Want to play guitar like John Mayer? Here are 5 John Mayer style guitar techniques and playing habits every player and John Mayer fan should know.

If you want to play guitar like John Mayer, or at least emulate some of that incredible John Mayer guitar technique that has captivated audiences (and musicians), these 5 tips, tricks and technique lessons will hopefully help and offer some insight into his unique playing habits.

Now we're not saying these John Mayer techniques and playing habits will turn you into a legend, but they'll certainly help you identify some of his playing styles and go-to techniques.

We've rounded up 5 John Mayer guitar lessons in collaboration with our resident PM College expert Leigh Fuge from MGR Music.

In this John Mayer guitar lesson, we are going to explore Mayer's use of triad chords and embellishments, his signature percussive fingerstyle, how he rakes strings and some lead guitar techniques. This quick lesson is perfect should you want to play guitar Like John Mayer and replicate his unique playing style.

First - a few points...

The John Mayer Guitar Tone In  Summary:

John has a very unique tone. His rig is full of vintage Stratocasters, PRS guitars, Dumble amps and more pedals than you can shake a stick at. But in summary, If you want to get that John Mayer tone on a budget, you need three main things:

  1. A Strat style guitar with single coil pickups – use position 4 on the pickup switch (This is the neck and middle pickup together). Of Course, you could choose a Fender Stratocaster, or the PRS Silver Sky John Mayer signature guitar, or go for a cheaper alternative like the Squier Stratocaster or Eastcoast S style guitars
  2. A 6L6 style amp – John always used high headroom, clean amps. The 6L6 tube provides a nice chime in the top end and a slight scoop to the mids. Amps like the Fender 65 Twin Reverb, EVH 5150III 50S 6L6 and Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 Combo are all equipped with these valves. However, any amp will do fine if you just want to learn the technique.
  3. A Mid Humped Overdrive – John has used every variant of a Tubescreamer but he prefers the Ibanez TS10. Any TS style pedal or any mid humped, low gain overdrive will get you close. You can't go wrong with the either the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Overdrive or the vintage-sounding Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer reissue Overdrive pedal.

For a further gear guide, check out our John Mayer gear guide video below. Read on for the John Mayer guitar technique lesson.

Play Guitar Like John Mayer - 5 Mayer Guitar Techniques & Playing Habits

Now on with the John Mayer technique guitar lesson! We recommend following along with the video below so you can understand his playing habits in context.

In summary John uses the following techniques often enough fo us to class them as playing habits:  

  1. Triad chords with embellishments
  2. Percussive fingerstyle technique
  3. Muted String Rakes
  4. Double string bends
  5. Single string pentatonic licks / soloing on one string

John Mayer Guitar Technique 1 – Triad Chords with Embellishments

Video section 1:00

A big part of John Mayer’s rhythm style and one of his playing habits is his use of triad chords (With the thumb playing the bass note) in the place of standard barre chords. This is a technique derived from the Hendrix school of rhythm and an essential technique to learn if you want to play guitar like John Mayer.

This short progression is based around a G and C chord.

Towards the end of the first and third bar, there is a short-embellished phrase that turns the major chord into a sus4 and back again.

The second bar and fourth bar contain short melodic lines taken from the G Major Pentatonic.

john mayer guitar technique 1
john mayer guitar technique 1.2

John Mayer Guitar Technique 2 – The Signature Percussive Fingerstyle

Video section: 5:18

You can hear this signature John Mayer percussive fingerstyle guitar technique on tracks like 'Who Says' and 'Your Body Is a Wonderland'. If there's one major technique that John Mayer is responsible for throwing the spotlight on, it's the percussive fingerstyle playing. 

So how do you emulate the John Mayer percussive fingerstyle? 

This is based around 4 chords, D, Bmin, A and G. Each of these chords is played finger style on the first beat of the bar. Use your thumb to play the bass note and your first second and third fingers to pick the D, G and B strings.

The second and fourth beats of each bar is made up of a percussive hit. Slap your hand down on the strings as per the video to get a percussing slap. There is also a short melodic line in each bar that starts on the “&” of the second beat.

John Mayer percussive fingerstyle technique

John Mayer Guitar Technique 3 – String Rakes

Video section: 7:33

Much like the Stevie Ray Vaughan technique, John Mayer uses string rakes to emphasise certain notes within lead breaks. The lick in the video is a good example of some of those rakes.

It starts with a rake up to the double stop on the 8th fret of the B and E strings. To perform the rake, you want to prepare the fretted double stop and use another finger to mute the rest of the strings. You drag the pick down the strings to “rake” through the muted notes before hitting the double stop.

This rake then comes backwards and lands on the 10th fret of the D. The principle is the same, except your raking up. The lick ends with another rake similar to the first, except the double stop has been moved to the G and B strings and you now hammer onto the 10th fret of the G instead of the B.

If you want to solo like John Mayer, you need to incorporate this string raking technique and into your playing, making rakes a playing habit much like Stevie Ray Vaughan before him.

John mayer string raking technique

John Mayer Guitar Technique 4 – Double String Bends

Video section: 9:22

A big part of the John Mayer guitar style and one of his signature playing habits is to make the guitar sound more vocal, like someone actually singing. This stems from John’s love of players like BB King and even Derek Trucks. This example in the video uses a double string bend to create some vocal phrases.

The notes in this are taken from the fourth shape of the E Minor Pentatonic Scale.

In this lick, the bend is rhythmically linked across the first two beats. Bend up on the one, release on the “&” and bend up again on the two without re-picking. You can change up the rhythm of this in your own solos to add different vocal nuances to your guitar playing.

John mayer double string bends technique

John Mayer Guitar Technique 5 – Single String Pentatonics / Mayer Style 1 String Guitar Solo

Video section: 11:29

The single string pentatonic technique is a major guitar habit that John Mayer champions. When you get this right, it actually sound like your guitar is singing!

In simple terms, you may notice in some Mayer solos he uses pentatonic scales laid out across a single string. He essentially plays a guitar solo on one string - and it sounds epic.

This idea can be used as a concept to develop further licks. This uses the A Minor Pentatonic scale, in all 5 shapes, laid out along the B string.

You can do this in any key and on any string but Mayer tends to stick this on the B string.

Each grouping is a hammer on from one note to another before sliding to the next scale shape. The first grouping starts with a hammer on in the first shape and a slide into the second. The second grouping is a hammer on in the second shape and a slide into the third. This repeats for the second bar until you end up back on the note you started, an octave higher.

If using this John Mayer playing habit in your own playing, you don’t have to play it as straight as it is here. You can use this and experiment with different phrasing across the patterns.

John mayer single string solo technique

About The Author:

This lesson was brought to you by MusicTeacher.com, written by experienced guitar teacher Leigh Fuge. Leigh works as part of a community of guitar teachers based across the UK and beyond. This includes online guitar teachers who are able to provide Skype Guitar Lessons to students based around the world.

If you enjoyed this article and video, don’t forget to check out PMTVUK on Youtube for more guitar lesson videos.