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Eric Johnson on Finding Your Sound

Legendary Strat slinger Eric Johnson tells Rhett and Zach about his favorite gear, why he’s unsure about digital amps, and how guitarists can find their signature sound.

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After Rhett shares his childhood trauma of riding an immersive horror coaster at Tomorrowland and Zach recovers from the emotional experience of viewing the Millennium Falcon in person on a family vacation, Texas-born guitarist Eric Johnson joins them for a revelatory discussion on tone, gear, and the never-ending hunt for creative inspiration.

Rhett starts by noting that Johnson’s DNA isn’t just in his playing and composition, but his sound, too. How does one sculpt a signature tone? “It starts with your intention and your design of your vision,” Johnson starts. He says that when he was young, he learned that there was great guitar playing to be found in nearly every style of music, and calls his sound a “hodge-podge” of all the styles he loved, name-checking the Beatles, the Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, and Wes Montgomery as stylistic signposts.

Rhett and Zack wonder how important Johnson’s rig is to him nowadays. He’s a classic man—a Stratocaster into an old Marshall is his little slice of paradise—but he warns young guitarists from focusing too much on the sizzle and forgetting about the steak. “I always say to anybody chasing [gear], ‘Don’t go so deep in the rabbit hole that you just analyze too much,’” he says. “It’s part of the thing, but it’s not the main thing.” Plus, Johnson hints that he finds inspiration in instruments’ oddities—and even their defects.

Johnson reveals that he’s experimenting with a Neural DSP, but the new tech might be too polished for his liking. He explains that when he tried designing a signature Fuzz Face with Dunlop, he only got close once they swapped out the high-quality wiring and pots for older, degraded materials. “It’s just a mystery,” he grins.Ultimately, Johnson says it doesn’t matter what tool artists use, they have to learn to “negotiate the medium.” Whether it’s a particular amplifier’s quirks or “the horse hairs on the paintbrush,” Johnson says it’s up to the individual to make something special with what they’ve got.