look at how you can achieve that ‘John Mayer’ sound without breaking the bank and trying to keep our overall spend to under £1000.
Fender Standard Stratocaster
Ever since he broke onto the scene, Mayer has used Fender Stratocasters, from his own SRV signature that he bought with money from working at a gas station, to his now legendary ‘Black One’ Strat, with the magic 4th pickup position which provided the inspiration for 2006 hit ‘Gravity’.
Typically Mayer’s Strats tend to only differ in cosmetics, so achieving his tone is not too challenging. The Fender Standard Stratocaster priced at £507 would be perfect and is already half the battle when it comes to nailing down the classic single coil, bluesy sound that he is known for.
PRS SE Standard 24
Of course, being a touring musician for years and years means he has used all sorts of weird and wonderful guitars at times, including 335’s, SG’s and even hollow bodies. Recently, John has been using several PRS guitars such as the Super Eagle, so if you wanted an alternative to a Strat that included all these sounds, then look no further than the PRS SE Standard 24. Priced at £475, this guitar will give you the humbucker sounds of a Gibson, but also some Fender twang when the push/pull coil split is activated.
Throwing a spanner in the works here is Mayer’s latest guitar venture – the PRS Silver Sky – combining the best of both PRS and Fender worlds. But with a price tag way over £2000, it leaves a tough decision on the guitar front.
With the guitars taken care of, let’s look at amplifiers. Unfortunately for us mere mortals, Mayer’s collection of Dumble and Two-Rock amps are just slightly above budget… but thankfully, John has consistently used Fender amps, so let’s start here. We will look at two options from a classic debate, Solidstate vs Valve.
The more budget-friendly option would be the Mustang GT40. Part of Fender’s GT range, these amps are digital modelling amplifiers, and come complete with a range of classic amps and effects recreated in an affordable package. The GT40 also comes equipped with WiFi and free Tone App, so you can easily download the latest sounds and carve out your own unique tone. Another cool feature is the fender.com/tone website, where you can share and download presets that you and others have made – including lots of John Mayer profiles, so what better way to get started on your tone quest?
On the flipside, there is the classic option of a valve combo. For many you can’t beat a simple valve amp, and the Blues Junior encompasses this with its 15 watts of power and 12” speaker. Apart from the bread and butter EQ controls, the Blues Junior features a lush spring reverb for those tasteful blues licks that Mayer is known for, plus a ‘Fat Switch’ designed to boost the mids – particularly useful when soloing.
Coming in at £589, this is certainly a bigger financial decision, but is worth every penny for an all-out Fender valve rocker, which cleans up just as nicely to suit all areas of John’s sound.
If you’re leaning towards the GT40 amp then pedals may not be necessary, due to the Mustang’s plethora of presets and effects to play with. If you’re liking the Blues Junior more though, or maybe just fancy a good old stompbox to go with your digital presets, the Blues Driver BD-2 from BOSS would be ideal for those blues lead tones, from cream to crunch.
For achieving Mayer’s sparkling clean tones, the GE-7 Graphic Equalizer pedal, also from BOSS, features 7 bands of EQ from 100Hz to 6.4kHz and allows 15db of cut or boost on each band. Perfect for boosting your clean tone or tuning in your leads, the GE-7 can make your guitar really sing.
Both these BOSS pedals come in at £85 each, making them great value for money, especially with BOSS’ 5 year warranty.
Martin X Series DX1AE
With the electric side of John’s sound covered, what about acoustics? While the £649 price tag may initially seem expensive compared to the electrics, remember that with an acoustic we do not need to worry so much about amps and pedals. The focus is on the guitar, so perhaps some more wiggle room can be afforded when budgeting.
Mayer has been a Martin player for years now, and even has his very own signature clocking in at just under £4000… but the X Series is a fantastic instrument at a much more affordable price. The large body provides a full and resonant sound, and with the slim oval neck taper this guitar has a great comfortable feel. The preamp mounted in the sound-hole means the DX1AE can be used acoustically or through an amp/PA, making it incredibly versatile and usable for gigs as well as practicing.
Whichever route you choose to go down, John Mayer’s sound is surprisingly achievable. Whether it’s the classic Strat > Valve amp > Pedals or something a bit different with the modelling amp, or even a simple acoustic, here we have laid out some affordable and accessible choices.
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