Guitar Playing

John Mayer playing an electric guitar.
Interview from WPLJ Acoustic Cafe
Live at WPLJ Acoustic Cafe with Race Taylor

RT: How early did you start playing? 

JM: I was about thirteen years old. And I never stopped. I spent as many hours thinking and playing music that day when I was thirteen as I do now.

RT: So there was never the, John get in your room and practice, you have a lesson on Wednesday and I'm not spending fifty bucks for you to not—?

JM: That was only my own voice.

RT: [Laughs] Well cool. Very nice.

Interview in Guitarist magazine
Conducted by Mick Taylor (Issue 327)

MT: Have you always alternated between pick and fingers - seems like there's a lot of fingers right now?

JM: I started playing with a pick all the time. I know I like to snap the pick into my hands, so I can do all this stuff [demonstrates fingerstyle]. Lately, actually, when I think about… "Perfectly Lonely" starts out with fingers and goes to pick… Yeah…

Interview with Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered
'It's Hard To Stay Patient': A Conversation With John Mayer

AS: OK. Next one comes from our colleague Melissa Block, host of this program. What's your favorite chord?

JM: It was probably like a E minor 11 or something at some point.

Interview from Guitar World, 2017
June 2017 Issue of Guitar World magazine

How is your playing similar to Jerry's and how is it different?

Oh boy, that's a great question. There's a blues mentality that's similar. I think I was able to enter it that way. But, at the same time, it's very different because he was more a major key player. I was weaned on Stevie Ray, Hendrix and Clapton, who all played primarily in minor pentatonic scales and Jerry played in the major pentatonic. The Grateful Dead music is so lush, sweet and sad-but it's a different kind of sadness. Blues is this guttural thing and the Dead is more whimsical and wistful. But I'm making a gross generalization. Garcia's ability to blend minor and major at the same time is stunning.

I would also say the challenge of playing with Dead & Company is that you have to always be aware of the big picture. You have to think about what the song is, what the message is, where the sadness is, where the hope is, and how to flow with all of those things. You've got to learn how to create on the fly, and how to make a mistake with grace while keeping calm.

Twitter Q&A (July 2017)
Twitter Q&A session with fans

do you have a favourite key to play in?

I like the middle of the guitar neck. A through D or so. Best hand-feel, string tension is best there.

Most important guitar skill to learn?

T i m i n g

Interview from The Bobby Bones Show
The Bobby Bones Show: Episode #75

BB: Do you still practice? At all? Like, do you practice?

JM: Very good question. [Laughs] I think that I’m about to practice, and then I plug in and I’m like “no, I’m still good.”


And then I put it down. Cause I’ve already started—like when I was younger I practiced, but now I play with the best musicians in the world. In the world. That I can brag about. And then to go home alone to play without that sound, it’s more like “yeah just checking, still good”, put it down, and then go do something else, what am I gonna practice?

Interview with Steve Jordan
Layin' It Down With Steve Jordan, Part 1

JM: I've often thought to myself—I do this little game at home, I've never told anybody this, let alone you. I pretend I'm in a Guitar Center best guitar player competition. Like a blues competition. I don't do anything differently, you can't see anything, it's just in my head. And I pretend that I'm in an audition for some Guitar Center local, like best blues guitar player, and I judge myself, like could I win that? And a lot of times I'm like, Yeah maybe not. Would I win or would people be like, It's kind of derivative. Kind of doing Stevie Ray Vaughan. Like I'm open to all sorts of attack as a guitar player if you take the compositions away. You know what I mean?

But I really do play that game at home. Could I win—just the local, not even the semi-finals. The Townsend Maryland Guitar Center, super regional, best blues guitar player of the year award. Like, would it be apparent immediately? Or would people be like, oh he's playing pentatonic blues, he's always playing "Pride and Joy," isn't that something? So all of this really, if you add up the whole conversation, is about songwriting.

Instagram Guitar Q&A (September 2018)
Instagram Story Q&A Compilation

Q: Tips on how to bend to the perfect note

Bending is one of the few things you can't master without hundreds of hours of it. Listen while you play. Keep trying to hit the right pitch. Your ears will get better as your playing does. Your should always be leading your playing. My ears are waaaay better than my hands. My ears know where my playing should be. My ears are very seldom satisfied.

Q: What inspired the change to using a pick less?

Several years ago I realized I could get more touch sensitivity using a certain combo of finger tip/nail. But i switch off with pick all the time. Sometimes I'll play a whole @deadandcompany show without a pick and not even realize it.

Q: Favorite scale and key?

It took me years and years to figure out that my favorite keys are based on the string tension. I LOVE the middle of the neck where the string has the most even "give" on either side of the note. A through D. I bet you might say the same

Q: Do you normally improvise your live solos or are they rehearsed?

Always improvised. I try ad practice enough to know where the places I want to go are and how to get there. I do advance scouting.Pit it that way. But the top of the mountain is speaking in fluent improvised melodic expression. That's the final chapter in the workbook. I'm still studying that.

Q: When your tone is too trebly do you Turn the treble down or Turn the bass up


This is a problem that has plagued no people for zero years. You would take down the thing you have too much of.

[in a later post]

Okay one more post. I thought about this question more. All ribbing aside...

If you have too much treble and turn up the bass you'll still have too much treble. They affect different areas of the frequency spectrum and adding one doesn't pull from the other. 

Because if you have too much treble and bring the bass up to compensate, well now you don't have enough mids. This issue comes up a lot in mixing. You can't just keep turning everything up.

This is called the Henderson-Flannery Principle.

Okay fine I made that last part up

Podcast interview with Dean Delray
Let There Be Talk, Part 1 of 2, Episode #501
JM: I had a show I was on prednisone because for my throat not long ago, and my right hand was Thor's hammer. Not a good thing because my strings are a certain gauge. A bad night of guitar playing is where your left hand doesn't agree with your right hand. When your right hand picks too hard and the left hand isn't there or the strings are too late. And that was a nightmare for me to play the guitar cause I was like jacked. But Jerry Garcia played the guitar in this lighter way that wasn't fiery, it was beautiful. Like little bird bones.