If you’re like me, a good amount of your monthly bandwidth is spent trolling the internet for news, reviews, and demos of gear. If Equipboard had a frequent flyer points program, I’d be a platinum member for all the time I spend there. One artist page that never gets old—because it’s always changing—is that of John Mayer. I love the simple yet brilliant style of Mayer. I’ve also grown to appreciate his gear journey with each new album. Simply put, Mayer plays what he wants, because he likes the sound. Gear isn’t about being hip but curating a collection that enables creativity.
What’s one small example of this? At a time when Ibanez Tube Screamer pandemonium was at its peak a few years back and throngs of players were buying vintage and reissued TS-808 and TS-9 pedals, Mayer went for the (at the time) less popular Ibanez product of the 80s, the TS-10. Why? Because he liked it.
But this article is less about what’s on the floor for Mayer’s board than it is about what’s in his hands, particularly in this last year. Chances are most of our mental images or memories of Mayer include a Fender Stratocaster. Whether it’s that first Stevie Ray Vaughn Signature he saved up for as a young player, the Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop Stratocaster played at times with the John Mayer Trio, or his own road-worn relic customized Fender Stratocaster, the S-shape has been and continues to be a part of Mayer’s rig.
It’s no secret that Mayer and Fender aren’t the pals they once were. It’s also no secret that since that fallout, Mayer and Paul Reed Smith have partnered. So far, their collaborations have resulted in the Super Eagle custom model and the recently released J-MOD 100 amp. Images of Mayer in mind as of late, then, should also include guitars with those iconic birds flying up the fretboard.
However, if we dig deeper, there is a surprising diversity of guitars in Mayer’s axe arsenal. This is especially the case of guitars debuted on stage for the 2017 tour. While they might not grace the stage as often as other mainstays from Fender or Paul Reed Smith, they attest to his versatility as a player and inclination to play the gear that’s best for the song. At least two such guitars deserve honorable mention.
As a regular occurrence at my house, I found myself taking in some Jimmy Kimmel. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised one evening to see Mayer was a guest on the show and was to perform a few tracks off the new album “The Search For Everything.” What I wasn’t ready for, though, was when showed up on stage with a hot pink Pink Jackson Soloist. In this case, a Limited Edition 30th Anniversary model. With a heritage and fan-base rooted in 1980s metal, in the hands of Mayer the soloist’s edgy blend of single coil and humbucker pickups screamed that an unmistakable tight, crisp, pop of Mayer’s soulful and rhythmic playing. From the Floyd Rose Tremolo to the triangular fretboard inlays of the Soloist, at first glance the guitar is everything but what we’d traditionally associate with Mayer. But that’s the point: regardless of the gear, his one-of-a-kind style bleeds through.
While details of this guitar remain largely in the rumor mill and gear forums, the sounds gleaned from some fan footage at the show provide some first impression. The body shape and pickup configurations are unmistakably S-type: three single-coils ring out that springy sound of Mayer’s blues-rock rhythm playing. The neck appears to be of a lighter wood (maple?) and possibly bolt-on. That’s no doubt part of the reason for the guitar’s bright and ringing sustain in some of the solos from the Boston show. 2017 has already been a big year for gear launches and debuts for John Mayer, hopefully more news of this most recent Paul Reed Smith guitar emerges in the year ahead.
Not only is Mayer’s playing inspiring, his approach to gear is refreshing. It seems so simple, but always play the gear that makes you sound like you. Whether it’s a relic Stratocaster, a Paul Reed Smith, some combo of the two, or a pink Jackson, whatever you’re playing today enjoy your #RiffCitySunday.