Get Their Sound: John Mayer Pedalboard on a Budget
Recreating John’s pedal arsenal, within reason
While it could be argued that guitarist John Mayer’s presence is more keenly felt on the other side of the pond, there is no doubting his influence on modern guitar.
Through numerous iconic live performances and studio albums, not to mention the calibre of player he’s worked with, John Mayer has already established himself at the top table. And all this at the tender age of 40.
As you’d imagine, being a pro guitarist, he’s amassed quite the collection of gear. Conservative estimates suggest he owns more than 200 guitars. How many does one man need? Of course, saying that, I doubt many of us reading this would turn down the opportunity to own 200 guitars. They all have their own uses, right?
In this article however we’re not talking about guitars. Nope. Instead we’re focusing on the vast number of effects John has to call upon. And, if he has 200+ guitars, imagine how many effects pedals the guy must own.
John differs from a number of other players in that he doesn’t have a ‘go-to’ setup. Because his style differs so often, John instead has a battalion of effects he can call upon. Let’s take a look at some of the most common, and – as a bonus – we’ll recommend some less pricey alternatives.
Who doesn’t love a good Tubescreamer? From metal musicians looking to tighten up a flabby gain channel, through to blues guys look to push a valve amp into overdrive, the Ibanez Tubescreamer has a place in the heart of many guitarists.
We’d hazard a guess John himself owns one (or more) of the original TS808 models, which you’d struggle to track down unless you fancied trawling auction websites or conducting deals in darkened rooms.
Thankfully Ibanez is nothing if not benevolent. The Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini is a near-identical recreation of those old pedals, packing a hefty tonal punch into a tiny package. Whether it’s a pure, clean boost you’re after or something more textural, the Ibanez Tubescreamer is a staple addition to many a board.
If it’s a slightly different flavour you’re after, John has been seen using the Boss BD-2 on occasion. While nominally a blues pedal, this box can push into some serious grit if you push it.
Clearly, with the heritage he has, John knows a high-quality pedal when he hears one. And they don’t come much higher quality than Strymon.
We’ve raved on before about Strymon, and once you’ve used one yourself you’ll see exactly why. The tones on offer through these (admittedly premium-priced) tools will blow your mind. We’ve noted previously how the Strymon BlueSky, for example, sounded like it had so much more depth and colour than other reverbs we’ve used.
There are few examples of Strymon pedals dotted around the various documented examples of John’s boards, but we’ve opted to highlight the Strymon Flint. The Flint is unique in that it’s a hybrid pedal. Here you get both a superb sounding tremolo effect and a reverb. Both have individual controls, and deliver wonderfully vintage, tonally rich sounds which are a joy to behold.
The nature of the pedal being what it is, there isn’t a direct alternative. However, one particular reverb we’ve been enjoying of late is the TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 reverb, which has tonnes of versatility. And, for a trem to accompany it, you can never go far wrong with the trusty Boss TR-2.
No matter how good you are, you’re going to need a tuner. And, in spite of his undoubtedly enormous net worth, it’s comforting to know that even the very best fall back on the same standards the rest of us use.
The Boss TU-3 needs no introduction; ask any owner and they’ll tell you, on reflection, it’s perhaps the single most important guitar purchase they’ve made. It doesn’t have the cool or the cache of a vintage guitar or boutique valve amp, but in terms of its importance to your overall sound, the Boss TU-3 is unparalleled.
Electro Harmonix POG2
So far, so obvious. An overdrive, a tuner, and some modulation. Every player calls on these pedals from time to time, so let’s end with a curveball.
The Electro Harmonix POG2 – or, ‘Polyphonic Octave Generator’, to give it its full title, is one of the pedals where it’s hard to recommend an alternative.
Part pitch-shifter, part octave generator, all kinds of weird and wonderful sounds can be extracted from this little box of wonderment. We’ve seen examples of people using to approximate 12 string guitars, and John himself apparently called upon its skills to create the organ sound on his track ‘In Repair’.
There, he used the original POG, which you’ll struggle to get hold of. Thankfully, the newer iteration – POG2 – delivers that same otherworldly charm, while the smaller Electro Harmonix Nano POG will offer much of the same effect at a more reasonable price.
Tone, as we know, comes from the fingers. No amount of expensive, vintage guitars, amps, or pedals will help you exactly recreate the sounds of guitar’s most famous protagonists. However, by understanding the gear they use, you can get yourself in the right ballpark.
Alternatively, the approach we’d take would be to use the pedals listed above as a list of ‘approved by’ models. If they’re good enough for John Mayer, they’re certainly good enough for the rest of us.
See our full range of effects pedals here.