Cliffs of Dover (composition)

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"Cliffs of Dover"
Single by Eric Johnson
from the album Ah Via Musicom
Released February 1990
Recorded March 1988 - June 1989
  • Austin's Riverside Sound
  • Saucer One Studio
  • Arlyn Studios
  • Studio Seven
Genre Instrumental rock, hard rock, progressive rock
Length 4:10
Label Capitol Records
Songwriter(s) Eric Johnson
Producer(s) Eric Johnson
Audio sample
"Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover"

"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.

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 4/4 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, and probably used GHS brand strings, which he now endorses) and played with small thick picks, preferably his also now endorsed Dunlop Jazz III nylon picks. Johnson used a 100w Marshall tube amplifier with EL34 power tubes (he liked the German brand Siemens made by RFT), with a 4x12 cabinet wired in vintage style series-parallel 8-ohm total load (vs 16-ohm total load stock). Four x 8-ohm speakers instead of four x 16-ohm speakers like original wired cabs. Very late 1970s or early 1980s G1280 80-watt speakers at the time, similar to modern-day "Lead 80" speakers although a bit different. Speaker wires 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 second choice unplated plain Brass George L's in his lead tone signal. He prefers their warmer tone vs. nickel, chrome or gold-plated, although he likes the brighter nickel-plated plugs in his clean rhythm signal chain. His vintage Strats are also mildly modded to have the tone control wired to the bridge instead of the middle Pickup and usually leaves the back plastic plate off the back. This helps with changing the strings faster, is able to bang on the springs and create feed back, and "sounds better that way" probably because of less damping from the plastic, for a more open tone. He also doesn't like to run the G and B strings through the string tree, so wraps them in a carefully locking way around the tuners, and wraps them all the way down on those strings to correct the angle. It gives better tuning for less friction, and different tonality. Early 1950s to early and mid-1960s Strats were wired with a "phonebook" style .1uf (micro-farad) capacitor instead of the more common and modern .022uf, and .047uf. The older .1uf can roll off more highs, and is slightly warmer than a modern Strat 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") and when the band comes in the guitar is a stop-tail Gibson ES-335 (either a 1963 or 1964) until the solo. In the Solo section starting around 3:03 he said the first part of the solo he cut with the 335 was no good so he cut it out, and put Strat with the 1980s Tube Driver in its place. Then the remaining half of the solo around 3:03 he says there is a noticeable tone change hearing the remaining original Gibson lead track. He got playful remarks about it from engineer Richard Mullen, saying "You can't do that!" but it was agreed between both of them it just sounded like he hit an effect pedal foot switch 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…"". 
  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.