Eric Johnson Says It’s All About ’Musical Ideas’ and Not About Having a ’40-Foot-Pedalboard’

Guitar maestro Eric Johnson explained how the real magic of music lies in actual musical ideas, what you play on the instrument, and not the gear and pedals that you’re using. During his recent visit to the Dipped in Tone podcast, Johnson said how it’s hard to “draw the line”

When asked “is there something that’s driving your search for new techniques or new sounds that lives more in the instrument and not in the things on a pedal board.” Eric replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I think it’s just experimenting with musical ideas. It’s cool to use weird pedals in the studio, but where do you draw the line? If you are like ‘Oh, yeah, I got this, then I’ll try to get this.’ You really got to go like digital with a Neural DSP or something, which is a pretty exciting new technology, compared to where we were.”

“It’s getting better, but otherwise, you’d have to have a 40-foot pedal board. So really, I think it’s more just kind of experimenting with the guitar and kind of trying to come up with music stuff that inspires you or takes you somewhere different.”

Eric Johnson - "Manhattan" Live from the Paramount Theatre

Elsewhere in the interview, Eric was also asked about what he’s looking for in a guitar amplifier. Particularly, he was asked whether he wants an amplifier that “accurately represents everything” that he’s playing or one that’s adding a little coloration to his sound. Johnson replied:

“I think, the more you push an amp, like if you really want a really distorted, sustain-y legato sound, you’re really pushing that amp, you’re really turning it up on the front end. So it’s gonna obviously show up more blemishes that way, more impasses that affect your picking technique.”

“I’ve found the simpler the circuitry, usually there’s less stuff getting in the way of that. Then there’s a little happy accident that happens with some of those, just the dampening of the speakers and the compression of the amp.”

Rig Rundown - Eric Johnson [2018]

“A lot of the old transformers, they kind of give it up, and so it’s kind of a fault with the technical value of the parts that work in your favor, if you know what I mean.”

He also added:

“But I think it could be the same as if you have a piece of old wood on a guitar and it’s not as staunch. It’s got faults in it, maybe it’s got cracks in it, or it’s got holes in the wood from microorganisms or whatever.”

“One of the Steinway founders said that his favorite vintage Steinway pianos were the ones that had cracks in the soundboard. And a lot of people would be like ‘ Oh, there’s a crack in the soundboard, let’s replace the soundboard on the piano.’ But a lot of people go ‘Well, sometimes that can work for you.'”

Eric Johnson's Pedalboard – What's on Your Pedalboard?

Going more into it, Johnson also recalled one of his guitars that had old and improperly set up electronics and wiring. And once that was replaced by your usual “proper” wiring, the guitar seems to have lost its mojo. He continued:

“So it is a mystery, but I had a guitar once that was a beautiful sounding guitar and it fell and cracked the whole front. I had wired the hole inside myself, it looked like a rat’s nest inside. It’s just bad solder jobs and funky wiring, and I just went ‘It sounds great.'”

“But when everything broke, I had to get a new pickguard, new wiring and stuff, and never sounded the same. So it was wired better and correctly, and it didn’t sound as good. A lot of companies will make something that… They end up falling on something, it’s like ‘Wow, that sounds amazing.'”

Eric Johnson - Another One Like You (Official Video)

And, as he further adds, trying to improve stuff can often lead to worse results. According to Johnson, the magic is sometimes on “the first take” and you probably shouldn’t be opening a Pandora’s box and tinkering with the stuff if you already love the way it sounds. He concluded:

“And then they go back and go ‘But let me improve it.’ And you know how things on the market, I mean, tons of stuff is ‘Oh, we’ve improved it now.’ And it’s like, well, the original was truly better. Because sometimes it’s like a first take and recording, sometimes you get a vibe on the first take.”

“And then they are like ‘Well let me try it again.’, and you do 10 more takes but they might not have the same vibe. There’s a lot of pedals and amps that I feel are kind of like that, you hit it on the first. Sometimes there’s a certain magic on the first take.”

Eric Johnson - Move On Over (Official Visualizer)

Photo: Ejmerch (Eric Johnson 2017 ©John Bland)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.