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Duane Eddy - King of the Twang Guitar

Updated on October 20, 2011

Sets the Standard for Rock Guitar

Duane Eddy was one of the guitarists who helped bring guitar-driven rock and roll to a mainstream audience.He is best known for his instrumentals, along with his trademark twangy tone. Duane played almost all of his songs on the bass strings of his guitar, using a good amount of reverb, vibrato using the Bisgby unit on his guitar and ample tremolo set on the amp. He had more instrumental hits than any other guitarist with his record sales selling over 55 million globally.

Duane started playing guitar at age 5, learning the basic chords at first. He grew up in New York, born on April 26, 1938. The radio was the only way to hear new music, so Duane turned into the many stations around at the time, soaking in the music broadcast from Nashville, West Virginia, and New York City. Duane was a big fan of Gene Autry and the many singing cowboys popular at the time.

As a teen, Duane formed a band that played country hits and rockabilly tunes. As he gained an interest in jazz, he was also discovering by Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Les Paul and many other popular guitarists. There was great music being played everywhere, and Duane was taking it all it.

In 1953, he received a Gibson Les Paul as a birthday gift. Lucky him! However, his time with the Les Paul was short, as it was traded for a Gretsch 6120.

In1956, Duane and partner Jimmy Delbridge recorded their first single, Soda Fountain Girl and I Want Some Lovin’ Baby.

During this time, Duane started to play his lead solos on the bass guitar strings, which produced a low, twangy tone, combined with reverb. This became his trademark sound. He rarely ever played beyond the fifth fret of his guitar. In later years this set him apart from instrumental bands like The Ventures. His sound was instantly recognizable.

In 1957 he recorded Movin’ n’ Grovin, co written with Lee Hazlewood.This song reached #72 on the charts later that year. Rebel Rouser became his first hit, reaching #6. These were the singles that I first started listening to, when I was just a young boy of age 6. I had all of these records given to me by my uncle, who was a DJ in the early 60s. Along with the surf music records, Duane was my first exposure to electric guitar music.

Duane’s success continued with the hits Peter Gunn, Cannonball, Forty Miles of Bad Road and Moonshot. Along with his band members, Steve Douglas, Jim Horn, Larry Knechtel, they would go on to become part of Phil Spector’s famous “Wrecking Crew” session band.

Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel, his solo album released in 1959, entered the Billboard album charts, settling in for 82 week ride, peaking at #5. The album had 5 hit singles. This was the era of singles, not albums. The success of the album was somewhat unprecedented, but well deserved.

In 1960, The UK’s “New Musical Express” voted Duane World’s Number One Musical Personality, a spot previously held by Elvis Presley. Later in 1960, he recorded the theme for the movie Because They’re Young, which became Duane’s biggest hit to date, reaching at #4.

Peter Gunn is probably the most recognizable song by Duane, and has been covered by other artists over the years. Most people would recognize the signature guitar lick he plays at the start of the song. The most notable cover of this song was with the band Art of Noise, which was played heavily on MTV, which no doubt introduced Duane to a whole new audience.

Dance With The Guitar Man, the next release, reached #12.Duane was continuing to break new ground, producing over 25 albums covering different styles of music.He released albums that were all acoustic, big band, jazz, surf and even covered Bob Dylan songs. Duane is guitarist who was not afraid to do something different, and his fans did not seem to mind, as he continued to sell records.

However, the British Invasion of bands took a toll on Duane’s success as it took over the charts for much of the mid 60s. With rock and roll getting more heavier, louder, and more explicit, Duane found his brand of music waning in popularity. His last hit was Boss Guitar, released in 1963.

Regardless of that, Duane had an enormous impact on rock and roll.

John Fogerty writing in Rolling Stone: “It was one of those untouchable, unique things…Duane Eddy was the front guy, the first rock & roll guitar god.”

George Harrison and Paul McCartney were both fans and Duane recorded with both of them in later years. He played on McCartney’s Rockestra Theme in 1987, and Harrison played on his album from 1987, also featuring James Burton, Ry Cooder, Steve Cropper, John Fogerty and David Lindley.

For guitar gear, Duane used a Gretsch 6120 for recording and used the Guild Duane Eddy model for performing in concert. To get the twangy sound he is so famous for, he set the amplifiers treble all the way up, the bass down and adjusted the mid-range to wherever he felt it sounded best. He used liberal amounts of reverb, echo, and vibrato arm.

Duane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, a well-deserved honor for a pioneer of rock guitar. Instrumental music was a hard sell in the early days of rock and roll, but at a time when people were hungry for new music, Duane came out as an all-original performer, and set the tone for guitar rock for years to come.

Gretsch Guitars has just this year introduced the G6120DE Duane Eddy Signature Hollow Body guitar to honor Duane.


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    • TTC12 profile image

      TTC12 6 years ago

      I own a few of his original 45 rpm records, including Gidget Goes Hawaiian. These old records are one of the few things I still have from my childhood. Thanks for reading!

    • brianlokker profile image

      Brian Lokker 6 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      Duane Eddy's records were some of my early favorites. Coincidentally I just converted my old copy of the $1,000,000.00 Worth of Twang, Volume II LP to digital this week. Gidget Goes Hawaiian is a favorite from that album. Interesting to learn that Duane played with a couple of the Beatles later on. Great hub!