If there’s a guitar player responsible for bringing blues-inspired guitar playing back to mainstream popularity in the last twenty years, that would be John Mayer. He is, without a doubt, a modern-day guitar hero. There’s much interest concerning every aspect of his style, gear, and tone. That’s why I want to talk to you today about John Mayer Pedalboard setup and possibly how to replicate it.
Let me tell you something before I start, especially if you’re considering building this pedalboard for yourself: it’s going to be expensive. Also, you probably don’t need every pedal to get a close-enough sound.
But, most importantly, remember that John Mayer sounds like himself because he is…himself.
No pedal, guitar, amp, or any piece of gear ever made will make you sound exactly like somebody else. (Here’s a complete list of John Mayer’s Guitars and Gear)
So, now that that’s out of the way, what’s the harm in geeking out over an astounding amount of beautiful-sounding pedals? Let’s take a look at John Mayer’s Pedalboard Setup.
Want to play like John Mayer? Check out this guide to take your chance.
As I already said, John Mayer’s pedalboard comprises a vast collection of effect pedals. Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to divide them into different categories, listed in the most logical signal-chain-friendly way. So, let’s start with what is typically at the beginning of every pedalboard.
Ernie Ball VP Jr. (Volume Pedal) – $89.99
The Ernie Ball VP Jr. is one of the most widely used volume pedals. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen this pedal on the boards of every kind of guitar player across every genre.
I have also used it in the past, and the simple mechanics behind this pedal make it one of the most reliable volume pedals money can buy.
Moog EP-3 (Expression Pedal) – $49.00
The Moog EP-3 is a universal expression pedal that works with synthesizers and effect pedals. An expression pedal controls parameters within other effect units in real-time.
For example, John Mayer probably uses his Moog EP-3 to control the Tremolo speed on his Strymon Flint, which I’ll discuss later in the modulation section.
This particular expression pedal is sturdy and reliable, so that’s probably why a world-renowned player like Mayer chose to use it.
Xotic XW-1 (Wah Pedal) – $268.00
The Xotic XW-1 is a high-class pedal with very customizable features compared to a more traditional wah. The circuit is based on the famous Italian-made Clyde McCoy wahs from the 60s.
The XW-1 allows you to adjust the bias, Q, bass, and treble, as well as the overall tension of the pedal. It also has true bypass switching, so you don’t lose any signal when going through it.
Your tone may suffer when you add many different pedals to your signal chain. Even if they are equipped with true bypass functionality, you will still lose sound quality, especially when you add long cables to the mix.
That’s why John Mayer has three different buffer/booster pedals in his current pedalboard: the Xotic Super Clean ($124.00), the JHS Prestige ($129.00), and the 29 Pedals EUNA ($269.00).
These pedals all come with a preamp inside them, whose primary function is compensating for the loss of sound that unavoidably happens within large pedalboards.
You can also use this preamp to boost the signal, resulting in a more or less “colored” ending tone.
Interesting Read: The Best Ways to Use a Preamp Pedal.
Compressors and Overdrive Pedals
Origin Effects Slide Rig (Compressor Pedal) – $399.00
The Origin Effects Slide Rig is a top-end compressor pedal with two different compression stages within the same circuit. This gives you the chance to get a very transparent yet potentially heavy compressed sound without losing quality and with minimal added noise.
The Slide Rig lets you control the attack and release of the note, but the most remarkable feature might be the Dry-Wet blend knob, which allows you to control how much of the uncompressed sound you want to pass through the pedal without being affected by it.
Mesa Boogie Flux-Five (Overdrive Pedal) – $349.00
Derived from the original Flux-Drive, the Mesa Boogie Flux-Five is a great overdrive pedal with multiple features, resulting in various possible drive tones. The drive level can effortlessly go from really traditional to heavy modern gain.
John Mayer probably uses this pedal to push his amps over the edge of breakup. Still, the most notable feature has to be the five-band EQ section, which mimics what you usually find on a Boogie amp’s front panel.
It also has a HI/LO switch (and footswitch) to choose between two different gain levels instantaneously, giving you what a two-channel amp would offer.
Ibanez TS-10 (Overdrive Pedal) – Discontinued. Used value: $400 to $1200
I don’t think I’ve ever heard John Mayer play electric guitar without some form of a Tube Screamer pedal on his board. This classic overdrive has made history, probably because Stevie Ray Vaughan famously used almost every version Ibanez built during the years. Being a massive fan of SRV, that’s perhaps why Mayer gravitates toward this classic overdrive sound.
The Tube Screamer is used to “push” the front end of an amp, getting it to overdrive more. It also famously adds lots of mid-frequencies. That’s why the combination of TS pedal into a Fender amp (notoriously lacking in the mids) became so popular and why fabulous players like John Mayer keep using this combo nowadays.
Klon Centaur (Overdrive Pedal) – Rare Boutique Pedal. $4000 to $7000
If such a thing as the concept of “legendary pedals” even exists, we must thank the Klon Centaur for that. This world-renowned overdrive took the original design of the Tube Screamer and pushed it to a maniacal level of attention to detail. Only a few lucky players worldwide had the chance to play an original Klon, and John Mayer is one of them.
The sound coming from this overdrive is slightly different from a TS-style pedal. It has less of a mid-frequencies-focused push and is more transparent. As a result, it is not uncommon to hear a Klon used as an “always on” pedal, turning it into an integral part of the base sound of the players blessed with the chance to use it.
EQ and Octave Pedals
Source Audio EQ-2 (Equalizer Pedal) – $269.00
The Source Audio EQ-2 is a top-end programmable ten-band EQ pedal. Besides giving Mayer up to +18dB of range in every frequency band and an overall clean boost of +12dB, the programmability function allows him to have up to 8 presets within the pedal, recallable via MIDI. The MIDI functionality also lets him control multiple other parameters.
Boss OC-3 (Octave Pedal) – Discontinued. Used value: $100 to $150
The Boss OC-3 is the evolution of one of the bass player’s best friends: the Boss OC-2 octave pedal. The now discontinued OC-3 was the first Boss octave pedal that offered a polyphonic mode and the traditional monophonic sound.
It also features a drive mode that adds distortion to the octave notes, resulting in a fatter, more aggressive sound. The OC-3 is a versatile octave pedal, giving Mayer multiple options within its standard size and separate input for bass and guitar.
MXR Phase 90 (Phaser Pedal) – $89.99
The MXR Phase 90 is one of the most famous pedals out there. This little orange beast has made its way on many legendary players’ boards, including Eddie Van Halen and Dave Grohl.
This pedal has a single knob controlling the speed of the effect, giving Mayer a vast range of classic phaser sounds, from very subtle to crazy noticeable.
Boss CE-2 (Chorus Pedal) – $229.99 (“Waza Craft” Version)
The CE-1 was the first pedal Boss ever made, and the CE-2 is the direct evolution of its predecessor. The modulated tone that comes out of this classic pedal gives you a lush and recognizable chorus sound that we have heard countless times on multiple records and live performances.
The relatively simple controls of Rate and Depth make it an easy pedal to control. Still, these knobs offer you a wide range of different chorus sounds to choose from.
Electro Harmonix Q-Tron + (Envelope Filter Pedal) – $192.30
The EHX Q-Tron+ combines a preamp section with an envelope filter, resulting in a synth-like sound typical of this pedal style. There are a variety of adjustable parameters, most notably the “shape” of the filter.
You have the option of choosing between a Low Pass (filtering out the high frequencies), High Pass (filtering out the low frequencies), or Band Pass (filtering out both the highs and lows) mode.
There are many more features available in this pedal, including the option to put an extra effect pedal of your choosing in the internal FX Loop of the Q-Tron+.
Strymon Flint (Tremolo and Reverb Pedal) – $299.00
The Flint is a renowned pedal by one of the most widely appreciated pedal-making companies on the market. While Strymon might be mainly known for its all-in-one Delay, Reverb, and Modulation pedals, like the Timeline, the Big Sky, or the Mobius, the Flint represents a slimmer alternative that still packs some great features that make it a unique and valuable addition to any pedalboard.
This pedal allows you to choose from three kinds of Reverbs and Tremolos, giving you multiple combinations of great amp-based tones. With two individual bypass switches, the Flint will enable you to have only one side of the pedal on or both simultaneously.
You can also choose if you want the Tremolo to go into the Reverb or the other way around. An external tap tempo switch can also control the speed of the tremolo.
Way Huge Aqua-Puss (Analog Delay Pedal) – $149.99
The Way Huge Aqua-Puss is a cult delay pedal that has reached its third version. The simple controls of Delay (time of the delayed note), Blend (mix between the dry and the affected signal), and Feedback (number of repeats played by the pedal) on the front panel give you all you need and nothing more.
The sound of the Aqua-Puss is characterized by self-oscillation and chewy tape-style echo, resulting in a unique and colorful tone.
Providence Chrono Delay DLY-4 (Digital Delay Pedal) – $449.00
The Providence Chrono Delay DLY-4 is a versatile digital delay pedal with many great features. The Echo Hardness knob lets you control the overall EQ of the delayed signal by increasing or decreasing the mid and high frequencies.
The display on the pedal enables you to check either the BPM (beats per minute) or the milliseconds of the delayed tempo. You can alter these values with the tap tempo foot switch or the Time knob.
Once you have done that, you can choose the subdivisions of the delay repeats with the Beat Split knob, giving you every possible rhythmic variation you could ever need. If you’re the kind of guitar player that requires more than one delay settings ready to go, you could save two potentially completely different settings within the pedal using the A/B Switch instead of the Tap Tempo.
Question: Is there a way to know the exact routing of the pedals within John Mayer’s pedalboard?
Answer: Not really, unless you’re John Mayer himself or at least his guitar technician. Still, we can try to approximate the order of the pedals by using guitar common sense. For example, we can assume that Compressors, Wah, Buffers, and Overdrives go towards the beginning of the signal chain because that’s usually what guitar players tend to prefer.
Modulations, Delays, and Reverbs are typically located towards the end of the chain, but it depends on whether John Mayer uses the effects loop in his amps. The Volume Pedal could go anywhere in the chain.
You can generally find that either at the beginning or the end of the chain, but in some cases, it might be positioned before the Delays. Anyway, my advice is to experiment with the position of the pedals as much as you can until you find an arrangement that suits your needs.
Question: Does John Mayer use any Tuner pedals?
Answer: Yes, indeed. John Mayer uses two tuner pedals in his setup: a TC Electronic Polytune and a Boss TU-3. The TC Electronic is the primary tuner, while the Boss is only used for his acoustic guitars. Both these pedals are pretty standard and well-known, with the Polytune allowing you to check the tuning of all of your strings at once by strumming all of them simultaneously.
Question: I would like to buy some of these pedals, but I’m not sure I’ll like them. What can I do?
Answer: Luckily, we are in 2022, and digital technology is now a significant part of the guitar effect pedals business. You can manage to recreate John Mayer’s pedalboard using digital effect modelers, just like the Line 6 HX Effects or the Axe FX Fm range. These unbelievably powerful pieces of guitar gear allow you to use any of their simulations of physical pedals that you can put in any order you want at the touch of a button.
The result will probably sound different than if you had every pedal individually. Still, it will give you a reasonable idea of what the “real” pedals might sound like for a tiny fraction of the cost.
For example, you could try a model of a Klon Centaur without having to spend thousands of dollars on it, and then, if you like it, you can be a little more confident that you’ll enjoy playing the actual pedal.
So, as you can see, John Mayer’s pedalboard is quite a complex and intricate collection of guitar effect stomp-boxes. With a pedalboard like this, you could easily create every possible guitar tone you can think of. From a lightly overdriven compressed blues sound to a higher gain lead tone, going through enough modulation and spacial effect pedals to spice up the ending sonic result.
Sure, we’re talking about John Mayer here, so most of us will probably not be able to afford or even maintain such a pedalboard. It contains more than fifteen pedals, some of which are extremely rare and expensive.
Still, if you want to get as close to John Mayer’s pedalboard setup but you don’t want to become broke in the process, my advice is to trim it down. For example, you could avoid buying three different buffer pedals and limit yourself to one. At the same time, you could decrease the number of overdrive pedals to two…and maybe pass on the $4000 Klon Centaur.
Remember, pedals are nothing more than tools you can use to make music. You don’t need $10,000 worth of pedals to be an excellent blues player like John Mayer is. Also, the tone is in the hands of the player. I know, cheesy but very true.
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