Best of 2020: Besides releasing scorching quarantine sex anthem Inside Friend with Leon Bridges, John Mayer has been playing a lot of guitar. And he’s very generously shared some of his hottest tips for better blues playing in a new Instagram live session.
The 45-minute session (reposted on YouTube above) focuses on blues guitar playing, starting off with shaking up your pentatonic shapes, the benefits of playing guitar while watching TV and why you need to listen to singers if you want to make your playing more vocal.
But perhaps Mayer’s most insightful comments surround what he thinks when he’s improvising a solo (starting at 31:21), and the two easy steps you can take to improve your own leads. The first of which is to start low...
“Leave room for the future of the solo,” muses Mayer. “I think as a general rule, you want to move up in pitch during your solos, not down. Because I think there’s a sense of growth in the narrative of a solo when you go higher.
“Jerry Garcia was great at that. I think most great guitar players instinctively understand that if you’re going to solo for a while - Doyle Bramhall II is the master of it.”
Mayer’s other tip is something that bonds his favorite players - and what he considers the “final frontier” of guitar playing.
“You also want to define the key change - and this is something Grateful Dead music taught me,” he continues. “When you’re playing a blues solo, the best soloists are defining the chord change. If you really accentuate the chord change, that is really the final frontier of being a guitar player.
“So much of the pentatonic scale is shared over the three chords that you’re playing (when you’re playing a I IV V progression). But if you can really isolate the notes of those chord changes that are unique to those chord changes, then you really are so satisfying to the ear.”
As well as delivering a barrage of vocal licks, waxing lyrical on his PRS Silver Sky some more and sharing what he loves about Bob Weir’s approach, Mayer rounds off by revealing what he’s playing through in the lesson: a Dumble Steel String Singer, before joking that, “tone is in the gear. The hands, they’re there to play the gear… That’s not true.”
It's no surprise to hear Mayer has returned to using tube amps at home, after he named three things amp modelers haven’t got right yet during a previous Instagram live session.
Oh, and if you're looking to capture a little of that Mayer tonal magic for yourself, we have a comprehensive guide to his rig that might be up your street...