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"Eric Johnson plays guitar the way Michelangelo painted ceilings: with a colorful vibrancy that's more real than life."

“The most important thing for me is to grow musically and make a more expansive and meaningful artistic statement with every new project.”


This feature sees us return to the live music capital of the world, Austin, Texas. We generally associate this part of the world with handfuls of iconic musicians and rock stars from all genres.

Here resides an exceptionally prolific and revolutionary multi-instrumentalist, and guitar player, a cross-platform continually-developing, dynamic musician whose creativity and self expression has become his signature asset and trademark.

Amongst his many accolades this gentleman is a Grammy award-winning musician, composer, and songwriter. A true iconic treasure in the guitar world 🎸 

E.J Aka.. Eric Johnson... ToneMaster 🎼 …

Image credit: https://guitar.com/news/eric-johnson-new-fender-signature-strat/

Musically Inclined  🎶 …

“Prioritising perfectionism is not how you make emotionally meaningful music“

Quote :E.J for guitarworld.com (James Rotondi October 14, 2020)

Gracing the Earth with his presence on the 17th August 1954, Eric Johnson was born into a musically-motivated family. A brother to 3 sisters Eric began his musical ventures learning to play the piano, something he continues to the present day.

As he moved towards his teenage years he began to develop an eclectic taste for various artists and musicians that introduced him to the lure of the guitar at age 11.

His young inquisitive mind invested itself in an array of influences that would form the backbone of his inspiration both then and now: Mike Bloomfield, Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ric Bailey, Wes Montgomery, Jerry Reed, Bob Dylan, and Django Reinhardt, along with many others.

Eric has expressed many times that because he started out playing piano, and his voicing and expressions on the guitar sometimes simulate that of a piano in a chordal method.

In the following video we really gain understanding and exclamation of his signature playing style and technique.


Eric developed at a swift pace on the guitar and was clearly born a natural guitarist, powered by musicians mind.

“Over the years, Johnson’s unending pursuit of perfection in his artistry has become as legendary as his talents themselves—his meticulous approach evident in his songs, his chops on guitar and piano, and even his interviews. Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, Johnson perfected his tone and technique while working as a session guitarist and constantly touring and building his fan base.”


Eric Johnson - Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

As an artist, Johnson is a perfectionist, he's always looking for ways to push the boundary and develop as a guitar player; and to this day he remains an open book to any inspiration and will continue to learn from other players and take ideas from other musicians and translate them onto guitar - a true visionary of his instrument.

One incredible quote from a fellow player and iconic legend was Stevie Ray Vaughan conveying his thoughts on Eric as a player and a personality:

“The guy has done more trying to be the best that he can be than anybody I've ever seen. He plays all the time, and tries to get his instrument in perfect shape all the time. He works hard on his tone, sound, techniques. He does incredible things with all kinds of guitars – electric, lap steel, acoustic, everything. Few people understand that when the guy was fifteen, he was playing Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery stuff, and he was doing it right – that's pretty cool. Eric is a wonderful cat. He's always been one of my favourite people in the world, as well as one of my favourite guitar players.”

- Stevie Ray Vaughan on Eric Johnson

As a guitar player on the scene Johnson was dedicated, hard-working and hungry to catch a break early development was loyal and driven.

At 15, Eric joined his first professional band, Mariani, which blended '60s-era rock with psychedelia. During the 1970s, he ventured into jazz-rock fusion with the Electromagnets, which fans affectionately nicknamed "the Mahavishnu Orchestra of Texas." The band's self-titled debut album brought them acclaim but less-than-stellar sales. Johnson's dues-paying continued with his next lineup, the Eric Johnson Group. In 1978, they recorded the full-length album Seven Worlds, a brilliant release that, due to contractual disputes, remained unissued until 1998. Johnson soldiered on, perfecting his tone and technique while working as a session guitarist for Carole King, Christopher Cross, and Cat Stevens and constantly touring, wowing audiences from coast to coast and building his fan base.

Eric Johnson, March 11, 2020 Atlanta, GA – Photo Credit: Drew Stawin

A very prominent characteristic is his continued desire for development as a player, it's very awe-inspiring to listen to him play and also talk about trying to push forward into different dimensions on the guitar with different expressions translations and voicings.

“Eric Johnson: Well, I think I’m always interested in trying to expound on what I might know. I think the expanding or dilating or including other stuff, that’s what really expands your potential repertoire and is really a better definition of improving your music – obviously more than becoming more perfect or being more technical. So I’ve always had an interest in trying to learn more so you have a better way of articulating what you’re saying. So you have better choices to really hone in – or what’s the best choice.”

https://jazzguitartoday.com/2020/08/eric-johnson-360-degrees%E2%80%8B-of-a-guitar-master/ -  Bob Bakert 

After many years establishing himself as a recognised top-flight player and through individual talent the breakthrough came in 1984 when Johnson signed a deal with Warner Bros. And produced his initial breakthrough work “Tones”

His second album was his landmark success and open them up to the music industry internationally, it's with this work he required a Grammy for that now highly coveted work of art “Cliffs Of Dover”


“Among Johnson's many accolades are a Grammy award for "Cliffs Of Dover " (a track from his Platinum certified Ah Via Musicom), lifetime induction into the Guitar Player Gallery of Greats, his listing among the "100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century" by Musician. In his hometown of Austin TX, a city full of guitarists the readers of the Austin Chronicle have voted Johnson the city's "Best Electric Guitarist" and "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in their yearly poll year after year. They also named him "Electric Guitarist of the Decade" and one of the top five "Musicians of the Decade". 


Fender Innovation  🎸 

As with all iconic guitarists you can always guarantee that at some stage or other a signature guitar opportunity will present itself. Being heavily associated with Vintage Guitars and particularly Fender Stratocasters it was inevitable that the union would be made between Johnson and Fender.

A truly unique and highly desirable guitar was created from the visionary and precise mind of Eric Johnson in collaboration with Fender.


“The model, which was developed over the course of two years, is the first-ever Fender axe to come with a custom-chambered semi-hollow body as well as traditional Strat arm and body contours. Unique to Johnson’s signature pieces are three single-coil pickups voiced to his preferences, and a ’rounder’ “V” neck profile that the company claims enhances playability. And, like the guitarist’s other two Fender signatures, this one has a two-piece alder body.”


A really good overview can be found on Eric's latest rig rundown, a truly unique and beautiful instrument being a thin line Stratocaster.


String Purist 🎼 

A player with such precision and perfection would of course demand and require very specific string requirements to enable him to convey his expressions transparently on his instrument. Eric’s history with Strings is very much a story of long-term collaboration and loyalty with two brands.

In the early days he champion GHS and had his own signature sets designed in custom gauges.

“Just a touch warmer than standard Nickel Rockers, these Eric Johnson-approved semi-flat-wound GHS strings give you bright sound and precise intonation.

Rollerwound Pure Nickel. Wrapped with a round, pure nickel cover, which is slightly flattened by metal rollers during the winding process. Bright sounding, great-feeling strings.

"I've enjoyed using GHS Nickel Rockers for many years. The precise intonation, feel, and tone are what I have come to rely on. This is the particular gauge set that I use for electric guitar because of its balance between string tension and sound. GHS Nickel Rockers have always been my favourite strings" -- Eric Johnson”

For many years at Johnson was a poster boy for GHS Strings and interestingly his preference was the Nickel Rockers which are semi-flat wound “Rollerwound” - this is clearly a choice to complement the unique tone of a Stratocaster, this type of string will add roundness and fullness to the Tone.

The gauge is very much custom and specific to Eric as we can see below it's almost a combination of a standard 10 gauge and 11 gauge.

.010, .013, .018, .26w, .38w, .50w


A few years ago - back in around 2017 - we believe Eric decided to move away from GHS and become an artist for D’Addario.

The gauge is very familiar but the preferred option is now pure nickel but not semi-flat wound.


Johnson updated his fans via Instagram of his custom-designed set exclusively supplied to him by D’Addario.


“D'Addario strings have good intonation and are very consistent.” 

Undoubtedly an electric guitar virtuoso Eric is also an incredible acoustic guitarist and whole heartily expresses that he uses standard EJ16 Regular light phosphor bronze 12-53.

Eric Johnson plays D'Addario Strings

As extensively as we hear Eric Johnson discuss his guitar playing style along with his guitars themselves he rarely delves too deeply into his string choice, interesting for someone known for such a perfectionist. All we can think is keeping his secrets very close to his chest. ✌️

So if you want to be a Tonemaster then you have the two options based around Eric’s previous string choice and his current string choice to get you as close as possible to that enigmatic tonal perfection associated with the legendary E.J🤘 

Let's leave you with a combination of some absolutely killing moments displaying Eric Johnson is mind blowing Guitar etiquette. 🎸


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