John Mayer’s 2004 Fender Stratocaster John Mayer Signature (Black One)
This is perhaps the guitar that John is most often associated with, at least during his most popular years. It was built by Fender Custom Shop master-builder John Cruz in Corona, California in late 2004 – with direct input from John, who also participated in some of the handworks. The guitar was delivered to Mayer in November 2004.
I had just gotten of a tour, and was just starting the get crazies from the second or third world tour. So, as soon as I had any time off, I called you and said – can I come down and build a guitar. I wanted to build my main guitar. […] Since I was a kid, I would draw my own item details for the Fender Frontline Catalog. I would draw free-hand the Strat, the headstock, the tuning keys, and I would write “Fender John Mayer Signature Stratocaster”. Then I would start writing all the details out – what kind of pickups would it have, what kind of this-and-that.. [John Mayer – The Story of The Black One]
The guitar ended up featuring alder body and a thick C-shaped maple neck with African rosewood and all the specs taken directly from the Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster, which John was of course very familiar with from before (9.5” radius, 6105 jumbo frets, 25.5” scale length, 1.650”width at nut). The Strat was equipped with a set of Gold Schaller Die-Cast tuners with white pearloid buttons, which coincidentally were also installed on Stevie Ray Vaughan original guitar by his (now John’s) guitar tech, Rene Martinez.
These are the machines that I bought a long time ago for Stevie’s guitar. I guess he (John) noticed them somewhere, or maybe he didn’t – I don’t know. But, they are on here, so I’m just guessing that’s where he saw them. I bought this for Stevie a long time ago, and when I saw them on this one – I went wow! [Rene Martinez – Premier Guitar, John Mayer Rig Rundown]
The most noticeable thing on the guitar is, of course, the finish, or perhaps more precisely – the lack of it. This was done on John’s personal request, following an experience he had after picking up the Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute model, which was basically a replica of Stevie’s old beat up guitar, that had next to no lacquer on it. Many have argued that the less paint the guitar has on it, the more natural it sounds, since the lack of paint allows for the wood to breathe. John seems to agree with this for the most part:
The body on a Strat that has a lacquer around it, normally doesn’t resonate. That’s sort of where the germ of the idea was. It wasn’t about wanting a guitar like Stevie’s – it was only in the sense that I want a guitar that doesn’t have lacquer on it — Bonnie Raitt has a guitar that has no lacquer on it, and it sounds great! And the early guitars are great because they only got couple of layers of paint, and one thin layer of lacquer.
So idea became that I wanted a guitar that doesn’t have any paint on it. But when I started to think about it, the idea of a guitar without any paint on was just a little bit too rustic for me. So I thought about something sort of like Rory Gallagher’s Stratocaster, where there’s more negative space than positive space in terms of painjob. [John Mayer – The Story of The Black One]
The last thing to mention in relation to specs are of course the pickups. According to John Cruz, who was the main person behind the project, the guitar is equipped with three custom-made single-coil pickups.
People say that those are Big Dipper pickups, but no – not on this run. These ones are modeled and chosen to be kind of close to the Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tone. They are custom-wound pickups that we used in that. [Fender Custom Shop Road Show With John Cruz – John Mayer]
There is some speculation however that these have since been replaced. Some say they are Ron Ellis pickups, some say they are from D’Pergo – but John himself has never disclosed any info regarding this. If you happen to stumble upon any mention of the subject by John, please be sure to get in contact.
The Ground Issue
Upon receiving the guitar, John was disheartened to learn that it just didn’t sound as good as he expected. Frustrated by this and not knowing what to do, he even placed the guitar in a freezer overnight hoping for some kind of a miracle to happen. As that obviously proved to be of no help, he opened up the guitar and learned that the ground wire wasn’t hooked up. [John Mayer – The Story of The Black One]
John used this guitar as his main axe on and off ever since he received it in late 2004. It was used most extensively in the era following the release of the album Continuum, which itself was recorded almost exclusively using this guitar.
The Black One just struck. All of a sudden this guitar started doin’ it. And as the guitar started to age it got different; within months it started to sound different. So it was a labor of love and it’s all of the Continuum record. It’s in a couple places on Battle Studies, but it really is the Continuum guitar – you know, it’s just fucking great every time; it’s the best feeling guitar I’ve ever played. [John Mayer interview – MusicRadar]
In 2010 Fender started producing a limited run of John Mayer’s black Stratocaster. The more exclusive line of the two was limited to only 83 guitars, all master-built featuring the same exact wear and distressed look of John’s personal guitar. They also featured custom-wound pickups based on the ones used on John’s guitar, and not the Big Dippers production model which was fitted into the less exclusive version of the BLK1.
This ‘lower-tier’ model was limited to 500 pieces, and all of the guitars from this production line looked factory new. The first model usually sold for upwards of $15,000, while the less exclusive model was available for $2,199.99. [Official Fender John Mayer BLACK1 Signature Spec Sheet]
According to a post that John made on his Instagram profile on May 22nd, 2014, the guitar had a neck replacement. The old neck apparently got warped and twisted beyond the possibility of it being fixed, so John Cruz made the same exact replica, and went as far as using the tuners and the string tree from the original neck.
According to Tommy (JM Yuku forums user, and a direct contributor to this list), who had a chance to meet John personally and hold the BLK1, the guitar will likely have another neck replacement soon. During the chat between the two, John mentioned that the new neck was warping and twisting again and that he plans on asking John Cruz to make him another replacement – which would be the guitar’s third neck. [Learnings from holding and playing the BLK1 – John Mayer Yuku Forums]