Why John Mayer DITCHED Fender For PRS

By Richard •  Updated: 04/05/22 •  9 min read

John Mayer used to play Fender Stratocaster guitars but in 2014 he turned his back on the iconic brand and switched to PRS guitars – here’s why…


Getting a signature model with Fender is a bit like getting an endorsement deal with Nike if you’re an athlete. It’s a big deal, figuratively and literally. Fender is one of – if not THE – biggest guitar brands on the planet. It commands respect and its guitars are used and beloved by the greats, both new and old.

John Mayer got his Fender signature model in 2005. After years of touring and a solid run of albums, Mayer’s fanbase was huge. People called him the savior of modern blues, the new Hendrix. Fender was clearly paying attention and approached John about making a signature model – the John Mayer Signature Fender Stratocaster.

A younger, keener Mr. Mayer dutifully accepted Fender’s offer to make him his very own signature model Strat, likely helping the bluesman realize a long-standing childhood dream in the process. It is worth pointing out here that not just ANYONE gets a Fender signature model. You have to be chosen, and Fender is very picky with WHO it chooses…

The John Mayer Signature Fender Stratocaster

Released in 2005, the John Mayer Signature Fender Stratocaster was available in two color options: Olympic White and Sunburst – although Fender did some limited runs on a few different color options, though these are next to impossible to find online these days.

Mayer’s signature Strat was “kinda” based on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Strat and, unlike most conventional Strats, it ran Big Dipper pickups which improved the low and high-end frequencies. Mayer wanted a more “modern” sound from his model, so he worked with Fender as best he could to create something markedly different from your standard Strat setup.

The guitar was available until 2014, and for all intents and purposes was extremely popular. Fender sold quite a few of these models, largely based on the popularity of Mayer at the time, and continued to do so until the model was discontinued when Fender and John famously parted ways in 2014.

Why Did John Mayer Leave Fender For PRS?

As splits go, Mayer leaving Fender was the guitar world’s equivalent of an A-Lister’s divorce. It was very public and piqued the interest of a lot of people. You DON’T just LEAVE, Fender. People were shocked and taken aback when Mayer confirmed he was leaving Fender and switching over to PRS. Most Fender guitarists remain Fender guitarists for life – like Jimi Hendrix.

The reason John Mayer left Fender is actually pretty simple. Mayer wanted to make his Stratocaster more modern. Mayer had plenty of ideas about how to do this but Fender was not interested in making these kinds of changes to its Stratocaster, a guitar that has been around in one form or another since the 1950s. Mayer says Fender dismissed his ideas, forcing him to look elsewhere for a company that would be able to build a guitar to his exact specifications.

All this kicked off in 2014, or towards the back end of 2013. The split was BIG NEWS in the guitar world for obvious reasons. It wasn’t every day that one of the most famous and well-known guitarists ditched one of the most famous and well-known guitar brands. And yet, despite all the salacious headlines suggesting otherwise, there wasn’t any real bad blood between Fender and Mayer.

For whatever reason, Fender just wouldn’t listen to Mayer’s ideas. Fender has fixed ways of doing things, things it does, and things it DEFINITELY will not do. It doesn’t budge for anyone and it certainly doesn’t do anything too drastic to its darlings – the Strat and Tele. These guitars are the company’s sacred fruit. You can tweak them a bit – make small, incremental changes here and there – but you do not mess with the core design and setup. For Fender, that was just too close to heresy.

Here’s how the man himself describes the split:

I had an idea for a guitar – and this goes back about 10 years – a guitar that is sort of the future of the classic [Strat] design. It was not going to work with Fender. They weren’t gonna be able – one way or another – to bring the vision that I had to life. So – not pissed off – I wanted to go somewhere where they could bring that vision to life. And it made a lot of sense to go to Paul because that’s the guy who started the company.

John Mayer

Why John Mayer Switched From Fender To PRS

The main reason Mayer left Fender and went to PRS was simple: PRS was actively interested in what he – a phenomenally talented guitarist – wanted from a guitar. PRS knew that having Mayer on its books was a huge deal, so the company bent over backward to accommodate Mayer’s vision.

Why John Mayer Ditched Fender For PRS
“It’s good to have artists be able to call the guy who runs the company. I couldn’t do that really at Fender because it’s musical chairs – you don’t know who to call. I get to call the guy whose name is on the guitar and we get to build stuff together” – John Mayer

PRS is a much smaller company than Fender too. It also operates in a far more “friendly” manner, seemingly, as Mayer was able to talk at length on the phone to Paul Reed Smith, the guy who owns PRS guitars. Mayer and Paul Reed Smith spent hours discussing Mayer’s ideas for a “modern Strat guitar” a guitar that would go on, in Mayer’s mind, to become the “future” of Strat-style guitars.

To be able to call the guy who started the company on the phone and talk directly about ideas and how to build them – that’s good for you. It’s good to have artists be able to call the guy who runs the company. I couldn’t do that really at Fender because it’s musical chairs – you don’t know who to call. I get to call the guy whose name is on the guitar and we get to build stuff together. That’s too cool.

John Mayer

The PRS Silver Sky is Born…

After lengthy discussions and a prolonged R&D period, PRS and John Mayer eventually released the PRS Silver Sky in 2018. The Strat-alike guitar took a long time to develop, but as Mayer noted in subsequent interviews, “it’s a game of millimeters when you deal with making a guitar that is based off of the Strat” – meaning, it is not possible to cut ANY corners when you’re making the spiritual successor to the iconic Fender Strat.

PRS SILVER SKY

The main thing about Mayer’s first PRS guitar was that it wasn’t meant to be anything other than a more modern Strat. Mayer even said during interviews following its release that he couldn’t imagine NOT playing a Strat-style guitar. The only difference between his PRS Silver Sky and a traditional Strat was that PRS listened to Mayer, implemented his changes, and gave him the guitar he originally wanted Fender to build.

This guitar is based off of the Strat. I think if people understood that I’m admitting that – yes, I have played a Strat for such a long time in my career that it didn’t make sense to me personally to look down and see a different shape, and I don’t think other people would want to see a different shape.

So here’s the three places that you have to stick in between. You want to remain classic to a design that’s almost synonymous with electric guitar. You want to innovate in a certain way so that you see something new. And you also want to respect the language of design that PRS guitars have. So everything has to balance – this is all a game of balance. It’s two years because of balance.

John Mayer

Mayer Still Loves Fender Though…

Despite leaving Fender for PRS, John Mayer is still a big Fender fan. He still recommends that ALL PRS Silver Sky users run the guitar through Fender amps. In Mayer’s mind, the PRS Silver Sky was designed to co-exist with Fender amps. Between 2018 and 2022, Mayer and PRS worked on a new model of his signature Silver Sky – the PRS SE Silver Sky.

This model was released in January 2022 and it added in a bunch of refinements over the OG 2018 model.

The PRS SE Silver Sky is a familiar iteration of Mayer’s signature model, which was first introduced with John Mayer in 2018. The SE model starts with a poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, and rosewood fretboard with PRS trademark bird inlays. The 22-fret, 25.5” scale length neck features the original 635JM carve and an 8.5” fretboard radius, which will make the SE Silver Sky feel right at home. The SE Silver Sky comes in four colors: Dragon Fruit, Ever Green, Moon White, and Stone Blue.

At the heart of the instrument are the three single-coil pickups, which were meticulously designed to capture the voicing of the original Silver Sky. The 635JM “S” pickups capture the same round, full tone with musical high end that is never too harsh and add a bit of a bite. This guitar is anchored by a two-point steel tremolo, synthetic bone nut, and vintage-style tuners. Other design features include the PRS Silver Sky inverted headstock shape and the PRS double-acting truss rod (accessible from the front of the headstock for ease of use). This instrument ships with PRS Classic 10-46 strings and a PRS SE gig bag.

PRS

The new PRS SE Silver Sky is more affordable than Mayer’s original PRS model too, making it an ideal choice for players that are looking for a high-end Strat-like guitar at a more affordable price. The guitar itself is beautiful. I was lucky enough to play on at launch and it blew me away. For the money, there isn’t a better Strat-style guitar on the market right now. The PRS SE Silver Sky is a heavenly piece of kit that is well worth its asking price.


Order NOW!! Limited Batch
PRS SE Silver Sky
$849.00

The 22-fret, 25.5” scale length neck includes the original 635JM carve profile and an 8.5” fretboard radius. Its sound is driven by a trio of single-coil 635JM “S” pickups, with master volume and two tone controls, and a five-way pickup switch. Other Features include the PRS Silver Sky inverted headstock shape, PRS double-acting truss rod, two-point steel tremolo, synthetic bone nut and vintage-style tuners. Comes with a gig bag.

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Richard

Richard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.

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