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Dear Guitar Hero: Eric Johnson Discusses His “Koto” Technique, Tone, Signature Strat and More

Dear Guitar Hero: Eric Johnson Discusses His “Koto” Technique, Tone, Signature Strat and More

Given your penchant for vintage Strats, how do you manage extraneous noise at high-gain levels? — Anonymous

The noise is pretty bad. I don’t like it, but you have to pick your poison. I’ve chosen to wrestle the beast, but I would really like to slay it. I’m working with Fender’s Michael Braun to create a hum-canceling pickup that sounds like a singlecoil. I think he may well crack that nut. In the meantime, the middle pickup on my signature Strat is wrapped differently from the other two, and I can always use it if the noise is overwhelming.

You’re famous for obsessing about your tone. Have you learned to relax and let the music and ideas flow and let go of the technical stuff? — Mike Kretz

I’ve gotten better. There is certain music I would like to advance and implement on guitar, and pulling it off is a real challenge, so it’s hard not to obsess over it. If you want to make the guitar into a sustaining, ferocious sound, you have to use distortion, which is a beautiful thing, but it creates all sort of problems. Having said that, I’m not obsessing as much as I used to.

You have a very unique style. Who were your prime influences? — Paul Chase

When I was a kid, my dad played all types of music. It ingrained in me the idea that all music has something to offer. If you listen to the spirit behind the music, you can connect the dots between players like John McLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery…not to mention Mozart, Debussy and Gershwin. They were all big influences to me.

During the Seventies, you and Stevie Ray Vaughan were Austin’s primary guitar slingers. Was there a lot of competition between you? — Stephen Hung

No. We were playing different kinds of music. I always enjoyed hearing Stevie and his group play. It was nice to have him around in the clubs. You could go see him every night, and his greatness was readily apparent.

Would you consider doing the G3 tour again? — Chad Osborne

Absolutely. The tour was fun. Steve [Vai] and Joe [Satriani] are great players, and I would welcome the opportunity to perform with them again. That said, I have to add that it was a very tough period for me. For two years prior to the tour, my ears were damaged; I could hardly listen to the radio or TV at more than a whisper volume. I was in the middle of this horror during the tour, so while I may have looked fine walking around and smiling, it was tough. It was a difficult time for me, but I got lucky and rebounded.

Will we be seeing a concert DVD from you any time soon? — Charles Johnson

I hope so, though I don’t have any plans for one at this time. I just finished an instructional DVD on which I explain the 10 essential points to creating great music. I tried to keep it simple and straightforward, without getting into too much flamboyant technique or gear.

Why did you segment your 2005 album, Bloom, into three sections? — George Stolz

On the album, I was trying to explore different types of music that I like, and I came up with a wide range of sounds. I tried so many ways of sequencing the songs, but nothing seemed to work; the songs were too dissimilar. I ended up following a friend’s suggestion to segregate the music into three separate stanzas, rather than try to segue from one song to another.

I really enjoy the acoustic tracks on Bloom. Do you think you’ll ever make an all-acoustic record? — Evan Adkins

Actually, I’m working on one right now. I’ve already cut about 13 songs for it, and I hope to have it out early next year.

I was amazed by the cascading harmonics you demonstrated on your instructional video. What is the origin of this delicate technique and how long did it take to master it? — Charles Manthy

I don’t know the origin, but [seven-string jazz fingerstyle guitarist] Lenny Breau made it popular, and that’s where I got it, though someone may well have done it before him. As for mastering it, it’s an ongoing process, especially if you change the harmonics’ voicing. Just break it down and take it step by step.

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