Player Spotlight – Johnny Marr

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Reflecting back to a time of much uncertainty and political unrest set against an industrial Manchester with a backdrop of dystopian Britain.
Hope and aspirations of a generation were encapsulated by the melodies and melancholy sentiments of an unassuming band of youths from the heart of cultural Manchester.

Sonic statements and a new and almost poetic guitar sound has been imprinted upon a time and place creating a prolific guitar hero of unprecedented status – Johnny Marr plays guitar! 😎 

“It’s not about being famous. Never was.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

In this instalment we find ourselves delving into a guitarist that has become so iconic that he is pretty much a national treasure and a worldwide phenomenon.

Johnny Marr is not a typical guitar hero, first and foremost you hardly ever see this man bend a string or act with any typical guitar hero flamboyance.

So how does such a guitarist garner such heroic worth in the guitar community?

Well the answer is very simple here … creating your own style that is both signature & revolutionary along with being instantly recognisable… a very good start. 🙌

Johnny Marr …Is Guitar

Halloween in 1963 John Martin Maher (Johnny Marr) was born in Ardwick, Manchester to Irish parents. As many will know being born into Irish heritage generally comes with enriched musical exposure from a young age. Respect of music within Irish families is strong and it has been as far as the mind can remember and as far as the eye can see. ☘️

Johnny Marr’s upbringing was no different, in many of his interviews he recalls his first fascination with the guitar was seeing a toy guitar in a shop window he often passed with his mother. This fascination lead to mild obsession… an alluring pull that Johnny didn’t quite understand but knew he was drawn to it.

Through much persuasion and continual persistence, Johnny as a child of seven acquired this toy guitar he was deeply fascinated by and began to carry it around as his favourite toy much like many of his friends at the time would carry around a football, a toy car or action figure.

“For the longest time from as long as I can remember, having a guitar was my identity before I could even play it. So, I have no idea where this thing came from. I literally don’t, can’t remember a time when I didn’t love the guitar.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

He recalls painting it with white emulsion and adding beer bottle caps as a volume knobs to mimic the guitars he started to see on the television.

We all have recollections of our first experiences with guitars and what led us to pursue this unexplainable desire to have a play. 🎸

Discovering Johnny Marr and his pallet of melodic runs, alternative tunings and sonic stratospheres is somewhat of a rabbit hole of mysteries.

“Johnny Marr: Seeing my first ever real guitar close up, at, I want to say 9/10 which was an Irish show band who played hits of the day as well as as Irish songs and this guy had a red Strat and he opened the case and let me see it. That was, that was a really, really powerful moment for me being so close to real actual guitar that I’d just go up to on the television. It was like treasure when I saw that guitar and in my memory it didn’t have a ding on it, it was absolutely pristine. Something like Raiders from the Lost Ark or something. It was an amazing artefact.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

When addressed with the pinnacle question what and who are your most influential guitar players when you first started, Johnny leans towards the casual response of being inspired and awoken to American folk and Indie music in general.

Some of the first passages learnt were early T-Rex and David Bowie. Marr recalls being equally fascinated and excited by the chord structures and multidimensional harmonics of the chords as well as the lead guitar parts.

This would be a key moment in the development of a truly individual and standout guitar hero.

To find a guitarist that plays even remotely similar to Johnny Marr in any way is a true task. The unique style and vision this man has of the guitar is truly awe-inspiring. Johnny talks openly and expressively on how he developed such a unique perception and approach to guitar playing.

Fender Official YouTube

“When I was learning to play and put chords together, I was completely studying glam rock, the music of the early seventies pop music of the early seventies and I still maintain that if you listen to Can the Can by Suzi Quatro, what was considered complete bubble gum at the time for teeny boppers. All the Young Dudes, Mott the Hoople, This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us by Sparks. The David Bowie stuff, the T-Rex stuff, The Sweet, Blockbuster. Hell Raiser, all of that, that was the stuff that I was buying and really studying as a kid and they were built on absolutely rocking great guitars with interesting overdubs.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

The key thing to understand here for us mere onlookers is that Johnny has taken Classic and cultural guitar playing and slightly twisted the interpretation of familiar patterns and in his words uses “a different voicing”.

His playing is synonymous with cascading dreamlike arpeggios filled with huge melody and unmatched fluidity. It’s so complex, so individual and so intricate it’s very hard for people to understand what is going on from a technical perspective. Marr is a firm believer in capturing your imagination and using music as a tool of expression in a transcendent manner.

In this clip below he clearly explains how he takes one chord progression and re-interprets, almost translates it from one language to another but still keeping the core element and familiarity there to open up the ear of the avid listener.

The Smiths … 

Historic in both music culture and political history along with a movement in cultural history – The Smiths.

Engraved in society and social history at a time when the country was somewhat lost and aspirations and directions appeared a long journey for the many. The Smiths came along and almost single-handedly redirected the movement in popular music. I think we all know the history by now but a small recap of of this exquisite story is always welcome.


The Smiths live on The Tube.
 Photograph: ITV / Rex Features

Destined to meet through movement in similar circles, Morrissey and Marr were as much chalk and cheese as they were bread and butter.

A chance meeting brought these two together and an incredible partnership was formed soon to create songs pulled from the sky both poetically and artistically.

The pair are now synonymous with a sound & lyrical controversy that reshaped and reshuffled popular music during the 80s.

Both hailing from punk ethics and classic rock ‘n’ roll to rockabilly influences their own interpretation of what became The Smiths was somewhat of a new romantic political protest with many subconscious statements.

The sound of The Smiths perfectly demonstrates Johnny Marr’s incredible palette for layers and overdubs to create multiple lines of melody and enigmatic musical canvases of multidimensional sounds.

Marr truly carved his way into guitar history with his work in the Smiths. Everything was revolutionary and awe-inspiring to not only the fans but other guitar players, “How Soon Is Now” is a perfect example of groundbreaking guitar player imagination.

Signature model 🎸Engineered By Design 

As many a guitar hero will know, having your own signature products really defines you as being a true influential figure.

The statement itself could not be more true for Mr Johnny Marr!

Having always been associated with the iconic images of The Smiths, Johnny was stereotypically tied to the image of the Gibson ES-355 and the Rickenbacker 330. These two guitars became pivotal to The Smiths identity and to Johnny as a guitar icon that then.

Having moved on from those times, a new guitar has become iconic and inseparable from both the look and sound of the supercool image of Johnny Marr.

Fender approached Johnny when he was attempting to put together his ideal Fender Jaguar guitar. Having grown so fond of this offset classic, Johnny attempted to put all the faults right with the guitar and make it work for him.

Working in close collaboration with Fender, Johnny went into painstaking detail making practical adjustments to the specification of the guitar which in turn has created a signature model that is both beautifully designed practically usable and of course iconic looking.

He now describes his own signature Fender Jaguar as a guitar he can prise any sound he wants out of it. It’s there for him all in one instrument, a massive statement from such a prolific and multi dimensional guitar player.


Photography – David Edwards
https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/johnny-marr-the-making-of-a-godlike-genius-774472

Johnny does express he still uses all of his other iconic guitars in the studio such as Gibsons, Telecasters and Les Pauls but feels the Fender Jaguar he has designed is truly the guitar he’s always been looking for and it sounds like him.

Riff Power & Slinky Arpeggios 😎

A true players player Johnny is still fascinated and a self-confessed guitar and gear enthusiast. The divine attention and precise detail he pays to his guitars extends to the string choice of course.

Marr not only identifies the strings as a technical choice but also as a form of culture reflecting on his childhood experiences with different types of strings.

“Make the chords the riff 🤘 “

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

Johnny explains how he spent his youth obsessing and fantasising over the entire culture of guitar strings were no exception.

He intricately describes how the strings you choose almost part of your personality and identity as a player.

He recalls the eye-catching design of Ernie Ball Slinky and the pure American imagery that was projected from the packaging.

“Part of being such a guitar fanatic was like a lot of people my age, you go into guitar shops and there’s quite a few of them in Manchester in the late seventies. Every opportunity you could, so it was a couple of days a week after school and definitely religiously every Saturday just soaking everything up, hanging around there until they threw you out.
Part of that was checking out strings, seriously. Me and my mates, we’d have, one of the mates was into a different kind of strings and I was into my kind of strings, not like you could afford them as I’ve said, but you know, it’s all part of your personality really.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

Johnny’s choice of string comes down to what is its best on his current Fender Jaguar set up.

This is a common trait for this type of offset guitar with slightly shorter scale length to go up a gauge from your usual.

Johnny has declared he is set on the Ernie Ball Power Slinky 11- 48 gauge.

He feels the strings provide the correct feel and sound on his signature guitar, in fairness I believe the 11 gauge completely suits Johnny Marrs exquisite style of guitar playing.

He’s playing is heavily based around called work arpeggios and double stops.

He engages in absolute minimum bending of the strings and tends to lean on the tremolo bar for expression within the voicing.

The stronger gauge here gives him a good powerful sound and solid stream performance in regards to holding shape for arpeggios with the correct resistance.

“I use the Ernie Ball Power Slinky’s, the 11s. So, I was very fortunate, it’s part of my own signature guitar, the Jag. When I meet people who bought my guitar, it’s the first thing I tell them. You need to put 11s on them, you should put Power Slinky’s on. Because, that’s how I designed the guitar and that’s my sound and that’s the right feel for it.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

The beauty of Johnny Marr as a player is so widespread across many genres and many guitar players.

From experience I found people into indie heavy metal punk hard rock country all genres you can think of everybody seems to love Johnny Marr!

This is of course due to his totally unique approach to guitar pure expressive melody lines and unparalleled technique and depth of continuous creativity.

But most of all the key reason everybody loves Johnny Marr is because he’s probably the coolest person on the planet. 😎 

“Johnny Marr: – It’s still a real buzz for me that I’ve got string endorsement with a company. I must have made it, I guess. It’s just a great buzz.”

Johnny Marr Ernie Ball String Theory

We’ve also caught a glimpse of Johnny using the Ernie Ball Paradigm Power Slinky 11-48 Electric Guitar Strings just recently, to ensure he doesn’t end up with safety pins in his guitar of course 😉

References

https://www.officialsmiths.co.uk/tqid/
https://www.instagram.com/johnnymarrgram/
https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/johnny-marr-interview-2018
https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/27660-johnny-marrs-mancunian-charm?page=2
https://ernieball.co.uk/stringtheory/johnny-marr
http://www.bbc.co.uk/musictv/guitars/video/johnnymarr/2/
https://ernieball.co.uk
https://www.facebook.com/officialjohnnymarr/

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