Eric Clapton once called John Mayer, “one of the greatest guitar players in the world.” And, although it might pain you to admit it, knowing the somewhat smarty pants attitude of Mayer - and the fact that he sometimes might rub people the wrong way - there’s no real denying the fact that the fella’ can jam. Mayer has created his own guitar technique, defying slight physical setbacks and roadblocks, and adapting an instrument to his own peculiar way of playing. Unlike other players, Mayer created his own technique and didn’t mold himself into the standard way of playing acoustic guitar. That’s why Maybe is considered a musical genius… and why folks like Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons and dozens of other fret-shredders dip their hats in the presence of that punk.
One of Mayer’s most intriguing numbers is “NEON” - a nemesis to almost all guitar players. It’s a fingerpicking masterpiece where Mayer dances through the strings, maintains an eclectic beat, uses jazz chords, does a peculiar pulse - one that he invented that uses the guitar as a percussion instrument - and he pulls all of this up while singing melodically.
And this is just one of Mayer’s classic tunes. Now, why is this important to this paragraph? Because, as musicians are prone to point out, Mayer is an anomaly. He stands out from the pack. The way he plays the instrument is all over the place and really goes against the norm.
A quick example is the way he fingerpicks. That when a guitarist forgoes the pick and uses his fingers to pull at individual strings; tapping pulses while also plucking melodies in the lower strings. It’s something hard, and something that in most musical schools is taught this way: the thumb is used for the lower pitch strings, the top 3, while the pointer, ring and middle is used for the higher pitches/lower strings, finally the pinky is employed as an anchor against the wooden frame of the guitar. Mayer, meanwhile, skips this train of logic, and only uses two fingers - the thump and middle. He does millions of little things with these two fingers. He basically plays more experienced players, that employ all their little pigs, under the table with just two digits.
But why? When Mayer was in college, studying music and trying to rock out, his teachers basically labeled him as: “incredibly talented but with a problem that sets him back.” Mayer has huge hands, which for an instrument like a guitar can be a bit bothersome. Fingers start to get in the way of other fingers, the instrument feels cumbersome, the neck doesn’t slide properly, and when you try to make a chord you flesh rides on flesh and numbs the strings. In other words, Mayer, although talented, had to deal with a genetic hiccup.
What did Mayer do? Well, he first, decided on what branch of guitar playing most called out to him. He could have been a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, a blues man, a Travis picker, he had dozens of option. Mayer decided that he wanted to be a finger picker, lead guitarists with a folk/acoustic/jazz background. In other words, given his genetic whammy, Mayer picked the hardest path.