John Mayer: these are the three things amp modelers haven’t got right yet

John Mayer performs live
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Best of 2019: With some of the best tone and touch in the business, John Mayer’s word on electric guitar gear is gospel for many players - and now the 21st-century blues poster boy has finally shared his thoughts on amp modelers.

Mayer, who began his modeling career with a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III back in April, made his opinion known during a recent Instagram live session where he jammed over Spotify blues jam tracks at home, using his modeler of choice.

During the session, he named three tonal hurdles he believes amp modelers are yet to leap, and are presumably the reasons why he continues to fly a Dumble Overdrive Special around the world with him.

“I’m playing through a Fractal, which I finally got to squeal the way I want an amp to squeal, which is cool, because it means that amp modeling is getting close,” Mayer begins.

“One thing it doesn’t respond to well is the change in guitar volume. Because it’s an amp modeler, it doesn’t quite understand gain structure. It doesn’t quite get it.

Amp modelers don’t yet know how to take a note and squeeze it the right way and send it out

“Amp modelers don’t quite understand two [other] things: they don’t understand the impulse of the note, so they don’t quite get the contact with the string correct - the way a tube goes ‘whoosh’; what I call the ‘wapoosh’ of the note. Amp modelers don’t yet know how to take a note and squeeze it the right way and send it out.

“Second thing is, there’s a lot of harmonic artefacting taking place if you play more than one string at the same time.

“Like if you do one of those bends where you’re playing three notes at once - you’re holding two, you’re bending the third one - it just goes [makes digital noise] on top of it because it doesn’t quite understand how to translate all that: three different notes of harmonic information, it just freaks out. But it’s pretty close - it’s not bad!”

Given Mayer’s meticulous approach to tone, just saying amp modeling is “getting close” is high praise indeed, particularly for a man who spent years designing his own signature PRS Silver Sky model and J-MOD 100 guitar amp.

We await his next tonal shift with great interest...

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Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism from Cardiff University, and over a decade's experience writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as 20 years of recording and live experience in original and function bands. During his career, he has interviewed the likes of John Frusciante, Chris Cornell, Tom Morello, Matt Bellamy, Kirk Hammett, Jerry Cantrell, Joe Satriani, Tom DeLonge, Ed O'Brien, Polyphia, Tosin Abasi, Yvette Young and many more. In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.