|Vince Gordon's Tips on Rockabilly Guitar
I'm often asked about my gear, guitars and how I get my sound, so I have created a webpage that should answer most questions. What I express here is my personal opinion. There are - like with everything else - many different ways of achieving the same goals.
Over the years I've had a bunch of vintage guitars. Primarily Gretsches. >From Country Gentleman to Country Roc, a couple of 6120's and I've played the odd White Falcon. I've also tried out a lot of amps. You CAN get an "authentic" sound by following my advice, and it will leave you a lot of room to get your own sound. "Authentic", "new" or even "bluesy".
Amplifiers: I never heard anything better than a Fender . As long as you get a tube Fender you'll probably be on the right track, because they all sound pretty good. It doesn't have to be vintage at all, but they do look pretty cool. Actually I started out playing a vintage Vox AC 30 and it wasn't bad at all. The sound was very 'tube' and that's what you're looking for, but Fender is still the better choice for Rockabilly.
When you play your Fender Amp, don't use the built in Reverb that some of them have. Sure, the reverbs sound great, but when you're playing live only use an echo (I use a digital one - the Boss DD-3. ) or else the sound will get too muddy for rockabilly when you use both an echo and the reverb. If you're into Surf music it's a whole different ballgame though.
Gretsch Guitars: As far as playing rockabilly on them I wasn't impressed with the first reissues. The problem is mainly that the FilterTron pickups on those are to 'muddy' sounding for your typical rockabilly line-up. Up through the 90s Gretsch used ceramic magnets rather than the Alnico magnets in the vintage models. Luckily that should be in the past now as all stock FilterTron-equipped models after 5/03 have Alnico magnets.
It's still not the pickup I'd pick for rockabilly though. I would either get DynaSonic (DeArmond) or TV Jones FilterTrons pickups (Most people agree that they sound better than any of the reissue FilterTrons from Gretsch). You can get both stock on new Gretsches today. It's important to remember that Gretsch used DeArmound pickups (which are single-coil as opposed to the FilterTrons which are Humbuckers) in the mid-fifties and that's where the legendary Gretsch Rockabilly sound originated from.
The guys who utilized that sound were such greats as Cliff Gallup (of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps) who played a black 1955 Gretsch Duo Jet, Eddie Cochran, who played a 1955 Gretsch Hollow Body (he changed the rhythm pickup to a Gibson P-90, but that's a different story) and Duane Eddy who played a 1957 Gretsch Hollow Body. Did you know that Gretsch is now owned by Fender by the way...
Fender Guitars: Not really my kinda guitar (not semi-acoustic ya know) but I've heard some amazing stuff played on them by Paul Burlison, Danny Gatton, Jimmy & Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carl Perkins, and Albert Lee to name a few. Maybe someday I'll stumble across one that fits my hands and I'll be all over it. The great thing about Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters is that they have single-coil pickup's that'll cut through any backing band. - and that's what rockabilly guitar is all about - isn't it? :-)
Fingerboard: Whatever suits you. A guitar may sound great, but if it's hard to play for you, you're not doing yourself a favour. Find out why it sounds good and look for that in another guitar that's easy to play. They're supposed to be! Technique shouldn't stand in the way of music. Mind you, you can get a long way with having a prof. guitar tech. adjusting a 'bad' guitar. Always have a new guitar adjusted to fit YOUR hands and way of playing.
Strings: Basically there are no 'right' or 'wrong' strings for Rockabilly. It's a matter of taste. As a rule you can say that heavy strings give you a 'fat', dark sound and light strings give you a 'thin', bright sound. Pretty simple, ay? If you're looking for the Scotty Moore sound you'll want some flat wound heavy jazz strings. I settled for a middle of the road set of strings: Ernie Ball 0.10-0.46 (Regular Slinky). I would have preferred to play a 0.11 set because the just feel better in my hands, but there is so much bass in them (On MY guitars) that it meddles with the territory of the double bass. The 0.10's also allow me to get a 'twangy' sound when I need it. Something that's hard to get with heavy strings.
If you enjoyed my little write-up, please check out my webpage where there's a lot more info, "best buy" for finding your perfect rockabilly guitar, pictures of guitars as well as their pickers and some free soundsamples. Have fun!
"Put another Jime in the jukebox"
Vince Gordon passed away in 2016, please visit his tribute page:
Used with permission, 2004