Today we turn to a unique kind of guitarist or, to put it another way, a guitarist who belongs to a club in which very few are invited to enter: the club in which there is total unanimity among the guitar community when it comes to praising their virtues; whether that praise comes from the world of rock, jazz, pop or even classical. We are speaking about Brian Setzer, who gets this praise because of his quality, skill and technique – assets that are available to very few who work in service of the electric guitar.
Of course we are talking about the man who has held the flag of rockabilly since the 80s; although labeling him only as a guitarist of that style would be unreasonably limiting him. If it might be said that Hendrix is guilty for giving us wet dreams about a Stratocaster at some point in our lives, it is undoubtedly the north-American guitarist who is responsible for Gretsch returning so strongly in the late 80's; such that it has entered our subconscious and stayed there. If you want your guitar to sound like the 50s you have to buy a Gretsch like Brian Setzer's.
As we mentioned in the article about guitarists who have stuck with just one guitar, he hasn't only used a single instrument, but we can talk about a completely iconic guitar in his career - that is his 1959 Grescth 6120- colloquially known as 'Stray cat' because it is the guitar that he used mainly during his time with the Stray Cats in the 80s, and that after leaving her ‘fallow’ for a few years he has returned to the road with in the 21st century. As a curiosity, he managed to buy this Gretsch wonder when he was only 17 years old, by responding to an advertisement in the newspaper in which the advertiser only wrote something like 'Gretsch for sale. Orange. 100 dollars' ... It was brief but with one sentence the guy already had the guitar sold.
Undoubtedly that guitar is the one that left the most impression on the sound and tone of Brian Setzer and that is why his different signature models for the brand, which currently belongs to Fender, are models 6120, in the image and likeness of those designed in the 50s by Chet Atkins but with the different variations that the man of the infinity blond toupee and Gretsch have decided to add on over the years. Specifically, he is quite faithful to the TV Jones pickups that Gretsch have incorporated into their models since the 90s. But as we said, although the 6120 model is the most used in his career, we have also seen him playing other legendary models of the brand, such as the 6129 Silver Jet, or the White Falcon.
It is worth mentioning the Fender Bassman, either in combo format (he usually uses one from 1963) or in the format of a head with a two-cone screen, is his favourite amplifier. That said, he takes care of even the smallest detail in tone that emanates from his guitars, but almost more exhaustively - if possible - from his amplifiers, because he rewires the speakers, which are usually a Celestion Vintage 30, with thicker and higher quality cables than those that come from the series.
To finish the review of how to get a tone similar to Brian Setzer we cannot fail to mention the Tape Echo that he uses to emulate that slapback effect so characteristic of vintage rockabilly that we like so much, which is none other than a Roland RE 301.
This is a short summary of the gear that we can hear on many of the Stray Cats’ songs or those of Brian Setzer himself, a guitarist oblivious to all the clichés and criticisms that one often hears about serious guitarists and lesser so, lovers of technique above all or the most rabid viscerality, inveterate 'shredders' or 'slowhands', lovers of vintage or modern... Brian Setzer has managed to rise above all that hodgepodge of accusations and from that high throne continues to delight us and enjoy all equally, because what he does is simply unique, unrepeatable and, above all, of a quality that overwhelms.