What makes Rockabilly 03 (Geee-tars)

Posted by Angel On October - 7 - 20104,730 views


In ‘What makes Rockabilly 02’ i tried to explain where certain sounds may have come from and to me a lot of it goes back to blues. What’s the difference between a 12 bar blues or a 12 bar rockabilly song? The speed? I guess for the biggest part the 12 bar blues structure, for the leadguitar i would say that most of it could be traced back to country. Anyway, for ‘that’ Rockabilly sound on guitars (and vocals) there is an effect that’s called a slapback echo. Well, this is where Les Paul came in.

Les Paul was a jazz guitarplayer who also struggled to be heard in a big band setting. He was one of the inventors of the solidbody guitar, the Gibson Les Paul of course and built his own amplifiers. But why Rockabillies really have to be gratefull to old Les is because he was a musical en engineering pioneer. He invented multitrack recording and together with his singing wife Mary Ford

he recorded jazz songs where 30  simultaneous tracks were no exception. The tape echo, also his invention, is what can be heard on the early Sun recordings from Elvis, Cash and Perkins, to name a just a few. And as can be seen in the picture, even at his old age Les couldn’t care less about what people thought of him 🙂

But there’s more than just a blues 12bar format and a tape/slapback echo that makes Rockabilly guitar, there’ssomething concerning gear and something about a playing technique which ‘ll only take you half a lifetime to master.
First the gear stuff; A good clean sounding tube amp with the tubes cookin’! That means; Turn it up! And a musthave is a tape echo or some effects-pedal that emulates that sound. Only thing i’ll add to it personally is a good tube driven reverb to get an extra sparkle.. love it! And any vintage or reissue model Fender, Gibson or Gretsch will do of course.

Now, a bit on guitarplaying techniques, Travispicking; Merle Travis was a hillbilly country guitarplayer and didn’t invent but refined the technique of using the thumb for the bassnotes while using his little finger for the higher pitched notes. Difficult technique to master but used together with the slapback echo it makes for a big sound and that’s what made the classic Rockabilly sound that players like Scotty Moore made famous. This type of playing proved to be very usefull as rockabilly was basic in comparison to the big band sounds of the 40’s, in a 3 or 4 piece Rockabilly band a lot of sound could be made, especially together with that slapping doublebass and of course the acoustic rhythm guitar. Johnny Cash sometimes used the acoustic just to keep the beat, not to fret actual chords.

But who was really THE rockabilly guitarplayer in musical history? Talked about it, thought about it and conclusion would be that i couldn’t name one particular player. I will however, give you some suggestions to listen to. A couple from the 50’s, 60’s and a couple of today’s topguns.

Now, for those kickass players from back then;

Merle Travis of course, Duane Eddy who used the so called ‘Tremolo / Vibrato’ effect with great results. He also showed us that you don’t have to play fast all the time to sound cool.

Chuck Berry contributed a great deal to R’nR with his famous doublestops and duckwalk of course. And how strange it may sound, he actually did tune his guitar on most of his recordings! Gene Vincent’s leadguitar player Cliff Gallup was a player with a selfbuilt echo effect who flatpicked lightning fast single leadlines and didn’t use chords as much as the others did. And how about mr ‘Blue suede shoes’ Perkins! Also for a short period, there was Eddie Cochran of course. Where Elvis and Cash played acoustic rhythm guitar and Gene Vincent just sang, young Mr Cochran did a good job singing and an even better job playing rhythm and lead. What would have happened to Rock ‘n Roll if he hadn’t passed away so early…

I was hoping to fit the guitar issue in 1 post, but i’ll better take today’s players and dedicate a new post to them. Just because they’re the ones who try to keep Rockabilly alive!


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