December 12, 2023

Eric Johnson

Today we’re going to try very, very hard not to smash and burn our guitars because we’re looking at the unique approach of uber-talent and tastemaster extroadinaire Eric Johnson and…he is rather good….

Eric is from Texas. And while there’s definitely something in the water in Texas it`s affected Eric a little differently because his approach to the guitar is somewhat idiosyncratic. Besides, it must be talent, melody or some kind of mystical otherworldly pan-galactic musical goodness flowing from those southern taps and Eric Johnson is definitely drinking it.

Man, I’m thirsty this morning.

By the time Johnson released his Capitol Records debut Ah Via Musicom in 1990, he was regularly winning awards for his musicianship in the guitar press. During this period, Eric Johnson was also drawing recognition for the rich, violin-like tone he coaxed from his vintage Fender Stratocaster.

The instrumental “Cliffs of Dover” exemplified his unique sound and won Johnson a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. The album Ah Via Musicom was a crossover hit, and was soon certified platinum. Here`s Eric playing “S.R.V.” an undoubted piece of absolute fretboard excellence…

Johnson`s approach to sound tends to blend clean, highly melodic and dramatic guitar runs, licks and arpeggios with a fusion of eastern and world approaches to tone such as koto like string effects and bends with subtle tapping and harmonics fuelled by a devastatingly precise and accurate picking technique and  knowledge of the fretboard washed down with bucketloads of talent and a hint of psychedelia. What’s highly noticeable about Eric J.’s approach is that he likes to literally “think outside the (scale) box”:

I tend to stay away from the box fingerings a bit. Instead, I kind of connect different things together and try to be a little bit methodical in my approach. I jump around as per the string tension and the kind of sound and tonality I want.

To re-iterate whereas some players tend to play up or down a scale using almost predictable scales and licks Eric makes a conscious effort to jump across wider intervals and bridge uncommon scales & elements  and in doing so create a whole new ultra-fresh guitar sound.

If you`re thinking of taking the guitar to a new part of the melodic galaxy unfettered from the chains of the blues-rock tradition then Eric’s music is a great place to look for inspiration. DON’T, no; DON’T allow the complexities of Eric’s style phase you out though – adopt a less is more approach and think about the more classical elements in the playing. A touch of reverb won’t go amiss here people! It’s a heady mix of influences from Wes Montgomery to Jimi Hendrix to Jeff Beck with maybe a touch of Bach or Paganini thrown in.

Eric fuses a more classical sense of melody with a highly accomplished and adult sonic palette blending vibrato, bends, scales and tones in a way that avoids the hair-metal neo-classical plagiarism of guitar for guitar’s sake and the time honoured cliches of the ‘been there, done that’ blues-rock guitar cannon.

Here he is playing “Manhattan” – so, listen up and listen good because it’s said that Eric can tell the aural difference between the brands of batteries in his effects pedals.

So where does this leave the rest of us, down here on the ground? Absolutely Nowhere! But fear not the awesome and versatile koto string bending technique is available for us mere mortals down here on earth and here is how you can learn to do it.

Fret a note with your picking hand index finger.  Pick right behind your index finger with your picking hand thumb. These two steps occurs almost simultaneously.  Next you can choose to bend this note by stretching the string with your fretting hand.  Then you can pull off from your picking hand index finger to your fretting hand.


Eric has also got together with Fender to endorse the G-DEC practice amplifier.

The G-DEC is a guitar practice amplifier which incorporates:

  1. A modelling amp, which can sound like any of 17 different amplifiers
  2. A digital effects processor containing 29 effects (many in stereo) so you can add reverb, phasing, flanging, wah, etc.
  3. An on-board General MIDI synthesizer with MIDI In and Out jacks on the front panel
  4. 50 preset and 50 user-definable presets combination backing tracks
  5. A 14 second phrase sampler, so you can record licks and practice against them
  6. Auxiliary input for CD or mp3 player
  7. Phones jack can be used with stereo headphones or as a stereo Line Out jack
  8. A second input jack on the rear panel
  9. A chromatic tuner

There’s a great interview here for those who’d like to find out a little more about Eric’s approach to the guitar.

Several years back I walked into Guitar Village in the U.K. to have a look at an Echoplex they had acquired.
The sales assistant was gushing with enthusiasm because this baby had been previously owned by none other than Eric Johnson himself. When he started the machine we heard  Eric’s instantly recognisable tone and playing coming off the tape.

Wow! “How much is it?” I asked.

I think he said it was somewhere around the 800 pound mark! Phew!
I decided to save a massive 783 pounds- and go and buy one of Eric’s C.D’s instead – smooth.

Have great weekend!


Jake Edwards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *