In The Box: Eric Johnson-Stratagem Tone

Eric Johnson’s playing has always been exceptional when it came to tonal characteristics. Especially when he plays in the higher register, it almost has a violin quality. I have always been a fan of his music because he is not just a guitar shredder, but an exceptional composer as well. I remember interviewing Eric a few years ago and he gave me a specific rundown on his gear, shown below.

Eric’s Typical Guitar Setup

·      BK Butler Tube Driver
·      AC Booster
·      Marshall JMP Super Lead
·      Dunlop Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
·      Ibanez Tube Screamer
·      Marshall JTM 45

Pic 1

Eric’s 2017 release Collage has a wonderful track entitled “Stratagem” that shows off his outstanding violin tone. This track has a lot of the same vivacious and exciting qualities that his 1990 hit “Cliffs of Dover” possessed that won him Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards. It has a great uplifting feeling as his fingers delicately glide over steel strings with a majestic melodic sustain. The type of overdrive that Eric uses on this song does not fall into the category of high gain, but more in the realm of clean distortion. So it is very important to identify the clarity of his notes when chasing his tone for this song.

First identify Eric’s tonal characteristics

·      Violin type sustain
·      Overdriven tone
·      Spacious delay
·      Extreme note clarity
·      Natural wood string tone

There are many excellent amp plug-ins out there, but I used Logic Pro X (via an Avid Fast Track Duo interface). If you use another plug-in, you can probably approximate my choices, as many manufacturers provide a “usual suspects” menu of similar amp flavors, even if they go by different patch names.

Tone Chasing

After establishing my “sound goals,” I used a 1979 Fender Strat with Seymour Duncan pickups, through Logic Pro X, to achieve Eric’s beautiful violin tone on “Stratagem.”

Logic Pro X (See Pix 1)

  • Within the channel “Audio FX” section I choose the guitar plug in called – Double Crunch
  • I double clicked on “Amp” in the “Audio FX” section
  • Choose “Sunshine 4x12” cabinet (See Pix 2)
  • Choose microphone “Condenser 414” and moved the mic position directly in front of the speaker
  • Then double clicked on “Pedalboard” and added “Tru Tape Delay” (See Pix 3)

Pic 2

Pic 3

What I really enjoyed about working in Logic Pro X is that each amp preset has its own perspective parameters that you can adjust. For instance, the previously cited preset has Noise Gate, Pedalboard, Amp, Channel EQ, Compressor & Tape Delay. As you click through each amp preset these parameters change. I like the flexibility this offers, because you can really hone in on a guitar tone. For instance, I was able to adjust the settings of the preset “Double Crunch,” tweaking the microphone and cabinet settings as well as adding delay to the pedalboard. It is a very well thought out program that assists guitarists to streamline creativity, without being hung up on tedious choices.

Now go and record your own Stratagem!!

BRIAN TARQUIN is the winner of multiple Emmy Awards, having established himself as a top-rate TV composer/guitarist. In 2006, SESAC honored him with the Network Television Performance Award. In addition, Tarquin has produced and composed the Guitar Masters series, trading licks with such guitar greats as Leslie West, Steve Morse, Billy Sheehan, Frank Gambale, Andy Timmons, Chris Poland (Megadeth) and Hal Lindes (Dire Straits). For further information, visit briantarquin.com.