A step-by-step guide to unlocking some of John Mayer's signature acoustic guitar techniques.
- Learn to add percussive drum-like sounds to your playing.
- Combine folk and modern fingerstyle techniques together for a full-band sound.
- Blend classic rhythm and blues guitar styles with pop sensibilities.
John Mayer's acoustic guitar techniques have wowed audiences ever since he first arrived on the music scene. From his unshakeable groove and tough chord stretches to the unique combinations of techniques in his strumming hand, Mayer has challenged the guitar community with a whole new vocabulary for rhythm guitar.
Just check out any YouTube video of Mayer playing live, or listen to songs like "Stop This Train," "Neon," "Queen of California," or "Something Like Olivia" and you'll get an idea of how uniquely he blends elements of folk, R&B, jam band, and pop into his guitar style.
John Mayer - Neon (Live In LA - 1080p)
On top of all of this, he delivers fantastic vocals, masterful lyrics, and great songwriting. Mayer has led the way for a new generation of players, demonstrating how artists can get a full sound performing with just a guitar and vocal.
Regardless of playing level, spending time working out Mayer's signature acoustic techniques is a valuable study. We'll start with a simple breakdown of easier, bite-sized exercises, and then build out into more advanced examples combining multiple elements together. The final goal is to show you how to unlock some of these sounds and add them into your own guitar style. And if you're an electric player, you can still benefit from this lesson, because Mayer uses a lot of these techniques in his electric guitar style as well, albeit with a slightly different approach.
Ex. 1 starts off with an isolated thumb slap. This is a sound you'll hear in many of Mayer's hit songs. Use your thumb to slap the strings with your strumming hand. A percussive drum-like effect is created as the strings are pushed down into the frets of your guitar. The power comes from turning your wrist into the guitar, towards your body. You want to rotate your hand like you would turn a key. The thumb should stay parallel to the strings, and typically makes contact just above the knuckle. This slap is most often played on beats 2 and 4 for pop songs in a 4/4 time signature. Using this technique creates a backbeat type of groove that will give you the feel and vibe of playing with a drummer even when you are playing alone. First, let's try just an isolated thumb slap technique on beats 2, and 4 while counting out loud.
Now that you've got the backbeat thumb slap, let's expand on this technique by mixing in some folky fingerstyle. Ex. 2 blends some fingerstyle playing while still maintaining the backbeat thumb slap over a Dsus2 chord shape.
Once the thumb slap is starting to feel comfortable, try bringing in an index finger brush as well. Ex. 3 demonstrates the same thumb-slap technique, but as that is happening, you'll simultaneously brush down with the fingernail on your index finger. This sounds like a combination of a guitarist strumming a chord and a drummer hitting the snare drum.
This exact technique can be heard on songs like "Who Says," "Heart of Life," and "Stop This Train." It's also important to note that Mayer typically plays this groove with only his thumb and index finger on the strumming hand. Although the overall pattern may seem complicated at first, it's best to simplify it and play with just two fingers, to keep it as straightforward as possible.
John Mayer - Stop This Train - Hollywood Casino - Tinley Park, IL - September 2, 2017 LIVE
Mayer will often add specific embellishments to chords using hammer-ons and pull-offs. Ex. 4 shows the use of a hammer-on from the open 2nd string to the 3rd fret on the downbeat. This is the 6 of the chord hammering into the root note of the Dsus2 chord shape.
Ex. 5 demonstrates the use of pull-offs and hammer-ons over some of Mayer's go-to acoustic guitar chord shapes. Once you start seeing which chord tones Mayer typically does embellishments on, you'll be able to add these techniques into your own progressions.
Little melodic embellishments of the chord shapes are a great way to keep interest in your accompaniment guitar part, either lightly underneath a vocal, or more pronounced and featured when playing instrumental interludes between verses. It's also important to note that Mayer would typically use his fretting-hand thumb to play the bass notes on the 6th string, like in the Gm(maj7) chord shape.
Another common technique Mayer uses is demonstrated in Ex. 6. Mayer uses his thumb to rake strings 4, 3, and 2, then the 1st string is played with an index finger pluck.
This could either be used as an embellishment in the middle of a progression or on a final ending chord like in Ex. 7.
Next let's look at Ex. 8. It demonstrates another way that Mayer would use the thumb-slap technique, but this time it's blended with more R&B chords. When Mayer uses this technique, he'll typically involve three or four fingers in the strumming hand. Here, you'll pluck all the strings together, which will make your guitar sound more like a piano. He goes beyond just the thumb slapping the strings. His whole hand drops on the strings to make sure he's keeping the back beat slap going on 2 and 4.
Acoustic With a Flatpick
While Mayer plays a lot of his acoustic repertoire without a pick, many tunes require a flatpick.
Ex. 9 and Ex. 10 demonstrate how Mayer riffs off chords and uses very common rhythm and blues progressions in his music. In Ex. 9, the G bass note on the 6th string is played with the fretting-hand thumb. Also, all of the notes on the 6th string are played with a light palm mute. Ex. 10 really shows how his guitar style is rooted in listening to players like Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, and Steve Cropper, to name a few.
Whether you learn all of these techniques, or you just take one idea and add it to your guitar playing, this will immediately start to level up your guitar skills. The techniques presented are really just scratching the surface of Mayer's style, each one will prove valuable, especially when accompanying singers.
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Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
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The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
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The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
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Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.