Posted by: kubiakl | January 27, 2009

The Tone King

Eric Johnson’s guitar tone is unreal.  It’s been described as a singing, violin-like tone, and I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description:

When you look at his gear list though, it’s all pretty standard.

Guitars:  Fender American Strats, including his signature model that was recently released.  A Gibson ES-335, SG, and Les Paul.  For acoustic work he has a signature Martin that is a cross between a dreadnought and an OM – it has an OM shape but a deeper body.  It’s the Eric Johnson MC-40:


Amps:  two older Fender Deluxe Reverbs, and two Marshall Plexi heads from the 60’s pushing 4×12 cabinets.  The Fenders handle his clean tone, and he uses an A/B switch to move to the Marshalls for his dirty tone.

Pedals:  His pedal setup is somewhat complicated, but here is a good list – a Chandler Tube Driver, Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, TC Electronics Stereo Chorus, Dunlop Crybaby wah, Maestro Echoplex, Electro-Harmonix Memory Man Delay, and an MXR 1500 Digital Delay.

Nothing too out of the ordinary, but put them in his hands and they become tonal monsters.  Now I’ll be honest – I have no idea how to come up with the perfect EJ tone.  It seems like a good place to start on the clean side is with chorus, delay, and echo.  His clean tone has a very spacey feel to it.  For his singing, violin sound… I’m stumped.  It’s very overdriven but never sounds mushy, a trick I can’t quite manage.  My electric tone gravitates towards a low-fi blues sound generally.  For a short period of time I had a Zoom 505II pedal (a digital multi-effects pedal) that could emulate his sound in some ways, but it never sounded as organic as EJ’s.  It was very… plastic?  Thin?  Anemic?  Something along those lines.

And a personal story just for kicks.  I remember when I bought my first real guitar, the Fender American Standard Strat I still play.  I printed out some tabs I had found so I could start learning when I brought it home.  The first thing I played was the opening notes to “SRV”, Eric Johnson’s tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan:

Good times.



  1. This post actually inspired a purchase.

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