John Mayer is considered one of the greatest guitarists of the modern era. Guitar legends like Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy have publicly praised his abilities on the guitar. This got me wondering, how did John Mayer start playing guitar?
John Mayer started playing guitar at the age of 13 after watching the Back to The Future scene when Marty McFly starts playing “Johnny B. Goode.” by Chuck Berry. Shortly after he found Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music which was John Mayer’s largest guitar influence on his style.
Continue reading to learn more about how John Mayer learned to play guitar
When Did John Mayer Start Playing Guitar?
John Mayer started playing guitar at the age of 13 in 1990 after Marty McFly’s “Johnny B. Goode” performance in the movie Back to The Future inspired him to pick up the guitar.
John had an instant relationship with the guitar as soon as he started playing. In fact, he knew he wanted to play guitar full time immediately upon starting. In his high school year book, he wrote down how he wanted to be a full time musician.
How Did John Mayer Start Playing Guitar?
John Mayer has become one of the most gifted and talented guitar players of the modern era. He has dominated the pop world, introduced blues rock to a whole generation, and is now a leading force in the Grateful Dead’s introduction to a new audience. So lets learn how he started playing guitar.
John Mayer’s origin story is not too different then most of us. John would often pick up the guitar from time to time at friends houses and was always intrigued by it. It wasn’t until he was 13 that his father rented his brother and him an acoustic guitar accompanied with guitar lessons.
Starting in 1991, John had lessons every Monday with guitar teacher Al Ferrante at Fairfield’s Professional Music Center. Although, these lessons would not last long and they only took place another 1-2 years.
After spending time with an acoustic guitar, John’s interest in electric began to flourish as he discovered more and more artists. With the money that John made working at a gas station, trading in his Takamine 12-string and a Mesa Boogie distortion pedal, John purchased the SRV Fender Stratocaster model for $900. This is where his true progression began.
John was turned onto Stevie Ray Vaughan at a young age. Stevie came out of the eighties, not too long prior to when John was honing his craft. John loved Stevie because it was blues music framed in a way that a kid from suburban Connecticut could understand. At the same time, John discovered Jimi Hendrix. He felt like he stumbled onto something that he knew would change his playing forever.
“I’ve tried to stop playing the guitar and start playing music on the guitar”John Mayer
John spent six hours a day being online with various blues records, learning the ins and outs of each song. In addition to his bedroom playing, John formed a band called Villanova Junction. There his talent started to take off as more elements to his music began to shape. He quickly learned how to play in a band and how to lead the band. Jamming with his friends forced him to think creatively and outside the box.
John has an intuitive feel and an extremely good ear allowing him to dissect songs and make them playable much faster then the average guitar player. This was evident when his band covered Texas Flood in 1994. Only 4 years after picking up the guitar.
After graduating college, John headed off to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. He did not last long at Berklee. Instead, John realized that he did not want to be just another exercising guitar player. It became about creating his own music and tunes.
John is fortunate to have a great musical aptitude, he is both diligent in his practicing and naturally talented. Combine these two and you have John Mayer. The rest is history. John went on to form the John Mayer Trio, play guitar on many albums separate from his own, play with legends like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and now tour with the Grateful Dead. He is going where the guitar takes him.
What Inspired John Mayer’s Guitar Playing?
The biggest influence to John Mayer’s guitar playing was Stevie Ray Vaughan. A friend gave Mayer an SRV mix tape and his guitar hero was discovered.
John Mayer was a product of the 1980’s. This was a time where flipping the channel meant seeing well performed and well composed music on the television. This comes into play when discussing his biggest influence. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Being a well-off white kid from the suburbs, SRV offered a glimpse into an attainable blues music world. John obsessively tried to emulate Stevie. John would buy the SRV Fender Strat model and cover many of his songs with his band Villanova Junction.
Other notable influences for Mayer include Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan, and the list goes on. As you probably noticed, his influences were mainly blues artists. B.B. King was also a prominent inspiration for John. 1 for his guitar playing but another for his vocals. B.B. played his guitar like it was singing. This type of feel was difficult to have and John noticed this and strived for it. An album that particularly struck John’s interest was B.B. King’s Live at The Regal.
A good example of B.B.’s influence is John’s Instagram Live video. Go to minute 29:40. It is a quick snippet but otherwise is exemplified in his playing.
Discover How John Mayer Holds His Pick and his unique picking technique
John Mayer is not one to be kept inside a genre box in terms of his guitar playing. He talks endlessly about how he keeps being inspired by new artists that shape his playing. His playing style before and after joining Dead and Company is a great example of this.
“You develop a style when you fail to sound exactly like the person you’re trying to sound like”John Mayer
John delivered the legendary quote above in an interview. And create his own style he did. It was obvious from the beginning that John was trying exceptionally hard to sound like SRV mixed with Hendrix mixed with B.B. King. Obviously those names are untouchable so you are bound to fail thus creating his own unique style that we know, love, and admire today.
How Many Hours a Day Did John Mayer Practice Guitar?
Growing up, John Mayer practiced 5 hours a day. He was not involved in sports or extracurricular activities, instead he would go home and play guitar all day after school. 5 hours playing guitar everyday allowed John to become one of the top guitarists of all time.
On weekends John would play 8-10 hours a day, barricading himself in his room. John has mentioned how “he did not see the sun very much” growing up. This was because he would spend every waking hour that he was not in school playing guitar.
His friends would be out at parties and having a social life while John was nestled away in his bedroom listening to B.B. King’s Live at The Regal. Pretending the B.B.’s guitar tracks were not on it and playing over the album.
John was not a popular guy in High School which gave him more time to play guitar with less distractions. In an interview with Fuse, John mentioned how his guitar would have been gathering dust if he got dates in High School. In fact, because of John’s incessant playing, his mother had to put in place a guitar curfew. Every night at 9:30pm he had to stop playing to go to bed.
As John got better and his success hit it’s pop peak, he was not practicing as much. At least not like he used to. Instead he was writing songs and learning different melodic patterns, etc. It wasn’t until John joined Dead and Company that he went back to his old practicing habits. In an interview with Billboard, John recalls how:
“I’ve been going for a while and it has been such a joy to go back to playing guitar for 4 to 5 hours a day. It’s been 15 years since the last time I sat in the room and just tried to get better at playing. It’s what I’ve called Grateful Dead University.”John Mayer, Billboard
As you can see above, it was a joy for John to go back to playing 4 to 5 hours a day like he did in his youth.
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