There are two sides to John Mayer’s playing: legendary electric blues and sharp acoustic prowess. Each side seems to have completely different fans, with the guitar heads leaning towards the blues side and the day 1 fan on the acoustic side. In the middle of these sides is the guitar heads who have listened to and understand just how skilled Mayer is on the acoustic. Let’s look into the best John Mayer acoustic songs.
What are the best John Mayer acoustic songs? The three best John Mayer acoustic guitar songs are Neon, Stop This Train, and Something Like Olivia.
Continue reading to find out what acoustic guitar Mayer plays the most, what the 3 best John Mayer acoustic guitar songs are, and the best acoustic show he has performed. Also, find out what the honorable mention song is.
What Acoustic Guitar Does John Mayer Play?
John Mayer most often plays a Martin OM28-JM. This guitar is a collaboration between Martin and John Mayer, signified by the JM at the end of the guitar name. Mayer has used this guitar since 2003 and continues to use it for recordings and live shows respectively.
The Martin OM28-JM was originally released as a limited edition guitar and fetched prices as high as $10,000. Since there were only 404 guitars produced, the resale value and market for them is high. High demand and low supply. To compensate, Martin has released the OMJM acoustic guitar, which has many of the same attributes as his first OM-28JM Limited Edition.
3 Best John Mayer Acoustic Guitar Songs
The best John Mayer acoustic guitar songs are:
- Stop This Train
- Something Like Olivia
Let’s dig into why each of these songs got such a high ranking over the large library of amazing acoustic songs that Mayer has.
Please note that any “best of” list is subjective and should not be taken as the source of truth.
The best John Mayer acoustic guitar song is Neon, specifically the Live in LA version.
To most, this will not come as a surprise. It seems that every blog and YouTube video ranks this song as his best acoustic guitar song. It is the guitar complexity and skill that truly amazes me.
In the video above, Mayer starts with some improvisational fingerstyle licks. He does this during each live show with Neon. He slowly starts building a groove and adding elements as he builds. First the base groove, then chord embellishments, then mixing major and minor, and finally the song. It is this build-up that keeps the crowd on the edge of their set, just waiting for the inevitable Neon riff.
Part of what makes this song Mayer’s best acoustic song is the originality. A riff like the Neon riff is completely original. Never before has anything similar been created. The song has an extremely difficult opening riff with percussive thumb slaps followed by unique chords for the bridge.
Vocally, it shows everything Mayer has. Low notes, and high notes, both sustained, shows Mayer’s vocal range perfectly. You can see this at the 3:49 minute mark. Playing this infamously hard song and singing it at the same time is an Olympic-level feat.
At minute 4:03 the acoustic solo starts. This solo alone defines John Mayer as an acoustic guitar master.
Why is Neon So Hard to Play?
Neon is so hard to play because of the a-typical chord shapes mixed with the complex right-hand picking technique. The chord shapes use thumb wrap-arounds to fret the low E string and shapes that spread across four frets. The right-hand picking technique consists of the thumb dictating the rhythm via the slapping technique whilst the index and thumb simultaneously pick each note.
As mentioned above, the guitar prowess on this song is second to none. It is no error that this song has been dubbed a “trick shot” in the guitar world. Many people believe that if you can play this song then you are a highly skilled guitarist and they are correct.
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The chord shapes are irregular to common shapes that you may expect out of an acoustic song. In the majority of the chords, Mayer wraps his thumb around the neck to fret the low E string. To do this requires large thumbs and hand flexibility, especially on an acoustic. Even Mayer himself writes how “having GIANT thumbs help”. As seen below.
Neon is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, Mayer fingerstyle songs to play. Even Mayer understands this and offers some guidance in this Tik Tok video (linked to YouTube) he made.
In terms of the picking technique, Mayer mentions how the thumb and index finger work as a drum set for this song. Different from other fingerstyle songs, it is not played as every note for itself. Instead, the thumb adds a percussive snare to the complex finger picking of the strings. This is known as the thumb slapping technique that Mayer made famous (and he regrets it).
2. Stop This Train
The second-best John Mayer acoustic guitar song is Stop This Train.
Stop This Train is a moderately difficult song to learn on guitar. In terms of fingerstyle songs, this is up there in between the medium/hard section. What makes this song more difficult is John’s coveted thumb slapping technique that we discussed above with Neon.
What gives this song the number two position is the melody and the lyrics. It is a beautiful and catchy melody, with amazing fingerpicking that catches the ear immediately.
Lyrically, this is the second most powerful acoustic song I have ever heard, only second to Ripple. The song is about the rapid movement of time (the train) and the desire to slow it down. Mayer expresses the sadness we all feel seeing our parents get older and the idea that we are “one generation’s length away from fighting life all on my own”. This theme is heavy and powerful and therefore gives it the number 2 spot.
“This song makes you rethink so much of your life and your priorities. Ultimately we’re only on this train for a short couple of stops. As corny as it sounds, enjoy your life, do what makes you happy, and love who you love.”Robert, John Mayer Fan
This is John Mayer’s father’s favorite song. During a concert at Red Rocks, Mayer brought his father up on stage to request a song. The song Mr. Mayer requested was Stop This Train. John’s response was simple “I’ll try to get through this”. Given the powerful meaning behind this song and the fact that his father requested it, knowing the meaning, is truly heartfelt and a powerful moment for Mayer and the crowd. I encourage you to watch the video here, tissues are recommended.
3. Something Like Olivia
The third best John Mayer acoustic guitar song is Something Like Olivia.
Different from the above two songs, this is not a fingerstyle song. Instead, it is a perfect example of a perfect acoustic strumming song. John can mix a variety of different acoustic techniques into this one song with complete ease.
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Slide-ins that end with hammer-ons that finally translate to a chord are a stroke of acoustic genius. And that is just the introduction. During the solo, Mayer can keep the rhythm section going while playing the solo at the same time. A feat that is especially difficult on an acoustic guitar.
Melodically, the groove is sensational and an absolute joy to play. A song like this is not easy to write but John gets it done.
“Watching this almost a decade later and it’s one of the best acoustic guitar performances I’ve ever seen. I’ve always loved John he’s taken some lumps over the years but he’s a thoughtful guy, an amazing writer, and the best guitar player of his generation.”Jonathan, John Mayer Fan
Honorable Mention: John Mayer’s Simple Song
Rhythmically, this unreleased song is one of my personal acoustic favorites. A Simple Song is a song John Mayer made on his birthday in 2014 that was just for him. He did not release it to the public but occasionally plays it during live shows. The song contains heartfelt lyrics regarding the struggles of a celebrity when simplicity is the only thing he desires.
You can see the full version of the song from a live show in Michigan.
My favorite version of the song is linked here, which is from a commercial he did for Land Rover.
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