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Charlie Christian and the Early Electric Guitarists

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  • Charlie Christian and the Early Electric Guitarists

    Today we take it for granted that we can plug into an amp, turn up the volume, and dial in a variety of sounds. But in the earliest days of the electric guitar, when guys like Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker were experimenting with what was then a brand-new instrument, it was far more challenging!

    In 1995, I had the chance to sit down with West Coast bluesman Saunders King, who had vivid memories of meeting Charlie Christian and what it was like recording electric guitar and jump blues 78s, such as his own "S.K. Blues," in 1942, less than three years after Christian made his first records.

    Saunders remembered that they used two mikes: "One for me, and the other one would be off to the side, close to the piano setup. The horns were around the piano there. I had the guitar across my lap, and the amplifier was down on the floor alongside me." The rest of the instruments were distanced from the mikes according to their volume, the same way it was done back in the 1920s.

    Saunders had an interesting technique for making his electric guitar sound distinctive: "Instead of using a regular pick, I always used a new felt pick that was stiff and turned the volume up. That would get a good sound." On average, he estimated, he'd burn through three or four picks a night. (As a kid, I always wondered about those fat felt picks for sale in my local music store.)

    For me, it was amazing talking to someone who not only had heard of, but had actually seen Charlie Christian, Eddie Durham, Alvino Rey, and the others who pioneered electric guitar.

    If you're interested in more of Saunder King's recollections, including some great insights into Charlie Christian, I've posted them here:

    http://jasobrecht.com/saunders-king-charlie-christian-early-electric-guitar/

  • #2
    What a great article!
    Many of us really appreciate you posting this stuff here. More!

    EG
    We're not in Kansas anymore.

    Comment


    • #3
      Did you play at a low volume?

      Yeah, yeah. That
      We're not in Kansas anymore.

      Comment


      • #4
        My old uncle learned to play electric guitar during that era. I've reconnected with him recently and he's been teaching me how they played back in the day.
        I'm amazed with the sounds you can get from such a basic rig. Sitting and watching him play even simple stuff is inspiring! Tone truly is in the hands. He can pick up my little rig and just make it sing. It has really made me think hard (and work hard) about how to get sound without fiddling around with a bunch of crap.

        EG
        We're not in Kansas anymore.

        Comment


        • #5
          Did you learn any of [Christian's] music note for note?

          No. I didn

          Comment


          • #6
            These guys here don't wanna hear what he has to say, since it involves simply practicing and not obsessing about obtaining mythical pieces of gear, or esoteric mods.


            You may be right about some of the forumites here but I'd be willing to bet there are more guys here who appreciate Jas' input than you'd expect. Way to generalize though, a nice broad brush is always best.


            I had one of those felt picks. Tried for years to figure out a good use for it. I find myself wanting more of them now that I have figured out they sound like fingers when used on a bass. I don't have to learn to play bass without a pick if I get the right pick .
            LIVESTRONGwww.bandmix.com/kevman/Hey what happened? I had 5000+ posts here.

            Comment


            • #7
              Jas
              awsome to see you posting here, and great to see your blog, just incredible stuff! In all the years you have written for Guitar Player who have you encountered or interveiwed that was maybe a surprise from their "public" persona? Maybe not as expected.

              Comment


              • #8
                I've used felt picks on uke.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I've never heard Saunders King before. That S.K. Blues is a hell of a sexy sound. It reminds me a bit of T-Bone Walker.
                  NYC Americana

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Great article.

                    I've had the privilege of working with the master recordings (lacquers) of the Goodman sextet. And I always thought that the sound Charlie got was so beautiful. That guitar and pickup straight into the amp he was using just had this very punchy, immediate and yet very organic sound to it.

                    It's so funny that people spend so much time and money on different guitars, effects, eq's, amps, etc. when all it really comes down to is just a very simple (and old-style) rig to get that sound. I guess the trick is finding that beauty of an old amp that still works and giving it a go. Make sure you mod it so it doesn't have the "deathswitch" though.
                    Guitars: 1990ish Fender American Standard Strat,
                    Epiphone Sheraton II, Austin strat copy, mid-1930s Martin R-18

                    Amps: Fender Blues DeVille 4X10 tweed, 60s Ampeg Jet

                    Comment


                    • #11

                      For me, it was amazing talking to someone who not only had heard of, but had actually seen Charlie Christian, Eddie Durham, Alvino Rey, and the others who pioneered electric guitar.

                      If you're interested in more of Saunder King's recollections, including some great insights into Charlie Christian, I've posted them here:

                      http://jasobrecht.com/saunders-king-charlie-christian-early-electric-guitar/


                      Excellent! Many thanks!
                      "I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect." (Edward Gibbon)

                      "Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook." (Alan Morgan)

                      "Guitar Forums FAQ's: Why Not?"

                      Eagle River Manifesto on religion.

                      Troll-Alt-Delete

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        What a great article!
                        Many of us really appreciate you posting this stuff here. More!

                        EG


                        Truly. You're already a great addition here, Jas.
                        Originally Posted by csm


                        The first, and most frequently violated rule of punk is: THERE ARE NO RULES.



                        "You know, once you've had that guitar up so loud on the stage, where you can lean back and volume will stop you from falling backward, that's a hard drug to kick." — David Gilmour

                        Fender :: Gibson :: Epiphone :: Ibanez :: Yamaha
                        Blackstar :: Orange :: Vox

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Where can one get felt picks nowadays?
                          PLAY

                          Alternate tunings blog

                          Indépendantiste Québecois
                          Athée intégriste

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                          • #14
                            I bought an old used (antique ) baritone uke once and there were a few huge felt picks in the case, I never thought to try to use them with a guitar.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              You may be right about some of the forumites here but I'd be willing to bet there are more guys here who appreciate Jas' input than you'd expect. Way to generalize though, a nice broad brush is always best.


                              I had one of those felt picks. Tried for years to figure out a good use for it. I find myself wanting more of them now that I have figured out they sound like fingers when used on a bass. I don't have to learn to play bass without a pick if I get the right pick .


                              When I was first learning to play WAY back in the early 60s, a lot of bass players used felt picks. Haven't seen one in years. Nice read about Charlie. Charlie's solos sound so logical, melodic and effortless. I'm a HUGE Charlie Christian fan. Thanks Jas!

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