Posted 03/10/2016 by Damian Fanelli
I spent the good part of 10 years as the guitarist (and chief songwriter) in an instrumental surf-rock band.
We played for very little money … drove for hours looking for gig parking onManhattan’s Lower East Side … had people scream at us to turn down the freakin’ reverb …
As Slacktone’s Dave Wronski asked in a GuitarWorld.com column a few years ago, will surf guitar be the last electric-guitar genre to earn some long-overdue respect?
Sure, Pulp Fiction elevated surf guitar from under the seaweed to a spot on the party-song playlists of hipsters around the universe.
But what is surf guitar? How does it differ from other styles of guitar playing? What equipment is used to get the sound?
“Fender-style guitars with single-coil pickups have typically been the weapon of choice, while vibrato bars are used to help express the rolling of the surf,” Wronski wrote.
“Sometimes the vibrato bar is used very smoothly; sometimes it is shaken to the point of breaking off–enough to make Ike Turner proud! (Check out his instrumentals from the early 1950s). Big, gnarly guitar strings that, when played loud and proud through a huge Fender amp, could shake the building, even when drenched in reverb from a tube-driven Fender Reverb unit. Even with all that reverb, there’s still enough bigness to the sound to do some major crowd control.”
A lot of you—most of you, in fact—have heard the usual batch of surf-rock instrumental classics from the early Sixties. Things like “Pipeline,” “Out of Limits,” “Wipe Out” and my favorite, “Penetration.” However, it’s probably safe to surmise that millions of you might know almost nothing about the modern brand of instro-surf rock that you’re likely to witness in a club in 2016. Or about the bands that play it.
Below, check out a guide to 10 surf-rock tunes—played by nine different bands or artists—that should be on your reverb-drenched radar. The good news is, most of these bands still exist! In fact, my band even performed with a lot of these guys back in the day. Ah yes, Slacktone at Asbury Lanes in New Jersey in ’06 … Insect Surfers at the Purple Orchid in El Segundo, California, in ’07. Ah, the memories.
P.S.: Dave Wronski, who is mentioned above, is the guitarist in Southern California’s Slacktone. You can check out two of their songs below.
CALHOUN SURF | Los Straitjackets
COFFIN CLOSER | Slacktone
THE BELLS OF ST. KAHUNA | Slacktone
SURF! SURF! SURF! | The Aqualads
FLIGHT OF THE SURF GUITAR | The Atlantics
FATHOMIZED | The Fathoms
GREASE YOUR HAIR AND GET TATTOOED | The Razorblades
NITRO | Dick Dale
VARYKINO SNOW | The Mermen
MOJAVE | Insect Surfers
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His New York-based band, the Blue Meanies, has toured the world and elsewhere. Fanelli, a former member of Brooklyn jump-blues/swing/rockabilly band the Gas House Gorillas and New York City instrumental surf-rock band Mister Neutron, also composes and records film soundtracks. He writes GuitarWorld.com’s The Next Bend column, which is dedicated to B-bender guitars and guitarists. His latest liner notes can be found in Sony/Legacy’s Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Complete Epic Recordings Collection. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter and/or Instagram.