Originally Posted by keithb
With EJ, I tend to separate his playing approach from his sound. As far as his sound, it requires about four different amps going at once. He combines clean and overdriven amps for most of his solos, which is one reason why his leads have such definition and "sparkle." In terms of specifics, I have no idea how he makes those amp combos work, other than that I couldn't possibly afford the gear necessary to replicate it.
As for his playing approach, his chordal work borrows a bit from Allan Holdsworth in that he uses wide finger stretches to recreate piano voicings (EJ started on piano as a kid, I believe). EJ's big innovation is to incorporate open strings into his voicings much more frequently than AH does, which give's EJ's chords a more pastoral, "droning" quality. Completely unique, as far as I can tell.
His leads are all about subtlety and nuance, much like Jeff Beck. He doesn't use mind-boggling picking technique, even in his faster moments. But his fast phrases are just that--phrases. They come off like pure music and not picking exercises. I know he alternates between legato and double picking, and he's killer at both. But his style is really all in the vibrato and slurs he uses to make it musical. Harmonically, he doesn't do anything mind-blowing (IMHO), but he's a master of using wide intervals to make pentatonics sound more exotic. I love the fact that he's unapologetic about using pentatonics--they're a great thing if you know how to use them right.