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Hey, guess what? PRS is making a John Mayer signature guitar! I bet you’ve never seen or heard of that before?!?! \Sarcasm. Honestly, at this point, if you have been on any form of media at all, you’ll likely have had it plastered all over everything. Facebook, emails from dealers, Instagram, everywhere. It’s become a lightning rod of polarity in the guitar community, spawning countless memes joking about it, intense arguments with people loving it and people loathing it. It’s become more than a bit overboard with the sharing, so I thought I’d take a look at it from a different angle and attempt to address some of the common themes I see pop up in threads and my thoughts on it.
Fundamentally, John Mayer (and all musicians really) isn’t just a guitar player but is a brand unto himself. Due to his playing skills and his rapid rise to stardom, he became known for some of his personality traits years ago that were… less than favorable and its divided players ever since. He has an ego that precedes him, and that often shuts down so many people without looking any further. At the same time, it would be hard to not develop a bit of a complex gaining that much praise from legends like Eric Clapton and BB King and many others early on in his career. Regardless, his attitude, gear choices, lifestyle, playing ability and social media posting habits on top of bridging the gap between the blues and modern pop have made him a lightning rod for divisiveness. It seems there are three tiers of people when it comes to Mayer: 1) Super Fans – folks who dig what he does entirely, plain and simple. Generally speaking, the negative stuff is looked past because of his proficiency on the instrument. 2) People who dig his playing, but can’t stand pop music, or consider his playing a rehash of SRV, etc. or 3) People who just don’t like or care about him at all, or fervently dislike him based on some of the things listed above. Regardless of which tier a person falls into, every one seems more than happy to vent their points of view or completely defend their line in the sand. Enough about that though, let’s talk about the guitar.
John was a long-time Fender artist, and as a business person as well he was looking to expand his branding. You can find all sorts of articles guessing and theorizing his reason for departing Fender, but either way, they parted ways a few years ago. He then found his way to PRS and has actively been using that brand of gear since then. A Mayer signature amp was spawned out of the relationship, the Super Eagle collectible PRS, and now this signature guitar the “Silver Sky.” But at a base level, it’s just business. You have a person looking to expand their branding, one of the top companies in the world wasn’t able to accommodate his wishes for whatever reason (there are enough conspiracy theories on the internet to take up a good half of a day). His next option was to find one that could meet his expectations and standards of what he was aiming to do. For those that wonder why PRS would break their mold and go for a much straty-er guitar than ever before, you only have to look at the source. Just like mention Mayer as a brand, he’s a brand that MOVES PRODUCT. Generally speaking, if something has John Mayer’s name attached to it, then it will sell very well. Like him or not, John Mayer is a modern guitar hero for this generation.
When the initial demos first came out, two comments that stuck out upon the initial unveiling were “It’s just a strat with an ugly headstock.” And “Not trolling, but it sounds exactly like a Strat to me.” Well… that’s the point. When you are building a brand, you attempt to maintain consistency. In this case, John has been using Strats his whole career, and it’s synonymous with his tone and playing and his songs and what he loves as an artist. It’s instantly what he’s identified with as part of his signature sound, just like Brad Paisley with a Telecaster, BB King with Lucille, Angus Young with an SG, etc. It’s just what’s engrained as their iconic sound. Fundamentally there are a few key features that separate it from a Strat, such as the radius of the body, altered pickguard shape, proprietary hardware, different headstock that push it away from any legal issues, while staying close enough to the idea to keep with the folks who enjoy a bit of nostalgia. Another comment I saw was regarding “It’s way too expensive for a strat copy.” Well, taking a look at the Fender JM Strat, the cost isn’t that far off when including PRS’s lineage of quality and the design of the new Silver Sky is much more diverse visually than his Fender model was compared to SRV’s or other Fender artist guitars for instance. Is it redefining the wheel? Nope, not in the least bit. Is it relatable but a varied take on a classic that is spec’d to what John likes and uses? Yep.
The biggest thing I find interesting is that no one really cared about strat copies until Mayer had one built by a company not known for strats if you really think about it. If you look at all the companies who have made strat variants (some less different visually than the Silver Sky), PRS is by far not the first to do it, and not the most expensive version either. Suhr, G&L, Whitfill, Crook, Nash, Palir, Tom Anderson, Xotic, Don Grosh, Ibanez, Samick, RS Guitarworks, King Bee… there are many I’m missing out on naming, but you get the picture. None of them have ever truly caught too much flak for their S or T-style guitars that are as close to spec on some of Fender’s instruments as you can legally get. And as long as there’s nothing going on legally, then there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s no different than choosing what restaurant you want to get a cheeseburger or a salad from. It’s all a varied take on the initial idea, but with a personal twist on it.
Regarding most of the drama, I think it has a lot to do with John himself and public perception of him, and the overall fact that he went from one brand with a signature guitar and had the new company build one that was quite similar with the response that it was 2.5 years in the making. I’ve seen that quite a bit on internet forums and groups, saying that 2.5 years is a massive amount of wasted research and development time that PRS wasted on Mayer when he already had a former signature guitar as a reference point. However, considering that tastes change, and PRS was set on giving Mayer exactly what he wanted, and the time that’s invested in creating these parts with the changes. After alterations, they require John test them on the road for a while to confirm what he liked and didn’t like, and confirming they meet their QC specs, that’s not that long in the grand scheme of things. The 7.25” radius has been a massive contention for players discussing it on forums, subsequently saying that radius instantly turns them off. The idea behind it (for those who haven’t played a 7.25” radius) is that vintage guitars had a habit of fretting out on big bends. If you’re familiar with Mayer’s playing at all, you’ll know he bends pretty constantly, so if fretting out was an issue that’s likely something that had to be addressed by PRS to accommodate his playing style on that radius. I’m confident that in the end, if JM signs off on it, then it’s going to be as right as it can be. Early demos have found no issues with fretting out, but only time will tell as they show up in the wild and guitarists get their hands on them.
In the end, it all revolves around personal taste. Mayer fans will be overjoyed, and the first 500 preorders have been completely sold out with the next batch not coming until later this year, and even many of those are sold out. If you’re a strat purist, then this guitar likely won’t be anything worth hollering about, and that’s understandable… it’s hard to beat a classic. But as a fan of all things guitar, I can’t wait to try it. I own a Fender American Pro strat as well as a Suhr S-style, and can’t wait to compare it. Again, it’s all what tickles your fancy and spawns your creativity and stokes the fire on the urge to pick up the instrument and play. Knocking an instrument without having played it, or judging the company or the artist without knowing the backstory doesn’t do any good aside from fueling the drama via assumptions. So, to those who bought it, have fun and happy new guitar day! I hope it’s what you’re looking for and hits the spot. If those who aren’t into it, you’re not wrong either. A strat is a beautiful thing to behold, and there’s a reason it’s a classic and so highly copied. In the end, I just hope everyone will let people enjoy what they want to enjoy, and welcome the fact that you can say you were there when John Mayer and PRS divided the industry for a few weeks (until the next big thing occurs and we all forget about this).