That Tick Tack Sound, Ron Carpenter

Hello fans and fellow players,

Bob Hempker standing in for Bobbe Seymour again.

First let me answer a question from Paul Vendemmia. Paul wanted me to explain tick-tack. Harold Bradley was the man that played on thousands of recording sessions in Nashville for years and he was the go to guy for tick tack. Also Leon Rhodes played a lot of tick tack on recordings and played tick tack on the Opry for 30 plus years.

Jerry Byrd also played tick tack on many recordings. That’s how Jerry kept working when pedals came along. They quit using him in studios for steel guitar so he made his living playing acoustic rhythm or tick tack after the pedal sound become popular.

Tick tack is a term used for playing a Danelectro baritone guitar through usually a Fender Princeton amp with the treble turned up. It’s played with a straight pick with a popping sound to it and is played duplicating the line of the bass.

It is more effective with an acoustic upright bass than it is with an electric bass. This is somewhat the foundation of the old Nashville sound.

If you want to play tick tack onstage, use the lower strings on your C6 neck. They’re more in the same register as the baritone guitar. Play in unison with the bass player. It makes the bass sound punchier, especially an upright bass, because an upright has a softer tone and doesn’t sustain as long as an electric bass.

If I’m in a bigger band, I’ll play tick tack with the bass rather than just sit there and look around. You do have to use discretion because some songs sound better than other songs do with this.

If you want to play tick tack in the studio, hire someone to play tick tack or if you have a Danelectro baritone guitar or can borrow one, overdub it yourself. Better yet, play it on the basic track with the rhythm section and overdub your steel.

We got an interesting reply to the newsletter about C6th playing that we’d like to share with you. Here it is.

Bob and Bobbe,

As I watched the top tier players work their magic I noticed they play more on top of the guitar than with the pedals. Most of them started or studied deeply the C6 tuning.

To me, the biggest difference between C6 and E9 is bar movement. Many E9 players quickly discover you can play all of the scales at one fret by using pedals. On C6 to play “Do, Re, Mi” minor, pentatonic, blues, dim, or any scale…you pretty much have to move the bar.

In my own experience looking up all that stuff and jamming along with tracks and other players with interest in jazz or swing music only added to my E9 playing. That same bar movement that must be used on C6 adds wonderful, interesting, and mood grabbing tonal changes to E9. You can’t get much of that punching pedals.

Another point I notice in new players. Because the instrument is tuned in a chord (I guess) they often try to play chorded melodies, big triad slides, and other things that aren’t related to the melody, but seem to be natural or easy on steel guitar. Chet Atkins once said “If my mother walked in, in the middle of an instrumental, I’d like for her to know what song I was playing.” IMHO melody or the melodic echo of the vocal are the most essential thing any player can bring to the song. During a solo it reminds the audience of the song, during the vocal it drives in or hooks the lyric. Tom Brumley didn’t play a line from Roley Poley after Buck sang “Together Again…” If a player can play melody, he can work any market.

Another way to look at it is this: there are 88 keys on a piano, all the notes are there to play any chord or melody, old or new. If a pianist walks up to the piano and with two fists plays all the notes he can, most would agree thats not musical. Same for the steel. I try to find the notes I want to play and leave the rest out.

I hope Bobbe gets to feeling well again. I had my spine fused in late April and while the afflicted area is fixed nothing else seems to be as it once was. I guess getting old isn’t for sissies.

Ron Carpenter

I agree with everything that Ron has to say. We appreciate all the questions and feedback we get from everyone so keep them coming. It’s your questions that determine the subjects we cover in this newsletter.

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