Arlen Roth: “The Twang’s the Thang”
There’s no doubt that for a very long time now, adding a little bit, or a LOT of “twang” to your playing can be a great sound! It has long been associated with a kind of “western” sound that is used on guitar, mostly utilizing the lower strings, and with a combination of bending, whammy bar and even sometimes some amp tremelo and /or reverb.
I got to play and also record with the original “King of Twang”, the one and only Duane Eddy! I feel as if he basically mainly coined the “twang” phrase with his songs such as “Twangin',” titles such as “The Twang’s the Thang!” and the unmistakable sound on classics such as “Rebel Rouser,” “40 Miles of Bad Road,” and other such as “Peter Gunn” and his baritone work on “Because Their Young.”
I got to play on many of these songs with Duane, it was really uncanny how he stayed mostly on the lower strings, and how he always had a distinctive “twang” to almost any note he ever touched! Many later artists have utilized this twang effect to great use, such as Dwight Yoakum, Alan Jackson, Steve Earle and countless others.
When folks are “twangin’” on the higher strings, it seems more to be like what everyone now refers to as “chicken pickin’” which is another fairly overused term, of course! Still, if you have a good amount of “twang” in your repertoire you’re surely tapping in to a true “American” sound that works so well in many applications. The English bands of the great British Invasion of the mid-Sixties also utilized a great use of American “twang”, and players such as George Harrison, Keith Richards and many others made sure to use this well-worn technique to turn it into even more of their own approach!
One of the best ways to simply create this sound on literally any guitar is to pick further back towards the bridge. This right away gives the string a more brittle and high-end kind of sound, regardless of the pickup selection you are playing with. Of course, this can also be created on an acoustic guitar with equal impact! This is an important thing to be aware of, as I have noticed that one of the most neglected aspects of guitar playing is exactly where one strikes, or plucks the strings. Such an important part of creating your tone should not be ignored, and may actually be at the root of some of your personal tonal problems.
So, the “Twang’s the Thang” for sure, and I surely hope you embrace this distinct and incredibly utilitarian sound! Best of luck!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.