Watch John Mayer cover Van Halen’s Panama with an Eddie Van Halen Frankenstein

John Mayer playing Eddie Van Halen's Frankenstein
(Image credit: Paul Natkin/WireImage via Getty)

2008 was a curious time for John Mayer. After releasing a blues trio album in 2005, arguably his best piece of work Continuum in 2006 and then a highly praised live record – Where The Light Is, recorded in 2007 – the electric guitar star’s musical journey seemed to be at a crossroads.

It was also a time when his guitar playing skills were really put on the map – a time when the same pop singer-songwriter who penned Room for Squares (2001) and Heavier Things (2003) was finally receiving the credit he deserved for his stellar six-string chops.

Perhaps given such context, it’s no surprise that Mayer – currently riding the wave of greater guitar-playing freedom and a rejuvenated penchant for soloing – decided to truly test himself and take a stab at a song featuring one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived: Eddie Van Halen.

On a number of occasions throughout the month of July in 2008, Mayer did just that, when he covered Van Halen’s 1984 hit, Panama.

However, not only did Mayer attempt to channel his inner Van Halen, he did so playing Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Frankenstein guitar.

A standout example is his appearance at the Mile High Music Festival on July 20 – a two-day annual event that took place in Commerce City, Colorado. After making his way through his growing collection of crowd-pleasers, Mayer decided to cap off his set with Panama, for which he was joined by singer David Ryan Harris.

Though footage from the festival is pretty blurry, it’s just about good enough to make out a shirtless Mayer going to town on whammy wiggles and fretboard taps aplenty throughout. After delivering the riffs and pinch harmonics of the intro, Mayer then busies himself with rhythm work before bursting out into a guitar solo at the 2:33 mark.

Now, there’s no point comparing the two players, but it’s worth praising the Mayer flair of the solo, which is filled with bluesy pentatonic runs, fretboard slides and a rough two-hand tap flurry.

Just two days before his Mile High Music Festival slot, Mayer gave his Frankenstein guitar a warm-up run-out at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater in Illinois on July 18, during which he slotted his Panama cover at the start of his encore.

The footage from that occasion – found above – is even worse, but still, any grainy glimpse of Mayer wielding a Frankenstein is good enough. After all, it’s not every day the worlds of Van Halen and Mayer collide in such spectacular fashion.

As mentioned above, July 2008 was a particularly Panama-heavy month for Mayer, with a third cover cropping up on the setlist for his July 13 gig at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.

Though Harris once again took his place behind the mic to take care of Roth’s vocals, Mayer either opted against the Frankenstein or hadn’t yet had the chance to source one, playing instead a PRS McCarty 594 hollowbody.

Obviously, the cover has slipped out of Mayer’s current setlist since '08 – it doesn’t really fit Sob Rock’s ‘80s vibe or The Search for Everything’s soft rock sounds Mayer is currently going for – but if ever the guitar star decides to take a classic rock turn, at least we know he’d be up to the challenge.

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.