John Mayer is a bona-fide tone king. This takes hard work and taste, with the blues-rock pop megastar taking an epicurean approach to gear, his gourmand’s palate uniquely attuned to the most flavorsome frequencies.
The ingredients might change but sound remains instantly identifiable. Think an early '60s Strat through Fender amps, but refined, purified, and made transcendent via a meticulously curated pedalboard.
His arsenal is swollen by a number of signature instruments – Martin, Fender, and when he felt the latter was unable to follow him down the rabbit hole, Mayer partnered with Paul Reed Smith for his signature Silver Sky. He has signature PRS and Two-Rock amps, and owns so many Dumble amplifiers he has lost count.
Few players in history have fused exemplary technique, a curatorial zeal for tone and mass appeal like him, but here we take a look at some of the gear behind the phenomenon. We’ve loosely arranged our rundown by time, but be aware that John switches his gear in and out all the time – he gets rid of nothing!
Fender Artist Series Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster
The first serious guitar to articulate his style of playing, the SRV Strat was funded by shifts at a gas station and was part exchanged for a Takamine 12-string guitar and a Mesa/Boogie distortion pedal. He would later be given one of only 185 Lenny Tribute Strats.
The guitar from the cover of Room For Squares, the Novax and its fanned-fret futurism seems like an outlier for Mayer – though he has played a hot-pink Jackson Soloist on occasion.
Mayer has used all kinds of Fender guitar amps, but it made total sense that he’d use the Vibro-King so much in those early days. It’s bright, big, spanky, super-clean... Very John Mayer.
Mayer gets all his drive from his pedals, and alongside the Klon and TS-10, the once slept-on and now collectible Bluesbreaker has been a mainstay of his tone.
Martin DM3MD Dave Matthews
Mayer’s taste for spruce-topped, rosewood Martin acoustics developed early, and the Dave Matthews dreadnought was all over Room For Squares.
The new millennial guitar hero: 2002-2013
Enter, the Dumbles
Made by Alexander Dumble, rarer than hen’s teeth, super-expensive and arguably the greatest amplifiers ever made, the Dumble is the holy grail for tonehounds.
Mayer has used a number over the years, but the Steel String Singer remains a mainstay of his rig, with the likes of the Dumbleland making appearances – notably on the 2017 Dead And Company tour.
These amps are merciless on inexperienced players, with little sag to stop notes poking out, but if you’re playing’s on point, they’ll reward you with godly tone.
2002 Martin OM-28JM John Mayer
If you own one of these limited edition Orchestra Models we hope you have insurance. Only 404 were made, and they’re insanely expensive. But who cares, right? The solid Engelmann spruce top and East Indian rosewood back and sides make for Michelin-starred tone.
Gibson ’61 SG Standard
The SG was most notably used for the lead on Friends, Lovers Or Nothing and was his favourite guitar circa-Battle Studies.
Not all of Mayer’s amps have reverb, but that doesn’t stop him. Indeed, it presents an opportunity for our soft-rock sensualist to welcome an outboard reverb to the party.
For old-school spring reverbs, he might use an outboard Fender unit, or one inspired by one, such as the Victoria Amps Reverberato. For more cleaner sounds, the studio-quality Bricasti M7 is preferred, while a Universal Audio Golden Reverberator has been spotted on recent Dead & Company tours.
2007 Two-Rock John Mayer Signature Amp
Based on Two-Rock’s Custom Reverb Signature amp, with added je ne sais quoi from the Sterling Signature, Overdrive Signature, and Kimock Signature models, this has heaps of headroom and dynamics, tube-driven spring reverb you could fish in, and museum-grade US guitar tones.
Fender Monterey Stratocaster
One of Mayer’s most-spotted Strats, it arrived on the scene circa 2003 as he jammed Come Back To Me with Buddy Guy and Double Trouble live on Conan O’Brien.
Fender Custom Shop Black1 Strat
So legendary is Mayer’s 2004 Strat that it’s the only Fender Custom Shop guitar to get a replica, when Fender released 83 of them in 2010. For many, this is the John Mayer guitar. He spent two days at the Custom Shop selecting wood and getting in the way. It was worth it.
Circa 2015-2019: The Fractal Affair, Dead & Company, the Great John Mayer Pedalboard Reveal and a light in the Silver Sky
PRS Silver Sky
The big bang moment for Mayer’s six-string life arrived in March 2018. People were outraged, until they actually played it. Never mind the reverse PRS headstock on a Strat-style body: this was good, with its custom-wound single-coils, custom 635JM neck carve and 7.25” fretboard radius giving it an early Strat feel, and yet it still delivered the electric shock of the new.
“I get to call the guy whose name is on the guitar and we get to build stuff together,” said Mayer. “That’s too cool… The Silver Sky is my vision of what a reboot of the electric guitar should look and feel like.”
Fractal Axe-Fx III
’Even for a player unafraid to take an iconoclastic approach to guitar gear in search of godly tone, his use of a Fractal Axe-Fx III digital modelling unit for a fly-in guest spot on Khalid’s set at Coachella 2019 made the internet heave in protest...
Why? Who knows – he had used a Kemper Profiler earlier in his Dead & Company career. Mayer would later revert back to tube amps, and, for the record, said that modelling tech “doesn’t quite understand gain structure”… At least until he used one again on Sob Rock.
Laid headstock to end pin, Mayer and Eric Clapton’s collection of Martin acoustics could span the Earth’s equator. But this, introduced at NAMM 2018, is out of this world.
PRS John Mayer J-MOD 100 amplifier
This 100-watter has more headroom than a Hobbit in an aircraft carrier. Designed as a workhorse amp for Dead & Company and solo dates, the J-MOD 100 offers a clean platform for his pedalboard.
The Great John Mayer Pedalboard Reveal Vol. 1: 2016
Keeley Electronics Katana Boost
Robert Keeley’s first design remains a staple of many player’s ‘boards, capable of slapping the front-end of your amp with 35dB of boost.
Pete Cornish TES Tape Echo Simulator
If you can find one of these online, expect to pay around two grand. Basically, guitar electronics guru Pete Cornish got in a room with David Gilmour and made this studio-quality analogue delay and tape echo sim. Endlessly tweakable, with delay times of up to 960ms.
A mainstay of Mayer’s ‘board, the archetypal boutique overdrive treats your guitar and amp tone kindly while simultaneously frying guitar players’ minds, given the amount of money one might spend on one.
Made by Bill Finnegan between 1990 and 1994, now a bona fide pedalboard unicorn, the Klon has inspired countless top-quality imitations and is one of those pedals responsible for the expansion of pedalboard culture. When you hear “a pair of germanium diodes” in the description of an overdrive, it’s a good bet it is a riff on this.
Strymon OB.1 Optical Compressor & Clean Boost
Sadly out of production thanks to a worldwide shortage of Light Dependent Resistors, Strymon’s first ever pedal, the OB.1, offered studio-quality compression and a switchable boost.
Mayer uses this envelope filter on tracks such as In Repair.
Boss TU-3 Tuner
He’s a musician; got to stay in tune, and this is a great value pick!
A top-quality digital emulation of classic reverb and tremolo sounds, with three flavours of each on tap.
Boss OC-3 Super Octave
A polyphonic octave pedal, with drive, capable of transposing your parts one or two octaves down.
Real McCoy Custom RMC8 Guitar Eqwahlyzer
Sound the boutique klaxon, folks! Mid-60s Italian Vox wah vibes collide with a 5-band EQ.
Way Huge Aqua Puss Analog Delay MkI
Another John Mayer essential, and a super-collectible MkI at that. Photos would suggest Mayer sets this Jeorge Tripps-designed delay for a slapback effect, complementing his reverb to add some depth.
Ibanez TS10 Tube Screamer
The TS10 has long been Mayer’s favourite edition of the Tube Screamer, and thanks to this, vintage Japanese units can fetch over $/£500 online. You’re paying for the magic JRC4558D IC chip, which makes a mockery of the expression “cheap as chips”.
The Great John Mayer Pedalboard Reveal Vol. 2: Dead & Company / 2019 / new additions
Xotic Wah XW-1
A premium wah pedal voiced after vintage 1967 to ’68 Italian-built Clyde McCoy wahs, the XW-1 has a bias control for tightening the bottom end and smoothing out the sweep, treble and bass controls, and a Q control to adjust the width of the frequency peak.
An all-singing, all-dancing digital echo station that plays the percentages between Binson-esque magnetic drum, tape, and reel-to-reel studio echoes. Expensive but a lot cheaper than the Pete Cornish TES.
Source Audio True Spring Reverb
Arguably the best digital spring reverb on the market, with a hidden tremolo feature accessed via the app, the True Spring does a similar job to Mayer’s Strymon Flint. It’s quite possible it has been added because it’s more compact.
Recent reports from Dead & Company's 2021 tour have noted a number of fresh pedal picks, including the 29 Pedals EUNA, MXR Phase 90, Providence DLY-4 Chrono Delay and a mystery JHS pedal.
Get Mayer-esque tone and change from a grand with gear that’s available right now!
Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Stratocaster $449 / £349
An exceptional budget alternative to the Strat’s golden era, this will get you those spanky tones.
Harley Benton Tube15 Celestion $233 / £199
Classy tube tones from pocket change. The Thomann-owned brand is a budget-tone powerhouse.
Wampler Mini Faux Spring Reverb $149 / £139
Respectful of your pedalboard space and budget, this is a lush, amp-like spring reverb.
Electro-Harmonix Soul Food $96 / £75
The best-value Klon clone on the market and a regular on pro guitarists’ pedalboards.
Got a bigger budget? That means more ways to buy into Mayer’s tone
Fender Vintera Road Worn ’60s Stratocaster $1,199 / £999
It’s not as heavily relic’d as Mayer’s Black1, but those city miles look good on it. No matter how you slice it, it’s an exceptional Strat.
Fender Blues Junior IV $674 / £599
One of the best-selling tube combos of all time, used by Mayer, and it’s great value.
J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon $/£199
A super K-style overdrive with a lovely gain structure that can also be used as a clean boost.
Catalinbread Topanga $209 / £189
Digital spring reverbs don’t get much better than this, and it’ll help add a lush Dreamsville, Americana vibe to your playing.
Way Huge Smalls Aqua-Puss Analog Delay $149 / £129
A downsized version of the Aqua-Puss, ideal for slapback and dreamy repeats.