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John Mayer: "I've tried to stop playing the guitar and start playing music on the guitar"

It's always interesting to hear world class musicians talking about their craft together. And when John Mayer and acclaimed jazz drummer Eric Harland sat down with New York's GSI Studio's head producer and engineer Josh Giunta for a masterclass it made for a fascinating hour of musical insight. 

Mayer started with some thoughts on a realisation many guitarists reach at some point; gear can be a distraction. But it's clearly something that's been on Mayer's mind a lot in recent years. 

"I used to buy a lot of guitars and I moved my sort of fun from the gear to like what it is I want to write," Mayer explained, "so I'm trying to put all the energy into the writing because it's really easy to get stuck on the 'stuff'. 

"The zero gravity of the weightlessness of playing where the instrument goes away and it's just you and the music – that's perfection"

"So I kind of issued myself a challenge couple months ago, like just write it on the acoustic guitar," he added. "If you're going to demo it, no tricks; under record everything, don't produce everything… everything has to work on the acoustic guitar. That's the calculator. It has to work on it."

(Image credit: Paras Griffin / Getty)

As a continuation of that, Mayer went on to talk about how that kind of thinking has manifested in his stage work too.

"To me it is time to really be in that moment," Mayer says. "I started feeling when I was playing with Dead & Company a couple of years in, the sort of zero gravity of the weightlessness of playing where the instrument goes away and it's just you and the music – that's perfection. 

"My first risky statement of today's conversation is that I think a lot of playing music, both myself and other people, is playing the stuff, playing the gear; trying the gear, using the gear, mess with the gear, audition the gear. 

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(Image credit: Joby Sessions / Future)

Classic interview: John Mayer 

"And I've tried to stop playing the guitar and start playing music on the guitar, and I know that sounds like a really stupid little semantic but if you can stop using the guitar and begin to just use the guitar as the conduit to what you want to play… and it's fine, I do it a lot and I'm trying to get away from it.

"But I see a lot of people playing the guitar and just like just using the guitar the way that some people would take a camera and just take pictures of the sink or take pictures of the cat or take pictures of the car in the driveway to be able to have things to look at. 

"That is true; the only way you can hear a guitar is to play it so you have to play it, but then there's a thing beyond that which is only playing your guitar in so much as it takes to get to where you want to go. Those are the players that I think we all love. Those are the players who keep their eyes closed for an hour and a half."

It's well worth watching the whole thing as the musicians go deeper on how they approach composition. As well as how much Mayer love yacht rock, throws away around four out of every five songs he writes and the way he approaches playing Jerry Garcia's parts in Dead & Company.