John Mayer is a musical genius with a gift for songwriting and an impressive guitar-playing style. With his iconic guitar skills, many fans and beginner guitarists wonder how he learned to play in such an effortless way.
How did John Mayer learn guitar? Although he’s received some classical training from the famed Berklee College of Music, most of his playing comes from years of practice and perfectionism. Growing up, he would spend hours strapped to his guitar practicing riffs from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and many more.
John Mayer’s First Guitar
In the 80s, John Mayer grew up in Fairfield in Connecticut. He was the middle son of professional educators. His mother, Margaret, was an English teacher, while his father, Richard, was a high school principal.
In January 1991, when John Mayer turned 13 years old, his father rented him a Washburn acoustic guitar from a music store. When young Mayer received the guitar, he immediately took it to the bathroom, closed the door, and thought, “How do I find out what’s in here? What are you hiding?”
During his childhood, Mayer said he had been attracted to what he doesn’t know. This is why when he first got interested in the guitar, he always knew he would take the time and effort to learn it.
Even as he watched great musicians perform riffs that would probably take years and years to be mastered, that never discouraged him. He was always eager to learn and master the instrument.
“I’ve figured out my learning curve. I can look at something and somehow know exactly how long it will take for me to learn it.” – John Mayer
John Mayer’s Biggest Influence
One of the biggest reasons why John Mayer learned the guitar was because of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan was Mayer’s biggest influence. He was 13 years old when he first discovered the legendary guitarist—around the same time that he picked up his first guitar.
“In 1991, a neighbor gave me a cassette of [1983’s] Texas Flood,” Mayer said in a 2007 Rolling Stone interview as he recalls the first time he discovered his biggest idol. “What hit me was the tone, the texture. It was rich, deep and round. It was wet, fluid, like mercury. I remember saying, ‘I don’t know how you describe it, but that’s the sound I want.'”
Mayer became so obsessed with the Texas guitarist that he recalled thinking, “in my mind, I was on my way to being the next Stevie Ray.” Mayer’s obsession with Vaughan also paved the way for him to discover several more artists that influenced his guitar playing. From Stevie, he soon then started listening to Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Otis Rush, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and many more.
John Mayer’s First Guitar Teacher
John Mayer’s parents wanted him to have formal training, so they hired him as a guitar teacher. For two years, Mayer took lessons from Al Ferrante, who had owned and operated Fairfield Guitar Shop. Ferrante was working at the Professional Music Center when Mayer came in to take a lesson.
Recalling his first encounters with Mayer, Ferrante said, “He came in holding a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, said, ‘I want to learn this stuff,’ and in short order, he was wailing away way beyond anybody else.”
Mayer’s parents soon realized that the guitar lessons had been more like informal jam sessions, so they discontinued the lessons. Still, Mayer continued to play on his own and only spurred his love of music even more.
Although Mayer received guitar lessons, he is primarily a self-taught guitarist. He put in a lot of hours playing the guitar, and he was quick to learn music theory, harmony, and composition. “I’m wired for it. I’m lucky I found a thing I was wired for, and I found it at 13,” said Mayer in his 2010 interview with Playboy magazine.
John Mayer’s Dedication to Learning Guitar and Beyond
John Mayer was a passionate guitar player. Growing up, he practiced playing guitar for three to four hours a day when he was still in school. He’d practice more during the summertime, spending five to six hours strapped to his guitar and locked in his bedroom.
Most of the time, when he wasn’t in school or hanging out with friends, he stayed behind doors in his bedroom and practiced guitar. He often imitated Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray.
Mayer recalled his teenage years skipping parties, “I remember being in my room when there was a party across town, sitting in my room and pretending I was at the party and playing for them. I remember saying to myself, If I have to sleep on a pool table every night on tour, I’ll do it. I always had that desire to be a rock star.”
John Mayer would also perform at local East Coast blues bars and hone his guitar skills in his teen years. He even told his parents that he might as well drop out of school. He was self-assured enough to believe that he would become a famous guitarist one day. Mayer always believed in himself but his parents were not fond of the idea of him dropping out.
After high school, Mayer continued performing in blues clubs, playing covers by other musicians and his own compositions. He then attended Berklee College of Music in Boston but soon left after two semesters and moved to Atlanta.
He began playing the local club circuit there and developed a reputation. He went to Austin to play the annual South by Southwest Festival in 2001. Soon, he got signed to a record label that released his album Room for Squares. After that, the rest was history. In 2003, John Mayer took home the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his single “Your Body Is a Wonderland.”
The takeaway here is that you don’t have to be born a virtuoso to be one. John Mayer is proof of that, and it’s a message that can inspire you to pick up an instrument. More than being naturally talented, what it takes is your dedication to master the craft and constantly hone your skills at every opportunity.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.