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That Rock-a-billy "twang"

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I'm just cutting my teeth on learning how to play guitar and I'm wondering what about the guitars used in Rock-a-billy music that gives the sound that distinctive "twang"? (think Brian Setzer)

Is it the guitar body, the pickups, an effect pedal or the amp? Or a combination of things.

I've got an Oscar Schmidt OE-30 (Gibson ES-335 clone) on which I'm installing a Bigsby. While I've got it torn down, I'm wondering of there are different pickups, pots, capacitors that could be used to get to the sound I'm after.

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I'm not the best guy for rockabilly tones but putting the treble up on the amp, the bass down a bit, and using a little compression should help. For pickups I'd say go with something like the dimarzio ej custom or tv jones pickups, maybe even try fitting some gretsch pickups.

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IME teles are most often associated with the "twang", that said Setzer plays a big hollow bodys for the most part.

like dudz said (quite heavy) compression is a big part too, either from a pedal or a cranked tube amp.

fenders are the amps of choice, twins, bassmans, and of course the vital ingredient is: slapback delay! (setzer uses a vintage echoplex, but all delay pedals should do slapback)

my strats bridge pup into my cranked bassman (a jansen, nz made fender clone) is instant rockabilly when i ditch the pick, dig in hard near the bridge and put some slapback on. :D

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I'm not too sure what a classic rockabilly sound would be, but I can make the guitar sound from Stray Cats - Rock This Town by running my RG with the EMG 81 turned up to full trebel from the guitar, through my Bassman 400 head, through my 410 ampeg cab, dead strings and a touch of reverb... I also use that setup whenever I want to play surf music...

Could you give us an example of the sound you're looking for?

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  • 3 weeks later...

After waiting way too long for the new Bigsby B50 to arrive (if you buy anything on Ebay from ‘gigmaker’, be prepared to wait), I finally got an opportunity to get into the workshop to make a mounting plate.

The 1/8” plate is 5052-H34 alloy. It’s plenty stiff, but it’s a bit grainy and won’t easily polish to a mirror shine like 6000 series billet. Next time I have to change the strings, I’ll take the plate off, wet sand it up to 3600 grit, buff it out again and then have it bright dipped anodized. I had to apply a lot of heat to be able to make the end tab bend without cracking the metal.

While I had it apart, I swapped the pickups with a used set from an Epiphone ES-335 and added machined chrome covers for some bling. I also ran a ground wire to one of the stop bar bosses (not an easy thing on a semi-hollow body).

For strings, I went with 10 gauge D’Addario. With the new pickups, metal covers, heavier strings and the different harmonics introduced by the aluminum parts, it sounds like a completely different guitar. I think I got lucky because it’s a lot closer to the ‘Rock-A-Billy’ sound I’m shooting for.




Edited by toneblind
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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 weeks later...
That's a great job on the Bigsby plate. Very neat. I'd love to hear what it sounds like.

You might want to look at P90 pick ups for a more rockabilly sound, if your current ones are too fat and soft. They're available in Humbucker size.


Mean 90's



Thanks for the compliments. Sound? Right now it sounds dusty, that is due to that there is simply no time to mess around with it.

Since mid February, I've been putting in 15 hour days in the office.

When I finally do get some time to play (or attept to play in my case), it does sound good (to my ear). One thing thing I've noticed though, since installing the Bigsby, there seems to be no noticible effect on string bends.

For example, I been trying to learn the intro to Joe Walsh's "Funk 49", which starts of with a couple of heavy bends on the G string. Before installing the Bigsby, I could bend the string and it sounded correctfor what I was trying, but since the install, no matter how hard I press, there doesn't seem to be any change in note.

I should add that I now have heavier strings and the G string is a wound string versus it being a solid one before.

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