John Mayer: Battle Star
GW You’ve often played with your fingers, but I’ve noticed you’ve stopped using a pick altogether. Why?
MAYER I can be in more places at once on the strings and over the pickups. It’s the closest I’ve managed to come to creating my own sound. I’m really interested in creating a place to stand as a guitar player. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m starting to get my chops back. Half the people reading your magazine are getting bored with their playing, and half the people reading your magazine are just starting to get excited again. It’s just the ebb and flow of it all.
GW You play through Two Rock amps. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MAYER It all started with this quest to find a great Dumble amp. I remember saying during the time of making Heavier Things, “God, if I could ever have a Dumble, I’d feel like that was the Holy Grail.” I mean, we’ve all read the interviews about what Stevie Ray Vaughan was using, and he’d always mention his Dumble.
So I came across a Dumble at one point, and I just got hooked. They are just the wide-open Ferraris of amps. I bought a couple, and then I discovered a Two Rock Custom Reverb at Rudy’s Music in New York, and I went, “Wow, this is a really cool amp!”
Later, I called the Two Rock guys, and they were so easy to talk with. So for the past five or six years I’ve been working with them, and we’ve designed a series of amps that fit my needs. I use these two signature model Two Rocks. They’re single channel, really clean, and have a huge amount of headroom.
GW You’re primarily a Fender guy. You even have your own signature model.
MAYER Yeah, I really stand behind them. Some of the best compliments I ever got were, “I’m not a Mayer fan, but that’s the right Strat.” So I use that onstage, along with several other guitars. I’m really into using the guitars that I used on the record when I play onstage. Every guitar has a unique harmonic fingerprint, and it plays a recognition factor in any given song. Also, playing the same guitar is sort of like bringing the studio out on the road. For example, I’m playing a 1961 Les Paul SG on “Friends, Lovers or Nothing.” There’s not really any other guitar that’s gonna deliver that sound.
GW Your show features a lot of different guitars.
MAYER Yeah, but I also love the idea of playing the same guitar for an entire evening. It’s great when Jeff Beck comes onstage and plays a white Jeff Beck Strat all night. It’s a great approach, but it just wouldn’t work for the songs on this album. Each was composed with the idea of finding a different sound for each song.
GW You are currently working with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tech, Rene Martinez. What’s his best Stevie Ray story?
MAYER You’d have to ask him, because I would feel like I was betraying his confidence. But here’s something: We played a gig at Webster Hall in New York in 2004, and that was the first time Rene ever came out to tech one of my shows. That night at soundcheck, the speaker in my Fender Vibratone blew. Rene told me that Stevie had played at Webster Hall years ago and that the speaker in his Vibratone had also blown. So I think that was Rene’s sort of first notion that, you know, “Maybe I can work with this guy.”
I think I really understand the Stevie Ray Vaughan tone more than most people because of being with Rene. I think it’s the most misunderstood tone around. Everybody thinks you get a Tube Screamer and you turn the distortion all the way up, and you turn the level as loud as it goes before you get yelled at. But his sound wasn’t about gain—the gain was in his hands. It was in the muscular, atom-bomb left hand, which made it sound loud. It was loud, but it wasn’t distorted. And when people try and play “Texas Flood” through distortion, it sounds awful. Stevie primarily used the amp’s volume and a distortion pedal as a boost, and then he just whipped the hell out of the strings to get that sound.
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