Eric Johnson Style Lesson 2

by David OToole

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  • In the Style of ... Eric Johnson

    Here's a lesson in the style of one of my fave guitarist, the one and only Eric Johnson. Johnson's style is a mixture of a few select player's influences, which he has blended together over the years to come up with his own unique and instantly recogniseable sound.

    Some of his influences include Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin, B.B. King, Wes Montgomery (Jazz Legend), Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins. This is by no means a complete list but you can hear these players influences strongly in his playing. He's also an accomplished piano player too btw, and this has an influence on his guitar playing. Oh yeh and he sings amazingly well and writes the tunes - a talented musician indeed.

    And of course he's known for his brilliant tone and his dedication to his sound. He uses a variety of tube/valve amps to get a warm violin like lead sound plus multiple amp and effect path setups. His sound alone is a complete study in itself but it is something worth exploring if you want get a great tone. (His first solo album was even called "Tones"!).

    You can get simulations on the likes of the Pod and similar gear, but bear in mind that its very hard to replicate a tube overdrive/distortion sound like EJs on a tranny setup. The tube/valve lead solo sound is just so hard to emulate on digital gear due to the inherent nature of electronics etc. But the digital clean ringing sounds (such as required here) sound excellent. Tubes and transistors and the differences in sound would fill a couple of encyclopedias I'm sure :)

    This lesson can be broken up into 5 main parts.

    1: Hybrid picking intro
    2: Pentatonic run
    3: String skipping run
    4: "Cliffs" run
    5: Chordal ringing

    I recorded this through a small 15w tube amp (from the 60s), and mic-ed it up. I drove this little amp with a Boss DS1 Distortion pedal and I used a Boss DD3 Delay pedal. For the end ringing chords I used a Quadraverb mix of chorus and delay.

    Live I would normally run this through a 50w Peavey Classic tube amp using the overdrive channel. But trying to record this is not possible here as it's way too loud a setup.

    So the sound you use on this type of playing is very important. Ok we don't all have Eric Johnson amps, guitars, effects and fingers, but the point here is to pay particular notice to the sound you are using. Try to avoid a harsh digital sound, round off the treble and go for as "warm' a sound as you can get if you want to approach the "Johnson Sound".

    Also a tip would be to make a shortlist of about 5 main players you admire and like to listen to. If you would like to add their type of vibe to your playing, study and learn from their recordings for about 6 months and incorporate their style into your playing.

    When you have one players "feel" under your belt move onto the next one and so on. This is just a rough guide to how you can approach this - remember these players have spent a lifetime getting their sound and technique together so don't expect to learn it over the weekend. But you can absorb lots of their stuff and then mix and match it all.

    A guitar world word of warning here: don't become obsessed with sounding like one particular player and sounding exactly like him. Even if you manage that, the best you can expect from it is to play in a band covering his material and/or be forever known as the guy who 'imitates that other famous guy'. So to get the best from this approach remember it's Mix 'n' Match!

    p.s. Check out Kris's excellent lesson on Eric Johnson to pick up some more Johnsonisms!
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