Sound Like John Mayer: Amp Settings, Gear and Effects


John Mayer is one of the most influential guitarists of the past couple of decades and many aspiring players are looking to achieve his iconic bluesy tone. In this article, I’ll go you through the guitars, amps and effects which underpin Mayer’s tone as well as guide you through the best amp and guitar settings to use to sound more like him no matter what rig you currently own.

Just looking for example amp settings? Scroll down the article to get presets for some of John Mayer’s most popular songs.

The Quick Guide

To sound like John Mayer on the electric guitar you’ll ideally need a Stratocaster style guitar with 3 single coil pickups and an amplifier with naturally scooped mids such as a Fender. You should use position 4 or 5 on the pickup selector and have your amp settings on 2-3 for the gain, 6-7 for the bass, 3-4 for the mids and 5-6 for the treble.

Keep in mind that these are just designed to be used as a starting point and will likely need tweaking to suit your equipment. I’ve created this article to guide you through the process of achieving the closest match to John Mayer’s tone in the simplest way possible, so I’ve split it into multiple key sections.

Contents

  • John Mayer Rig Rundown
  • Guitar and Amp Settings
  • Amp Settings for Specific Songs
  • Common Problems and Solutions

John Mayer Rig Rundown

Even if you don’t plan on buying any more gear to sound like John Mayer, it’s a good idea to know what kind of guitars, amps and effects he uses so you can understand where his tone comes from. This way, you’ll be able to set up your rig to more closely match his tone.

Guitars

John Mayer is best known for using a Fender Stratocaster and PRS Silver Sky. Both these guitars have three single coil pickups and a 5-way pickup selector giving the player plenty of versatility. The Stratocaster tone is characteristically bright and twangy with plenty of treble, less bass response and a scooped mid-range.

If you don’t own a Strat-style guitar, don’t worry. In the next section I’ll give you some tips to help make your guitar sound more “Strat-like”.

Fender American Professional II Stratocaster

PRS Silver Sky

Images link to Amazon

Amplifiers

John Mayer has used quite a few different amps over his career, however he is most associated with Two-Rock, Dumble, PRS and Fender amplifiers including the ’65 Deluxe Reverb, Hot Rod Deluxe and Super Reverb. These amps pair well with the Stratocaster as they have fairly similar voicing.

You’re looking at bright and shimmery tones due to the treble emphasis, however they are relatively thin due to the mid-range scooping compared to something like a Marshall.

Again, don’t worry if you don’t have a Fender amp, I’ll give you some tips to set up your amp to achieve this kind of tone in the next section.

Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb

Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

Images link to Amazon

Effects

You don’t need to have a really complex pedalboard to sound like John Mayer, but some effects will come in handy, whether they’re built into your amp or if you get them by using pedals.

  • Reverb: this is essential as it helps to give the tone more life and depth and prevents it from sounding too dry, dull and lifeless.
  • Delay: adding a soft decay effect warms up the tone and gives it more depth.
  • Boost/ Overdrive: this is another useful pedal to have when you want to kick things up a notch. Something like a Tube-Screamer or Klon-Type pedal, or even a cleaner boost pedal will work fine.
  • Phaser: the best option here is to go with an MXR Phase 90. It is not needed for every song but is useful for specific ones. For example, during the intro to “I Don’t Trust Myself”, Mayer uses a phaser.
  • Wah: again, useful for specific songs such as “Good Love is On the Way”.
  • Compressor: this will help to increase sustain and add some smoothness to the tone.

Guitar and Amp Settings

Keep in mind, that unless you have the exact same rig, then it’s almost impossible to get an identical tone. What is possible, is getting very close. So I’ll guide you through the process of setting up your amp and guitar to get the closest tone you can with your rig.

Guitar Controls

The controls you’ll have access to will depend on how many pickups your guitar has and the type of pickups it has. To make this section easier to follow, I’ll split it into single coil and humbucker pickups.

If you’re not clued up on what your guitar’s controls do, then check out my complete guide to electric guitar controls to learn everything you need to know.

Single Coil Pickup Guitars

If you have a Stratocaster-style guitar with 3 single coil pickups and a 5-way pickup selector, then you’re like will be a bit easier here. In most cases, you’ll be using position 4 or position 5 on the pickup selector which means you’re either isolating the neck pickup, or you’re using the middle and neck pickup in combination. I also recommend having the tone and volume controls set to maximum.

If you have a guitar with two-single coil pickups, e.g. a Telecaster then you’ll likely need to isolate the neck pickup or in some cases you can use the middle pickup selector position to activate both the bridge and neck pickups together.

These selector positions which utilise the neck pickup are ideal for the John Mayer tone because they tame some of the harshness and brightness of the single coil and warm it up a bit and give it some more depth. This is ideal for cleaner tones.

When playing solos or lead sections, it’s likely that using the middle and neck pickups together on a 3-pickup guitar, or using the bridge and neck pickups together on a 2-point guitar will be more suitable. This will help increase the brightness and clarity so you can cut through the mix more, compared to using the neck pickup in isolation.

If you’re a bit lost on the differences in tone between neck and bridge pickups, check out my article comparing the two pickup positions.

Humbucker Pickup Guitars

Okay but what if your guitar doesn’t have single coil pickups? Well things get a little more tricky here but you still have some options.

Firstly, if your guitar has a coil tap/ split function then you should activate it. This will help you achieve single-coil type tones. You’ll know if your guitar has this if you can gently pull the tone control up and it causes the tone of the pickups to change.

The problem with regular humbucker pickups here is that they sound a bit too warm and mellow compared to the single coil pickups John Mayer uses. To combat this, use either both pickups in combination (middle position on the pickup selector), or the bridge pickup in isolation. The neck pickup in isolation usually will sound too mellow and warm so try to avoid this.

Amp Settings

All amps sound different and have different controls, so it’s very difficult to give you a one-size-fits-all answer here. Instead, we’ll get a good starting point and go through each type of setting and how to adjust it to get the closest tone possible.

To sound like John Mayer on the electric guitar, start with the following amp settings:

  • Gain: 2
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 3
  • Treble: 5

First let’s talk about the gain. You just want some very light overdrive to get that blues tone, so you’ll only need a little bit of gain here to begin with. You can always adjust it slightly higher if necessary but avoid putting it too high otherwise you’ll lose the bluesy tone.

If you can, use the clean channel on your amp and adjust the gain slightly higher. This makes it easier on most amps to get the right level of overdrive compared to using the distorted channel of the amp which can sometimes sound a bit too much.

In most cases, you’ll want the mids to be “scooped” slightly, which means they’re lower compared to the bass and treble. If you are using humbucker pickups or an amp with a boosted mid-range such as a Vox, Orange or Marshall, then you may need to turn the mids down a bit.

In terms of the bass, you’ll want this high enough so it provides some depth to prevent the tone from sounding thin when using a lower mids setting. The treble setting should be moderate to maintain clarity but prevent the tone from sounding too harsh and bright. If you are using humbucker pickups, you may benefit from using a slightly higher treble setting.

Some amps have additional controls so make sure you also check out the brand-specific amp controls guide which is relevant to you, in order to fully understand all the settings and so you can get the most from your rig:

To help you get a good starting point for some specific songs, I’ve listed some example amp settings below. Don’t worry if it doesn’t sound quite right at the moment. The next section will address some common issues and how to rectify them to get the tone closer to Mayer’s.

New Light (Solo)

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 7
  • Mids: 4
  • Treble: 5
  • Reverb: 3

Your Body is a Wonderland

  • Gain: 2
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 3
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 2

Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 3
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 2

Gravity

  • Gain: 2
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 3
  • Treble: 5
  • Reverb: 2

Waiting on the World to Change

  • Gain: 2
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 4
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 2

I Guess I Just Feel Like (Solo)

  • Gain: 3
  • Bass: 7
  • Mids: 4
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 3

Who Did You Think I Was

  • Gain: 4
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 5
  • Treble: 7
  • Reverb: 2

Common Problems and Fixes

As I’ve been saying throughout this article, it’s really difficult to give definitive amp settings for any player because it is really depend on what rig you’re using. So don’t worry if it doesn’t sound spot on yet. In this section I’ll take you through common issues and how to fix them.

Each “problem” has several fixes but you don’t need to make all the tweaks at once. I recommend trying to adjust one setting at a time by 1-2 points and listening to the change. Then you can move down the list if necessary and try another adjustment.

This not only helps you dial in the best tone in the most efficient way, but it also helps you to become more knowledgeable about your amp and how changing the settings affects the tone.

Thin Tone

  • Increase the mids
  • Increase the bass
  • Increase the gain

Tone Sounds Too Harsh and Bright

  • Switch to the neck pickup if you are using the bridge or middle
  • Decrease the treble
  • Increase the bass

Lack of Sustain

  • Increase the gain
  • Increase the bass
  • Increase the mids
  • Use a compressor pedal

Dry and Flat Tone

  • Add more reverb
  • Increase the mids
  • Increase the bass

Check out this article with amp settings for over 40 popular rock songs if you are looking for more inspiration.

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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