Andy Saphir tunes his ses­sion radar into the styles of leg­endary rock ‘n’ roll gui­tar play­ers.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

I’d love to have been around in the 1950s when rock‘n’roll es­tab­lished it­self as the mu­sic that spoke for a gen­er­a­tion. Le­gions of kids were lis­ten­ing to records that their par­ents dis­ap­proved of, while oth­ers were in­flu­enced to take up the oh-so-cool gui­tar. Some of these would even­tu­ally go on to achieve iconic sta­tus them­selves, as axe-men ex­troad­i­naire! I’d like to think that some of GT’s cur­rent read­ers were around in those days and can re­mem­ber first-hand who their favourite gui­tar play­ers were. I’m sure that names like Scotty Moore, who played gui­tar for Elvis Pres­ley, Cliff Gallup, gui­tarist for Gene Vin­cent, and Chuck Berry (I won­der how many gui­tarists have ever learned Johnny B Goode!) would crop up more than a few times. Al­though nos­tal­gic nowa­days, the hits of those days were fresh, new, and ex­cit­ing and reg­u­larly fea­tured the elec­tric gui­tar play­ing a solo in the in­stru­men­tal sec­tion of the tune. This con­trib­uted hugely to the de­vel­op­ment of the role of the in­stru­ment as we know it to­day. The sounds and pro­duc­tion tech­niques back then might be ba­sic by to­day’s stan­dards, but the en­ergy that can be felt by lis­ten­ing to many of those old rock ‘n’ roll songs even now is pal­pa­ble. And the skill and imag­i­na­tion of the play­ers doesn’t di­min­ish over time.

There might of course be many GT read­ers who are un­fa­mil­iar with the style of songs and gui­tar tech­niques used in the mu­sic of that era. So like any style at which you want to im­prove, it’s vi­tal to do lots of ‘lis­ten­ing home­work’ in or­der to get a feel for the genre. The kind of tech­niques and ap­proaches that are used are of­ten sim­i­lar to those used in coun­try gui­tar, such as us­ing hy­brid pick­ing or thumbpick and fin­gers, as the al­ter­nat­ing bass and fin­ger­pick­ing tech­nique known as ‘Travis pick­ing’ (named af­ter Merle Travis) is of­ten utilised (Scotty Moore used it a lot). Dou­ble-stops, 3rds, tri­ads, sim­ple bends and some­times a jazzy in­flu­ence can be heard. In my opin­ion, the over­all feel of an au­then­tic sound­ing solo in this style is per­haps less about tech­ni­cal per­fec­tion, mak­ing sure ev­ery note is per­fectly in time and ‘glitch’ free, than it is about cap­tur­ing the spirit of the per­for­mance. That said, this is not an easy style to play and the tech­niques need to be stud­ied prop­erly so they can be played mu­si­cally, and used con­fi­dently and spon­ta­neously to cre­ate a catchy and imag­i­na­tive solo.

Our piece this month is based around a fam­liar rock’n’roll 12-bar chord pro­gres­sion in the key of E. I’ve de­lib­er­ately in­cluded many of the ap­proaches al­ready men­tioned, and which you’ll need to get down if you are to sound con­vinc­ing. When look­ing at the mu­sic and tab, you’ll see quite a lot of bars in which there are ef­fec­tively ‘two parts’ writ­ten on one stave. This is in fact just the one gui­tar, but us­ing the ‘Travis pick­ing’ tech­nique. The notes with their stems point­ing down­wards need to be played with pick down­strokes (or thumbpick), and the notes with their stems point­ing up­wards are played with the fin­gers (see per­for­mance notes for more guid­ance).

This is a great style to play. It’s also an im­por­tant one to learn for any gui­tarist who wants to be ver­sa­tile, as to be able to play au­then­ti­cally in a genre is not only re­ward­ing to you as a player, but will make you a much more hireable com­mod­ity to boot!

The hits of the day were fresh, new and ex­cit­ing, and reg­u­larly fea­tured an elec­tric gui­tar play­ing a solo in the in­stru­men­tal sec­tion.

Young Elvis Pres­ley and his jazz meets coun­try gui­tarist, Scotty Moore

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