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John Mayer explains why he doesn’t consider himself a blues guitar player

John Mayer
(Image credit: Carlos Serrao)

John Mayer is no stranger to the “blues guitarist” label. Since his escapades with the John Mayer Trio, which released the 2005 live album Try!, and following a handful of albums, epitomized by 2006’s Continuum, featuring an abundance of blues-based electric guitar lines, it’s a label many are sometimes overly keen to use.

As it turns out, Mayer himself is ambivalent to the tag and, given his diverse songwriting and compositional skills – which traverse the boundaries between hip-hop, pop and all-out ‘80s throwback – he does not see himself as an out-and-out blues guitar player.

When discussing his approach to soloing in the latest issue of Guitar World, Mayer revealed he intentionally kept the Sob Rock solos brief in a bid to avoid losing his “motifs, lyricality and phrasing” – an approach to lead improvisation that sets him aside from his blues-playing peers.

“My ears and my hands are two very, very separate entities, and I let my ears rule,” said Mayer. “So while it’s fun – just primally fun – to get more time to play a solo, I become deeply upset with myself when I start to hear myself thin out.”

It is this philosophy on improvisation that makes Mayer hesitant to exclusively give himself the blues player tag.

“I don’t really consider myself a blues guitar player – because my phrasing gives out after a certain period of time,” he said. “And I love playing blues guitar.

“I mean, it’s like constant down-hill skiing. It’s an endless water slide,” he added. “But the ear rules. The ear is the producer of the record, and the ear is the one that has to call bullshit on every other part of you as a composer and a musician and a guitar player.”

Mayer continued, “It’s almost like a fountain pen, and I can always tell when the writing gets thin as a guitar player. And I don’t tolerate it in myself, even though the other side of myself just wants to let loose.

“So I’ll let loose… and then I’ll listen back. And the ear is the boss. And my ear goes, ‘I will simply not tolerate a solo that’s twice as long as it needs to be.”

It was one of two major revelations Mayer dropped during his chat with Guitar World, with the Continuum mastermind going on to reveal he used a Fractal for some of Sob Rock’s standout six-string moments.

Visit Magazines Direct to purchase the latest copy of Guitar World, which features interviews with Kiko Loureiro and Billy Gibbons, and a closer look at the guitars spearheading the recent resurgence of Kramer.

Matt Owen

Matt is a News 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.