This week we are going to cover some of the gear used by Eric Johnson. We’ll explore key pieces of gear and pedals he uses to create his signature tones, and offer ideas for more budget friendly alternatives that will get you close to his legendary sound. Eric is well known for being very particular about his gear and his pedalboard although looking complex, is more straight-forward than it first appears, and even though it changes quite often, there are some key pedals that have been consistent mainstays throughout the years. So aside from brain-melting technique, here is our guide to the gear he uses:
Eric is mainly a Stratocaster player and has a preference for maple fretboard 50’s style models. He has a collection of vintage Strat’s but has also been seen using more modern American Vintage reissue Fender’s as well as his own Artist Series models. The truth is any vintage flavoured Strat such as a classic player series will get you on the way to capturing the vibe of Eric’s tone. Therefore I would avoid more modern high output single coil pickups and stick to vintage low output style ones.
Amp wise, again Eric mainly uses vintage models. He has been known to use Blackface era Deluxe Reverb, Twin Reverb and Dual Showman amps for his clean tone, mostly in combo form, but he occasionally runs these from Marshall 4×12 cabs. He uses 60s Marshall Plexi 50 – 100 watt heads for his drive tone (which he refers to as the basis for his ‘Dirty-Rhythm’ tone).
If like us you don’t have the space or the cash for a multi amp setup we would suggest sticking to the 6L6 powered Fender style combo amps and using an overdrive to get a Plexi style overdrive tone. The vintage reissue series amps are great alternatives to vintage originals, but a good budget alternative would be the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp that has a great base clean tone and great spring reverb. These are extremely popular amps and will cost you around £650.
Eric’s pedalboard can be broken down into three bog-standard sections of Drive, Modulation and Delay. He uses some slightly more complex routing / switching systems that can be seen on his board, but we are covering the basic tones so will leave these aside as they wont be relevant to most people trying to capture his sound. Here’s a run down roughly in the order of his signal chain:
Arbiter Fuzz Face: Eric prefers the later silicon (BC109) based fuzz faces. He uses these mainly for his violin-like fluid lead runs. He mainly uses vintage models, but has more recently been using his Signature Dunlop EJF1 Fuzz Face, these tend to go for around £200. The more affordable Dunlop FFM1 Silicon Fuzz Face mini will get you a very similar tone at around £115.
Vintage Crybaby / Vox Wah Wah: Eric places his Wah pedal AFTER the fuzz face to avoid the common impedance problems often associate with Fuzz Faces as they almost always sound best first in the chain. He mainly uses the Wah in conjunction with the drive pedals for lead tones. Vintage Wah’s can be a minefield and therefore some of our favourite modern alternatives are: Fulltone USA standard Clyde is fantastic and vintage-authentic at around £220. Jam pedals Whacko Wah is another great sounding pedal and priced similarly to the Fulltone. Both Dunlop and Vox offer hardwired versions of their classic Wah’s which would be a good choice. Also the more affordable standard models such as the VOX V847 at £85 and the Dunlop Crybaby GCB95 at £70 are recommended.
Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer: Eric uses vintage Tubescreamers (that appear to be un-modified) for a mid-boosted low gain overdrive rhythm tone. Any TS flavoured overdrive pedal will be suitable for this tone, some of our favourites are the TS808 reissue costing around £155, Free The Tone’s RJ-1V Red Jasper (amazing pedal!) at around £200, Way Huge’s Green Rhino is a top choice at £140 or for tighter budgets the Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini packs a lot of tone into a small pedal at just £58.
B K Butler Design’s Real Tube Driver: Eric appears to use this stacked with the Tubescreamer for an alternative to his fuzz face lead tone. An unusual pedal and unlike other pedals that run with a real preamp tube at only 9volts, the Tube driver runs on full 240/110volts mains power and is effectively a compact valve preamp similar to inside your guitar amp. The Tube Driver produces a harmonically rich natural overdrive that is very amp-like. I believe that BK Butler has started producing these again, however they are difficult to find new. I picked up a second hand one recently on eBay for around £200 and it was worth every penny. Make sure you go for the full size 4-knob (5 knobs if you include the bias control) and avoid the smaller 3 knob version, which although looks similar to its bigger brother, doesn’t quite capture the same tone. Instead of a BK Butler you could stack you’re existing overdrive pedal with with something like the Boss Blues Driver (around £80) to achieve a similar tone. Don’t be tempted to crank the drive control, a little goes along way and keeps the tone dynamic and articulate.
Toadworks Barracuda Flanger: Eric can occasionally be seen using a Flanger pedal and he favours the Toadworks model (named after the band Heart’s 1977 classic track!) Used in conjunction with his Fuzz Face he gets some great Hendrix inspired tones. If you are looking for a vintage flavoured Flanger the Electro Harmonix Neo Mistress is a steal at £75.
Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man: Delay is where things get a bit more complicated. Eric often stacks multiple delays for both clean and overdrive tones. The classic big box Deluxe Memory Man analog delay seems to be a favourite of Eric’s and is a great sounding pedal, also made famous by U2’s the Edge for tracks such as ‘Where the streets have no name’ and ‘Pride (in the name of love)’. The DMM also has onboard Chorus / Vibrato modulation and this helps to create the atmospheric wash across much of Eric’s chord work. Vintage originals can cost around £500, but the ‘XO’ box reissue is more affordable at around £200 and captures most of the originals features and vibe. The smaller ‘Memory Boy’ is a great budget / pedalboard space conscious alternative at around £100.
BOSS DD2: Up until very recently Eric has consistently used a good-old Boss DD2 digital delay pedal (he places his in a true bypass looper as can be seen on his board). The DD2 still has a nice warm character to its repeats, whilst still maintaining the inherent crystal clear digital delay sound. Eric uses the long delay mode with a delay time of around 500-600 milliseconds. Used prices are creeping up, but we would recommend the DD3 which is essentially the modern equivalent with all the same features at £120.
Maestro Echoplex Tape Delay: The last delay in Eric’s signal chain has consistently been a pair of vintage Maestro Echoplex tape delay units. Extremely difficult to maintain and costly but these have fantastic analog warmth to them and the preamps sound fantastic. Jimmy Page has been know to use these to good effect also. The Echoplex units are incredibly hard to find, expensive and bulky. If you are hell bent on getting that sound and money is no object, Fulltone make a replica at the hefty price tag of £1800! For the rest of us, there are some great digital pedals modelled on the echoplex such as the Catalinbread Belle Epoch (£160), and Echorec (based on a similar vintage unit originally made by Binson) (£199). Eric has more recently been using both of these to good effect on his pedalboard, so they are both EJ approved! Dunlop also make a good echoplex compact pedal in the EP103 at £220.
Power: Although some of Eric’s gear is mains powered (Butler Tube Driver, Deluxe Memory Man and the original Echoplex units) for the rest of his pedal board, he uses the industry standard Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus which costs around £170 and offers a versatile set of isolated DC power outlets.
Obviously we’re not going to rush out and buy all the same gear as Eric, but if you were looking to achieve certain aspects of his tonal pallet, we should have the basic concepts covered here. There are some great gear interviews with Eric on youtube and we’ve included a couple here for further detail…