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Myth Busters: ‘Gibsons Don’t Twang’?

Dave Hunter

Word has it that there’s a hole in Gibson’s tone arsenal. The crunch and punch of rock, the jangle and chime of pop, the wail and moan of blues, the bop and purr of jazz… all this Gibson excels at. But the twang of countrified styles? Nah, just like Charlie don’t surf, Gibson don’t twang.

Or does it? Don’t believe the myth, because however strong Gibson’s credentials in these other genres might be, there are plenty of examples of pickin’ and grinnin’ on classic models from the Big G. After all, these are guitars that — not unlike any great artists — know no bounds. They’ll do whatever you are determined to do on them, and do it with style. Check out these artists for examples of serious twang on electric guitars by Gibson and Epiphone, much of which is done with a searing, slightly alternative twist that has helped to take their playing out of the mainstream.

Blue Mountain’s Cary Hudson

Although the band’s on again/off again/on again status has kept us guessing in recent years, the twang-meets-punk guitar stylings of Blue Mountain’s Cary Hudson have never been short of inspiring. Hudson’s frequent use of a Les Paul with Bigsby show what a versatile tone machine this seminal electric can be, and, for my money, there are few better examples of greasy grunge-twang than his playing on “Poppa” from the Tales of a Traveler album.

One of the founding fathers of the New Country movement in the mid ’80s, Steve Earle has long played an Epiphone Casino reissue in concert. From “Guitar Town” to “Copperhead Road” to “Home to Houston”, Earle has never been short of twang, packed in good and tight with a memorably lyric or two. This is one artists who has never stuck to the straight and narrow, and he’s not about to be limited by preconceived notions of “country guitar playing”.

Steve Earle
Gary Louris

A driving force at the center of the Americana and alt-country scenes, Gary Louris of the Jayhawks has been wedded to his ’60s Gibson SG throughout the history of that influential band. Examples run throughout his work, but check out most of the seminal album Hollywood Town Hall for evidence of Louris’s shape-shifting semi-twang playing.

Although his keyboard work with the band was also highly praised, the late Jay Bennett laid down some seriously fiery twang, both live and on record, in his years with Wilco – and he frequently did it, most uncharacteristically, on an early ’60s SG Junior with a Bigsby Palm Pedal tailpiece (a rare component made by the popular vibrato tailpiece that allowed up-bends of the B and G strings for faux pedal-steel guitar effects). Some of the most countrified of his guitar work is found on the Being There album, where tracks like “Someday Soon” and “Forget the Flowers” display some archetypal twang (yours truly once witnessed a live performance of the latter that included truly breathtaking picking from Bennett on said SG Junior).

Jay Bennett
Jay Farrar

Jay Farrar has made a Gibson Les Paul Special his weapon of choice for much of his time with formative alt-country rockers Son Volt, while fellow guitarist Dave Boquist from the first incarnation of the band did his thing on a Les Paul Goldtop with Bigsby tailpiece. For a one-two punch that both rocks an twangs simultaneously, check out there work together on tunes like “Live Free” and “Drown” from Trace, “Picking Up the Signal” from Straightaways, or “Flow” from Wide Swing Tremolo.

Ultimately, as counter-intuitive performances like these prove time and again, there really are no limits to what guitar you use to make your music. So long as the tools are good ones in the first place, creative performers will bend them to their desires with aplomb, whatever the preconceptions might be. Attack it with the right attitude, and a knowledge of tone that is working for you rather than against you, and the same guitar that sizzles and burns in one player’s hands will twang and jangle in another’s. And after all, such potential for diversity is really at the heart of this shape-shifter called the electric guitar.

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