In this month’s col­umn Stu­art Ryan dis­cov­ers that elec­tric blues icon and pop su­per­star John Mayer has a more sub­tle, acous­tic folk side!

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Stu­art Ryan looks at the acous­tic side of elec­tric blues star and pop icon: John Mayer

When I last cov­ered John Mayer for GT way back in GT127, I fo­cused on his com­plex, groove-based fin­ger­style as found in tracks like Neon. At this time Mayer was heav­ily in­flu­enced by San Fran­cisco eight-string jazz gui­tar leg­end Char­lie Hunter and his fin­ger­pick­ing fea­tured deft, con­tra­pun­tal lines the likes of which had rarely been seen in the main­stream pop-rock sphere. Along­side this he show­cased a deep knowl­edge of chords that re­sulted in mem­o­rable and cre­ative strum­ming based tracks like his break-out hit No Such Thing.

Although it’s com­mon to fo­cus on Mayer’s elec­tric gui­tar style and the in­flu­ence of BB King, SRV and Hen­drix on this side of his play­ing, the acous­tic side has al­ways run par­al­lel to this from al­bum tracks to al­la­cous­tic EPs like his de­but re­lease In­side Wants Out and The Vil­lage Ses­sion, both es­sen­tial lis­ten­ing if you want to hear Mayer in pure acous­tic mode.

By the time he re­leased his smash al­bum Con­tin­uum the elec­tric gui­tar was well and truly at the fore, but even here you start to hear a devel­op­ment of his acous­tic style – the fiery show­boat­ing of a track like Neon is re­placed by song-fo­cused acous­tic parts that demon­strated his en­vi­able mas­tery of fin­ger­pick­ing tech­nique.

Fast for­ward to 2012 and the Bay Area jazz sound has been re­placed by pastoral tinged fin­ger­pick­ing that bears the hall­mark of a strong Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor in­flu­ence – in essence, the great Cal­i­for­nian song­writ­ers of the 1960s and 70s. How­ever, whether de­lib­er­ate or not, you’ll also hear ev­i­dence of play­ers like Jorma Kauko­nen in the more com­plex pas­sages. The folk sound is still in ev­i­dence on fol­low-up Par­adise Val­ley and rep­re­sents a de­lib­er­ate shift in mu­si­cal tone by Mayer that was led by his acous­tic gui­tar-fo­cused writ­ing. Mayer’s parts on th­ese albums are great – fan­tas­tic groove, melodic

the show­boat­ing on tracks like neon was re­placed by acous­tic parts that demon­strated his fin­ger­pick­ing

ideas and that con­sis­tent tim­ing that is al­ways in ev­i­dence with his pick­ing hand. How­ever, when learn­ing th­ese parts it’s a good idea to go to the source and im­merse your­self in the artists listed above (plus, of course, Bob Dy­lan!) so you’ll get a greater idea of how he is build­ing the acous­tic parts that are at the fore­front of his play­ing th­ese days. And, fi­nally, let us not for­get that most dif­fi­cult as­pect of fin­ger­style – tone. Mayer plays with a great at­tack and ar­tic­u­la­tion and this is some­thing to re­ally work on when play­ing th­ese parts.

John Mayer: more than just a great elec­tric blues gui­tarist

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