John Mayer’s Guitar Legacy: From Blues to Brilliance
Though John Mayer is a skilled singer-songwriter, he is also known for being a master guitarist. Read for more about his technique and style.
By bonneville on September 6, 2023
John Mayer is a versatile and influential musician with a rich career that started with his breakthrough album, “Room for Squares,” released in 2001. Since then, he has garnered several Grammy awards, embarked on over 15 world tours, and released eight studio albums.
Though Mayer is a skilled singer-songwriter, he is also well-known for being a master guitarist. He has collaborated with numerous other musicians throughout his career, earning wide acclaim. Keep reading for more about John Mayer’s guitar technique and style and how you can learn to play just like him.
How he learned guitar
When Mayer was 13, he was blown away by Michael J. Fox’s guitar performance as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future.” He soon started taking lessons from a guitar shop owner, Al Ferrante, and was so obsessed with playing that his parents thought something might be wrong with him. After seeing a psychiatrist, he was determined to be mentally healthy, though he has spoken about having anxiety and takes anti-anxiety medication.
After only a couple of years since he started learning guitar, Mayer began to play in bars and venues and joined a band called “Villanova Junction” for a brief time. He later enrolled in the Berklee College of Music but dropped out and moved to Atlanta to pursue his music career. After catching the attention of an executive at Aware Records, he was listed as a performer and later released “Room for Squares” under their label. Aware signed a deal with Columbia Records giving them first rights to sign artists from their label, who revamped his album and re-released it later that same year.
Influences and heroes
One of Mayer’s first significant influences was Stevie Ray Vaughan, a legendary blues artist some consider the greatest guitarist of all time. His love of blues also extends to artists such as B.B. King, Otis Rush, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
The people who have influenced him have also, at times, collaborated or performed with him. For example, he accompanied Buddy Guy in 2003 at a show in the Irving Plaza and has toured with jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. Mayer is also touring with Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart under the moniker Dead & Company. Mayer joined them in 2015 after he performed a version of “Althea,” which impressed Weir to reach out to him.
In addition to being a skilled guitarist, Mayer is an avid guitar collector. He owns over 200 guitars and has collaborated with companies like Fender to create custom releases for himself or limited runs for the public.
One such custom acoustic guitar was the OM-28 John Mayer from Martin Guitars in 2003. The production was a limited run of 404, a node to the Atlanta area code where Mayer spent the early days of his songwriting career. Following that, Mayer released two Fender signature Stratocaster electric guitars in 2005.
The Black1, made by guitar master builder John Cruz, is his most iconic guitar. Under Mayer’s direction, Cruz styled the guitar after those of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Rory Gallagher.
Mayer has worked with countless artists across genres. He’s had samples on songs by rappers Common and Kanye West and has drawn praise from Jay Z and Nelly. He’s also performed with Alicia Keys, Frank Ocean, and Katy Perry.
His collaborations commonly feature his guitar-playing virtuoso, and he is not afraid to step out of the limelight to allow other performers to shine. He’s also collaborated with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, John Scofield, and B.B. King.
Tips and tricks: How to play the guitar like John Mayer
Mayer is skilled at combining various techniques, often performing multiple at a time to show off his guitar prowess. The best way to learn how to play the guitar like John Mayer is by starting to learn one song at a time.
Legendary blues musicians inspire many of the guitar techniques Mayer uses. He is known for fretting notes with his left thumb, playing licks over chords inspired by Jimi Hendrix, and uses double stops, slides, and raking—to name a few. Mayer also utilizes a lot of bends in his songs, a technique developed by blues artists where the pitch goes up by bending the string up or down.
Mayer is currently on his “Solo Tour” after the “Sob Rock” release in 2021. Catch him and his guitars when he stops in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 5th at the Delta Center.