The guitar sound of instrumental pioneer Duane Eddy’s was once memorably described as somebody trying to string wire across the Grand Canyon. ‘I used to go and hang around the studio, and as I was playing around I realised that the bass strings on the guitar recorded a lot better than the high strings,’ said Eddy, explaining how he created his sonic signature. ‘And so Lee [Hazelwood, record producer and singer/songwriter] said, “Let’s go and record an instrumental just using the bass strings. Go off and write something”. I went off and I wrote Movin’ and Groovin’, which had a high riff and a low riff. Then we also got around to doing instrumentals where the bass strings had a melody instead of just a riff and some hot licks to produce a real sound.’
A major part of Eddy’s sound is his use of reverb and echo, obtained by unusual and imaginative means. ‘It’s been distorted over the years: it was actually a 2000-gallon water tank,’ he revealed. ‘We went down to a junkyard in Salt River, Arizona, and yelled into a bunch of tanks to see what kind of echoey sound they had. Some were quite dead and some were quite live, and we finally found the right one. They bought it, moved it back to the studio, put a speaker at one end and a mic at the other. It was primitive, but we were just making do, building it as we went along.
‘We blended it with a little tape echo, which was very popular in those days, and used it on all of my early ones. Then Lee would take it to get overdubbed at Gold Star in Hollywood, where they’d add a little bit of their chamber echo to our tank echo. I still like echo – it gives an atmosphere that’s missing to a lot of records these days.’
Many of Eddy’s tunes are based on stock progressions: Rebel Rouser and Shazam! are based on chords I, IV and V (E, A and B in the key of E); (Dance With) The Guitar Man is based on I, IV and V in A (A, D and E); and The Lonely One based on I VI, IV and V (C, Am, F and G in the key of C). The key of E, making the best use of the lowest string, is one of Eddy’s favourites, and was used for Shazam! and Rebel Rouser.
He also makes use of modulation in his writing: Rebel Rouser modulates up a semitone at 0:57, another semitone at 1:16, and yet another at 1:34. Yep uses a similar series of three successive chromatically ascending modulations starting at 0:55. Eddy’s tone, harmonic and melodic palate and technique may seem somewhat tame by today’s standards, but at the time he was a trailblazer who influenced a generation of guitarists.