Cliffs of Dover (composition)

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"Cliffs of Dover"
Single by Eric Johnson
from the album Ah Via Musicom
ReleasedFebruary 1990
RecordedMarch 1988 – June 1989
  • Austin's Riverside Sound
  • Saucer One Studio
  • Arlyn Studios
  • Studio Seven
GenreInstrumental rock, hard rock, progressive rock
LabelCapitol Records
Songwriter(s)Eric Johnson
Producer(s)Eric Johnson
Audio sample

"Cliffs of Dover" is an instrumental composition by guitarist Eric Johnson which appeared on his 1990 Ah Via Musicom album. The album version of the song is composed in the key of G major, the song was played with a Gibson ES-335 (as well as a Fender Stratocaster) through a B. K. Butler Tube Driver[1] and an Echoplex plugged into a 100-watt Marshall amplifier.[2][3] The song takes its name from the White Cliffs of Dover, an extensive and visually stunning chalk outcrop that runs along the southeast coast of England. It is also featured on the video game Guitar Hero III and is available as DLC for the game Rocksmith 2014.

Song structure[edit]

"Cliffs of Dover" begins with an ad-libbed electric guitar solo, using techniques such as string skipping and hybrid picking. In the solo intro, Johnson does not adhere to any distinct time signature. Drums are then added as the song settles into a 4
rhythmic shuffle verse accompanied by a very accessible set of melodies that, throughout the song intro, feature variations (octavations for example) on the main chorus.

The outro or coda then recalls the freestyle mood and timing of the ad-libbed intro.[4]

While he did indeed compose "Cliffs of Dover", Johnson does not take full credit, saying "I don't even know if I can take credit for writing 'Cliffs of Dover' ... it was just there for me one day ... literally wrote in five minutes ... kind of a gift from a higher place that all of us are eligible for. We just have to listen for it and be available to receive it."[5]

Equipment used[edit]

Johnson strung his guitars with pure nickel strings, instead of just nickel-plated. He probably used GHS brand strings, which he now endorses. He played with small thick picks, preferably Dunlop Jazz III nylon picks, which he also now endorses. Johnson used a 100w Marshall tube amplifier with EL34 power tubes (he liked the German brand Siemens made by RFT), with a 4×12 cabinet wired in vintage style series-parallel 8-ohm total load. The cabinet contained four 8-ohm speakers instead of the original four 16-ohm speakers. The speakers used were very late 1970s or early 1980s G1280 80-watt speakers, which are similar to modern-day "Lead 80" speakers. Speaker wires were soldered to the speaker terminals, not the connector-type plugs. He also prefers unplated plain brass plugs on his guitar cables, preferably the Bill Lawrence, or unplated plain brass George L's as a second choice. He prefers the warmer tone of the brass plugs over nickel, chrome or gold-plated plugs for his lead guitar tone. For his clean rhythm guitar tone, he prefers the brighter nickel-plated plugs. His vintage Stratocaster guitars are also modified to have the tone control wired to the bridge instead of the middle pickup. He usually leaves the back plastic plate off the back; this helps with changing the strings faster, allows him to be able to bang on the springs and create feed back, and "sounds better that way"—likely because of less damping from the plastic yielding a more open tone. He also prefers to not run the G and B strings through the string tree, and instead wraps them in a carefully locking way around the tuners; this gives better tuning for less friction and a different tonality for the instrument. Early 1950s to early and mid-1960s Strats were wired with a "phonebook" style 0.1 μf capacitor instead of the more common and modern 0.022 μf and 0.047 μf. The older 0.1 μf can roll off more highs, and is slightly warmer than a modern Stratocaster wired with modern components.

Johnson has stated that the guitar he used in the intro before the band kicks in is a 1954 Strat (possibly "Virginia"). When the band comes, the guitar is a stop-tail Gibson ES-335 (either a 1963 or 1964) until the solo. The first part of the solo Johnson recorded with ES-335 was no good, so he cut it out and recorded the Stratocaster with a 1980s Tube Driver in its place. Halfway through the solo, around 3:03, there is a noticeable change in tone when the guitar switches back to the original Gibson lead track. He got playful remarks about it from engineer Richard Mullen, saying "You can't do that!" but it was agreed that it sounded like Johnson simply enabled an effect pedal halfway through the solo.[6]


"Cliffs of Dover" was voted number 17 in Guitar World magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, placing it between 16, "Heartbreaker" (by Led Zeppelin) and 18 "Little Wing" (by The Jimi Hendrix Experience).

In 1992, "Cliffs of Dover" won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, beating the Allman Brothers Band ("Kind of Bird"), Danny Gatton ("Elmira Street Boogie"), Rush ("Where's My Thing?"), and Yes ("Masquerade").


  1. ^ in the album recording."BK Butler Tube Driver". Butler Audio. Retrieved 2009-06-08.
  2. ^ Blackett, Matt (October 2004). "The 50 Greatest Tones of All Time". Guitar Player. pp. 44–66. Retrieved 2009-04-30.
  3. ^ One other source says it was recorded on a Gibson ES-335, "Guitar Attack, "Tone is the thing ..."". Archived from the original on 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2007-04-09.
  4. ^ Ah Via Musicom, Full score. ISBN 0-7935-9259-3
  5. ^ GuitarWorld Staff Member (October 21, 2008). "100 Greatest Guitar Solos: 17) "Cliffs of Dover" (Eric Johnson)". Guitar World. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  6. ^ "Eric Johnson Q & A session", Guitar Center, Pittsburgh, PA, 2012-09-30. Retrieved 2015-09-16.