From Chet Atkins to Brian Setzer and Cliff Gallup, we dissect the approach and give you guidance on playing in the style of five Gretsch guitar legends. First up, Eddie Cochran...
Eddie Cochran lived fast and tragically died young, in a car crash at the age of just 21. But in that brief time, he had already notched up a series of timeless 45s, including C’mon Everybody, Something Else and his proto-punk teen angst anthem Summertime Blues. Obsessed with his beloved Gretsch G6120, Cochran was a more accomplished guitarist than his chord-driven classics suggest.
A huge influence on Brian Setzer - who played Eddie in 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba - his disciples include Pete Townshend, Marc Bolan and The Sex Pistols. Try out our Cochran inspired tab and learn how Eddie played simple bass lines to outline those rock ’n’ roll chord progressions.
Play like Eddie Cochran tab (right-click to download)
This is a typical Eddie Cochran-style rock ‘n’ roll riff outlining a typical I-IV-V (E-A-B) blues progression. The shift between G and G# notes in bar 1 cleverly hints at both E major and minor tonality and is a typical Cochran move, as are the rhythmic stops on the B and E chords. Use alternate picking except in bars 5 and 6.
As frontman of the Stray Cats in the early 80s, New Yorker Brian Setzer revived the rockabilly look and sound, at a time when New Romantic synths and dodgy middle-of-the-road rock was all the rage.
The likes of Rumble In Brighton, Runaway Boys, and his masterpiece, Stray Cat Strut, showcased Setzer’s incredible technique. His addiction to the G-brand G6120 put Gretsch guitars back on the map in the 80s and led to Setzer becoming the brand’s first major signature artist since Chet Atkins.
In the 90s, the rockabilly King also revived big band music with The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Our Setzer-style tab shows you how the great man mixes up chords and bass lines.
Play like Brian Setzer tab (right-click to download)
Brian favoured a rockier tone, but still used characteristic slapback delay to make the most of single note riffs such as this typical example. Here in our example the E blues scale is broken up by diads played on the first and second strings. Make sure to play the diads with upstrokes to maintain the shuffle feel.
The Reverend Horton Heat
One of the finest exponents of pyschobilly, The Reverend Horton Heat, the alter-ego of Dallas-based guitarist Jim Heath, is a bit like Brian Setzer’s evil twin.
Like the former Stray Cat, Heath has his own Gretsch signature G6120. He’s also a fearsome rockabilly player, albeit one that has no qualms about cranking up the gain and shredding. A walkin’, talkin’ encyclopaedia of classic American guitar styles, Heath often veers into blues, surf and punk territory, sometimes within the same tune.
Heath and band, also called The Reverend Horton Heat, released their last album, Rev, back in 2014. Follow our Rev-style tab to get a feel for Heath’s surf-style alternate picking and vibrato arm ambience.
Play like The Reverend Horton Heat tab (right-click to download)
The Rev's aggressive style is reminiscent of Dick Dale’s surf technique. Typically he uses Bigsby whammy bar dips and fast alternate picking with slapback delay for the psychobilly sound. Practise our example slowly and focus on your pick hand - the rhythms are tricky as it’s not simply a stream of constant 16th notes.
A producer at RCA-Victor in Nashville in the 50s and 60s, Chet Atkins helped rejuvenate the popularity of country music, adding strings and piano to create the more sophisticated Nashville Sound.
He also oversaw the installation of the now legendary RCA Studio B where the likes of Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and Don Gibson recorded hits. A prolific artist himself - he released four albums in 1960 alone - Chet developed his own ultra-precise take on Merle Travis’ Picking style, simultaneously playing bass, chords and melody.
He is an influence on Brian Setzer, Tommy Emmanuel and Mark Knopfler. Our example covers Chet’s Travis-picked chord playing and a few fingerstyle lead tricks, too.
Play like Chet Atkins tab (right-click to download)
Atkins was a master of Travis-style picking with thumbpick and fingers, but we advise you play fingerstyle without thumbpicks - it’s much easier. Chet’s triplet pull-off lick (bar 5) has been borrowed by loads of rockabilly players so it’s one to master. Hone your picking with the classic Yakety Axe style lick in bar 6.
“When I was learning guitar, Cliff Gallup was the biggest influence on my playing,” said Jeff Beck of the Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps legend.
“The cut was pretty deep and the scar has never healed!” Beck’s 1993 album, Crazy Legs, is a tribute to Gallup, who played a Duo Jet - fitted with a Bigsby and flatwound strings - on mid-50s Vincent classics such as Be-Bop-ALula, Who Slapped John and Race With The Devil.
Even in an era populated by guitar geniuses including Jimmy Bryant, Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, Cliff Gallup was special. He favoured the use of fingerpicks, but we recommend using either fingerstyle or ‘pick and fingers’ hybrid picking for our example.
Play like Cliff Gallup tab (right-click to download)
Gallup's rhythm playing was rarely just chords. Our example is a typical single-note rockabilly intro followed by a hybrid-picked rhythm figure. Remember, hybrid picking means you use pick and fingers, so hold your pick as normal and pluck the higher strings with your second (m) and third (a) fingers.