TOOLS OF THE TRADE: '57 and '58 Fender Strats, '64 Gibson SG, Marshall 50-watt plexi amps, '65 Fender Twins, Chandler Tube Driver, Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, Echoplex
KEY ALBUMS: Ah Via Musicom, Tones, Up Close
SIGNATURE SONGS: "Cliffs of Dover," "Righteous," "Zap," "Trademark"
HIDDEN GEM: "Victory"
HALLMARK: The tone of a 400-lb. violin and pentatonic mastery
Look up perfectionist in the dictionary, and it's a good bet you'll see a photo of Texas guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson. The man behind the 9V battery legend, the man who places his Tube Driver on a 2x4 block for better tone, the man who isn't happy unless his guitar does indeed sound like a 400-lb. violin. You don't become that man without appreciation for and ambition to be the best.
Johnson's unique phrasing can be attributed to various factors. One of his favorite moves is to take the middle note of a triad voicing and drop it down an octave, thus creating what have become known as "piano" voicings, due to their large intervals. Another key to Johnson's phrasing is his mastery of the pentatonic scale in all five positions. Johnson's lines typically move linearly, seamlessly transitioning from pattern to pattern even at blazing speed.
While his phrasing and unique chord voicings set him apart musically, it's his gargantuan-smooth tone that makes so many guitarists green with envy. As for his guitar-effects-amp combination, it can't get much simpler. Indeed, the old cliché rings true: it's in his hands. But there's a lesson in it for us all. While practicing scales to build his chops as a young guitarist, Johnson would play every note deliberately and repeatedly, making sure his fret-hand finger was in the "sweet spot" between the frets, and being sure that no matter the tempo, his right-hand attack was in complete sync with his left hand. And that is perhaps the biggest reason why in Johnson's single-note lines—even the lightning-fast ones—every note rings loud and true.