Relix 44: John Mayer’s Typewriter

Dean Budnick on December 14, 2018
Relix 44: John Mayer’s Typewriter


Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.


Bonus Track: John Mayer’s Typewriter

Let’s close out the Relix 44 by taking things deep with a quality geek out. No, not a disquisition on the best “Dark Star” of all-time. Isn’t that settled? 2/27/69. Or 2/13/70, 5/11/72, 8/27/72, 11/11/73, 10/18/74, 3/29/90, or 10/31/91 or… OK, maybe that’s not settled, nor should it be.

Similarly, it can be tough for certain folks to identify whether they prefer: Olympia SM8, IBM Selectric I, Hermes 3000, Smith-Corona Classic 12, Olivetti Lettera 25 or an Underwood Noiseless Portable.

That’s right, it’s time for some entrancing typewriter talk.

This past January, John Mayer affirmed that he not only tears it up on guitar, but he also has an affinity for keys. Mayer, who appears in the wonderful documentary California Typewriter, called for “a return to naturalism,” encouraging folks to send him “a one page, properly formatted letter (formal or informal) and I will reply to a few every morning.”

For many folks there is no replacing the tactile, auricular sensations of the typewriter, and, as Tom Hanks wrote in the New York Times, “No one throws away typewritten letters, because they are pieces of graphic art with a singularity equal to your fingerprints, for no two manual typewriters print precisely the same. E-mails disappear from all but the servers of Google and the N.S.A. No one on the planet has yet to save an Evite. But pull out a 1960s Brother De Luxe 895, roll in a sheet of paper and peck out, “That party was a rocker! Thanks for keeping us dancin’ till quarter to three,” and 300 years from now that thank-you note may exist in the collection of an aficionado who treasures it the same as a bill of sale from 1776 for one dozen well-made casks from Ye Olde Ale Shoppe.”

So too, John Mayer explains:

I’ve been using a typewriter since 2010 when I began writing for what would become the Born and Raised album. My first was a new Brother electric, on which you’d just hit the key and WHIP-BOOM, a motor would take care of the letter press for you. When the legendary typewriter enthusiast and actor Tom Hanks caught wind of this, he sent me my first manual typewriter, an old Olympia SM3. From the moment I fed a sheet of paper into it, I could understand his insistence that I have one; there’s nothing like typing on a manual machine. I’ll spare you the hipster proselytizing, but believe me when I say there’s nothing like the joy of using an old typewriter in good condition, nor is there anything quite like receiving a letter composed on one.



This is one of my favorites, an SM3 with a script type face. (They weren’t all what we now refer to as “typewriter font.”) It’s like an old Mercedes convertible. Good music, a cup of coffee, and a stack of paper —and you’re off to a part of your mind no phone or laptop could ever take you.

One last thing about typewriters— they force directness and class in your writing. A ‘50s script Olympia isn’t the forum to type “hey what’s up? Wanna hang soon?” Rather, you’ll find yourself writing with your fanciest turns-of-phrase, and with zero clutter. Fancy, but to the point. Just like these old Olympia machines.


This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here