What guitar do you play?
That depends. I play a Gretsch, an Epiphone, a Telecaster, usually whatever I feel like playing that day. I suppose my main one is my Gretsch rather than my Telly. All three have got very different sounds. They all play very different, they all look very different.
Which is your favorite guitar?
That would be my Gretsch, ’61, 6120. I’ve had it for so long, it still sounds great, plays great. My first real decent guitar was a Gretsch.
When would you choose a different guitar for a different style?
If you’re doing 60’s garage or surf, you probably want a solid body. Then sometimes you want an acoustic for rhythm tracks. I used an electro acoustic for the Top Fuellers album, and I used my dad’s classical guitar because I wanted that nylon string sound for a “spaghetti western” sound in an intro.
When I have to fly for a gig, I don’t want to take my Gretsch on a plane. When I was in a hardcore band, I didn’t want to tune down my Gretsch to D so I’d play a solid body. If you’re doing a bit country, it can’t be a Telecaster for that sound. Sometimes I just feel like a change.
A lot of people think that for rockabilly and psychobilly it’s got to be a Gretsch. If you look at Brian Setzer in videos, he doesn’t always play a Gretsch. I’ve seen him play a Rickenbacker, a Telecaster and a Strat (back when he was in the Bloodless Pharaohs). I saw a video where he was in his guitar room and he had loads of other guitars as well. A lot of people forget, before he had an endorsement with Gretsch, he had a short endorsement with Guild. He designed a solid body for them, the Guild Bluesbird.
What about surf music, what kind of guitar is best?
I guess a Fender Jaguar is the traditional surf sound, Fender guitar, Fender amp. Lots of reverb, lots of delay. Dick Dale used really heavy gauge strings and probably a heavy pick as well.
What should I practice playing if I want to get really good at guitar?
Everything! I used to sit in front of the TV and play along to the theme songs, listen to records and play along. Never stick to just one style of music. Practice, practice, practice.
I used to teach but [the students] would get disheartened. Don’t think you’re going to walk away from your first lesson and play Stray Cat Strut. Even I had to start out learning to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I think because everything’s easy and accessible these days, people think they’re going to buy a book and be playing by the end of the week. I used to stay home from school to play, practice for 8 hours a day, play till my fingers bled. There are no shortcuts to learning how to play guitar.
Who are some guitar players that you admire?
Mick Jones from the Clash, Reverend Horton Heat, Brian Setzer, Johan Frederickson from the Knockouts, he’s really good. Chris Cheney from the Living End, though I know that will be controversial. The psychobillies call them “emo-billy” but I think no one can disagree that he’s a great guitar player.
Django Reinhardt, obviously. He’s a brilliant guitar player. Hendrix, can’t leave Hendrix out. Roman Jugg, he used to be in the Damned. …Olga from the Toy Dolls.
Do you think it’s only really psychobilly if there’s a double bass?
No, not at all. The Cramps, they never had a double bass. The Meteors went years before they had a double bass. They had a double bass to start with but then they played with an electric bass for 15-20 years. I’m sure back in the day in the 80’s you’d see loads of bands that didn’t have a double bass.
Telecaster vs. Strat?
Telecasters have a twangy sound, they’re comfortable to play, they’re very versatile. You can play anything with a Telecaster, rockabilly, rock & roll, surf, country.
I don’t really get on with Strats. I always end up hitting the selector switch. And I think because there are so many of them, they’re just such a common guitar. If you see an ad for someone selling a guitar, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be a Strat or shaped like a Strat.
What about Gibsons?
I don’t personally like Gibsons much because I find the neck a bit wide, but they’re fine guitars. Some of the old Gibson jazz guitars are great. Bill Hayley and the Comets used Gibsons. Have I ever seen a psychobilly band play a Gibson? I think I have…Chuck Berry used a Gibson, can’t be all bad.
So what kind of guitar should I get?
Whatever you fancy. It should just be personal choice and budget, don’t worry about what’s fashionable or acceptable. A Jackson, a Flying V, whatever you find most comfortable, as long as you like it. You don’t have to play a Gretsch just because you play rockabilly.
They’ve all got six strings and some kind of pickups. A lot of it is for the look, a lot of it is down to the amp too. Back in the early days of rock and roll, people just played whatever they could afford. Always buy the best guitar you can afford, I guess.
Send your psychobilly questions for Dave to firstname.lastname@example.org