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Thread: John Mayer on Guitar Tone

  1. #1
    Regular Fretter Lev's Avatar
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    Default John Mayer on Guitar Tone

    Found this when doing a search for John Mayer's equipment on Google. It's a post on one of JM's fan forums from John Himself. Interesting reading.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hey (gear) guys and gals -


    I thought it might be fun to post a little something regarding gear, specifically that endless hunt for our guitar tone. It’s as much of an obsession for me as it is for some of you, and I want to share a little of what I’ve learned over the past few years. I read through some of the posts in this part of the forum, and I can’t get over how much of a positive spin you’ve put on the guitar community. It’s has a tendency to be jaded, and I love to see that you’re getting happiness and fulfillment out of it and not frustration.

    There are some misconceptions that seem to constantly perpetuate, and I want to try and bust one of them up right now. Oh, and it should be noted throughout that this all applies to my take on tone. If you like heavy metal, you’ll probably disagree with everything I have to say.

    Distortion pedals – One thing to keep in mind with distortion – I should say overdrive pedals, so as to distinguish them from fuzz pedals, which is more of an effect unto itself - is that they’re really made to simulate overdriving an amp naturally. Vintage tube amps have a threshold where they break up past a certain volume. A distortion pedal is used to make that ‘break up sound’ happen at lower volumes, which is a reasonable expectation. You can’t turn a ‘65 Deluxe Reverb to ‘8’ in your bedroom without making a lot of people miserable. Stevie Ray Vaughan used an Ibanez Tube Screamer (TS-80 , which in the 1980s was regarded as kind of a cheap pedal. Here’s the misconception; he didn’t really use that much distortion at all. He did when he was going for that Jimi sound, but listen to most any early SRV tune and you won’t hear as much break-up as you might think. I hear people all the time (I even remember hearing myself) who just dime the ‘drive knob’ and think the ‘volume’ is a master knob for it. It’s a concept known as “gain staging” - it has to do with the way that the volume of each part of your signal chain interacts with the next. The ‘volume’ knob of an 808 is the most important. That’s by definition, the overdrive part of it. The “overdrive” should be thought of as the “cheat” knob. Remember this – kicking on distortion should make your guitar louder, not quieter. Quiet sounding loud is just strange. Setting gain staging will make sure that when you kick the pedal on, your guitar signal will get appropriately louder. Again – Stevie Ray used so much less distortion than you can possibly imagine. He was loud, and the way it hit the tape (and your ear) made that sound. I use a vintage 808, which has some properties that I like, but it is by no means the holy grail of tone. It has it’s place, though. Everything does. Just remember that turning that “cheat” knob too high also cheats you of the natural tonal characteristics of your guitar. Do work that volume knob, though.
    So what if you don’t have the 600 bucks for an 808? Don’t even worry about it. There are so many pedals designed to emulate it, it’s not even funny. Purists want the original 808 because of some fairly esoteric microchip differences. The Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive is somewhat close, (and dirt cheap!) but it can also have a really harsh high end. (What’s in a name, right?) I think the Fulltone Fulldrive 2 is a FANTASTIC update on the 808. The Keeley-modded TS-808 reissue is very close to an 808. These pedals are what I call “paint chip” close. If you didn’t have an original 808 to A/B with, you wouldn’t know what you were missing. If you’re looking for a good “edgey” tone, check out the Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal from the early ‘90s. Not the BB-2 (bad), but the original. It’s a great beefy sound that colors strat pickups in a really interesting way. The tone knob is like a “B.B.” dial. If you feel like your guitar just won’t cut it in the mix with your band, but you don’t necessarily want more overdrive, check out the Fulltone Fat-Boost, or the Keeley Katana. Kick it on for a solo, and it’s like having your own personal mixing engineer ride your fader. I use a Keeley-modded Boss BD-2 pedal as well. It’s got it’s own thing going on, and I like it. So many pedals are cool, and most every one has a place for something. It’s fun to listen to a pedal and then play to it’s strengths.
    Oh, here’s another misconception: True bypass is all-around better than buffered (regular) bypass. Not so. Think of your guitar cable as a hose, and your guitar only pushes a certain amount of water pressure out of it. After a certain length, you’re going to need some more pressure to squeeze the water out. True-bypass takes the “in” and “out” cables of a pedal and connects them as if they were one long hose. After a certain length, you’ll get some pretty hefty tone loss. I learned this when I unplugged my guitar from my pedal switcher and went straight into the amp. Guitar pedals without the TB serve as a buffer for the signal, and naturally keep that water flow going. Yes, sometimes the trade-off can be harsh; some pedals, while buffering your signal, can also adversely color it, even when in bypass mode. That’s a good time to think TB. True bypass is a concept that only really took off as a selling point over the last 5 years or so. It won’t kill you to have it, but it certainly isn’t the only reason to get a pedal over another one without it.

    I Hope that helps you out a little bit. There are so many other things I want to share with you, where to put your money, where to save it... Maybe I’ll get to it all over time. I can’t think of anything more exciting than tone hunting, and I hope you can’t either.

    PLAY ON

    JM

  2. #2
    Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements... Robert's Avatar
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    That was a good read, thanks for posting.

    John Mayer has a really great tone, and I think he uses some really good amps of course.
    The Law of Gravity is nonsense. No such law exists. If I think I float, and you think I float, then it happens.
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    Regular Fretter Rockybluejazz's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting it. It was just what I was looking for. What are the odds?

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    That's a great read. I love his tone, his playing, his song writing, etc. He's one of the best artists out there these days. I like just about everything he does. Now if he would just play his music more and quit doing interviews, I would like him a whole lot more.

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    GREAT READ!
    I would love to have a convo with him at my house with my gear and get schooled on how to use what I have correctly.

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    Bronze Supporter deeaa's Avatar
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    Yep, I agree with everything he says completely.
    Dee

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    Regular Fretter Kazz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpfeifer
    He's one of the best artists out there these days. I like just about everything he does. Now if he would just play his music more and quit doing interviews, I would like him a whole lot more.

    Quoted for truth.

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    Valar Morghulis Tig's Avatar
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    Good stuff, especially the “gain staging” advice. I learned a bunch on this using both sections (boost and overdrive) of the BYOC Boost/OD-2, (Zonkin' Yellow Screamer) pedal.
    Controlling the various steps of gain creates some great driven tones, versus making that jump in one giant step.

    //Any fan of Mayer should watch the CMT's January 2010 "Crossroads" concert where he and Keith Urban play together. I'm not a big country fan, but Urban can really play, and these two sing and play guitars in a very complimentary way.





    Doug

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    Master Fretter Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpfeifer
    That's a great read. I love his tone, his playing, his song writing, etc. He's one of the best artists out there these days. I like just about everything he does. Now if he would just play his music more and quit doing interviews, I would like him a whole lot more.
    You know, I just can't get into Mayer because I think he's such a fricking pecker-head. His comments and his target audience (mostly teenage girls for a lot of his music) make it really hard for me to take him seriously and enjoy, which is a shame. I get the feeling there's some good music in there, but I can't bring myself to listen to him.

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    You know, I just can't get into Mayer because I think he's such a fricking pecker-head. His comments and his target audience (mostly teenage girls for a lot of his music) make it really hard for me to take him seriously and enjoy, which is a shame. I get the feeling there's some good music in there, but I can't bring myself to listen to him.
    Eric, I feel kind of the same way. He seems like a totally arrogant guy, at least the few times where I've seen him being interviewed. It makes it harder for me to enjoy his music when I know that he acts this way. It turns me off to the whole thing. Maybe he will grow out of it someday, get over himself, and just play music.

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    Master Fretter Eric's Avatar
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    I get frustrated with myself sometimes, because who people are really matters to me, even in the realm of celebrities/entertainers. But that's really probably a dumb stance to have and a losing battle.

    Much of the music I enjoy is made by people who I am sure are not role models, but those people shut their mouths enough to let me live happily in ignorance of how morally bankrupt, drug-addled, or arrogant they might be.

    I just feel hypocritical when I say it matters to me what kind of a person a celebrity is, but I can't deny that it matters to me a little bit. Music is so emotional, it's difficult to connect if you don't respect the person playing it.

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    Regular Fretter sumitomo's Avatar
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    I'm glad I bought stock in Fulltone Fulldrive 2 and Keeley modded Pedals,cause I just saw the sales rise!!! Sumi

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    Valar Morghulis Tig's Avatar
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    If it wasn't for this release, I'd feel about the same way...
    Try! John Mayer Trio Live in Concert

    Doug

    Guitar: Gibson SG Standard Natural Burst, Squier CV 50's Tele, Hell Guitars No. 2, Squier CV 50's Strat, Reverend Club King 290, Taylor GS Mini spruce,
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    Displaced Texan bcdon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    I just feel hypocritical when I say it matters to me what kind of a person a celebrity is, but I can't deny that it matters to me a little bit. Music is so emotional, it's difficult to connect if you don't respect the person playing it.
    The quality of a person -- someone worthy of your respect -- is not a function of the quality of their work. There are many, many people out there that produce great art, science, &c and yet some of these same people are -- to be blunt -- pieces of cr-p in all other respects. You should make the call as whether or not you wish to support someone that you dislike on a personal level... and even if you do, it's not like they are going to marry your daughter or something.

  15. #15

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    Bcdon,

    Yes, I can see your point too. There are probably other people who I've admired over the years having had no idea what kind of people they were at all, and it didn't really effect my view of thier art, and maybe it was better for me not to know.

    In contrast to this, it's always nice when you like someone's music and then you find out that they're also a decent person. I'm with Eric on that point.

    I did get to meet one of my guitar heros one time, Eric Johnson, and he was a really nice guy, friendly, and very humble. It made me appreciate his music all that much more, especially a guy who can play like he does.

    --Jim

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    Displaced Texan bcdon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpfeifer
    In contrast to this, it's always nice when you like someone's music and then you find out that they're also a decent person. I'm with Eric on that point.

    --Jim
    Hi Jim, please don't get me wrong, I fell this way too..a good guy is a good guy and I'd rather hang around a nice person than some a-hole just because they had some talent. What I was trying to say is that it is possible to admire someone's creation without necessarily admiring the creator.

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    Master Fretter Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bcdon
    What I was trying to say is that it is possible to admire someone's creation without necessarily admiring the creator.
    I agree, but it's harder for me. What I was touching upon earlier is that I feel hypocritical because I love a lot of work of people I probably wouldn't like personally. So when I point out someone like Mayer, I do so knowing full well that I probably don't adhere to that ethos (i.e. that the creator shouldn't be a turd) much of the time.

    So back to what I said initially in here, it's just that it's harder for me to admire the creation. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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    Lefty O'lman oldguy's Avatar
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    I remember when he was on The Chapelle Show and I used to just crack up.
    I think he's a great musician, a practical joker and a bit of a smart a$$ who doesn't always think before he puts his mouth in gear, but hey, haven't most of us been guilty of that at one time or another?
    John's average just seems to be "another" more than "one", I think.
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    I know a lot of people don't like the guy, but Mayer def has some great tone IMO atleast

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