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Merle Travis: How did he do it?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by sausagefingers, Jan 4, 2008.

  1. sausagefingers

    sausagefingers Supporting Member

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    I got Merle Travis' 'Strictly Guitar' CD for Christmas...there is some stuff that I cannot comprehend....

    Did he overdub? (I noticed some Les Paul-type speeded-up sounds, so I know he wasn't against using some tricks)

    There are many tracks where I can hear the alternating bass (thumb), with muted double stop chords, but also clean melody on top....so if its not overdubbed, how did he palm mute some parts while the melody rang out? It must be multiple parts right?

    Peace
    J
     
  2. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

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    That's Travis picking. Listen to Chet Atkins too. Thumb does the bass while fingers arpeggiate the harmony with the melody on top.
     
  3. A-Bone

    A-Bone Montonero, MOY, Multitudes Gold Supporting Member

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    Chet also went so far as to design special stereo splitting on some of his guitars so the bass strings could be fed into one amp and the treble into another. He would even process the sound differently in one or the other, i.e., by putting a slapback echo on only the bass strings. Made a lot of people think that he was doing tight overdubbing when he wasn't (not that he never multi-tracked his guitars, because he did that, too). He was a clever, clever little devil.
     
  4. jackaroo

    jackaroo Member

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    How? Got me man- that is some serious independence. That's the one style that I really want to get a grip on before I go.

    Love it.
     
  5. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

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    A-Bone's post reminds me of a funny Chester Lester story. Les Paul had just invented the tape echo and recorded a song with it. Chet heard it a went to the woodshed to get the sound down not knowing it was an effect. When Chet told Lester that he had finally got it down, Lester laughed his a$$ off when he told Chet it was an effect.
     
  6. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Merle was a genius, but it's not hard to palm mute the bass strings and let the top strings ring.
    He's film of him definitely solo, making it look easy... (you can even see how he mutes the 2 or 3 bass strings.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go8x_1fD5vM

    There are other youtube videos, however, where you can tell there is a discreet backing, offscreen: double bass, maybe a rhythm guitar, maybe even drums.
    Check these:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSk4loi6zTc&feature=related
    He begins solo, but there's clear a backing track later on - eg around 1.15, you can hear stuff he definitely isn't playing!
    And this one -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwYSHuOEia8&feature=related
    - he starts on his own, then drums (at least) come in.

    Do you know Blind Blake? Merle Travis got a lot of his style from Blake, who also muted the bass strings and let top strings ring (and certainly didn't use backing tracks...)
    http://mp34u.muzic.com/posting/602
     
  7. gunther23

    gunther23 Member

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    Another amazing thing about Merle Travis is that he only used 2 fingers on his right hand... his thumb and index finger. His other three fingers were anchored on the guitar. Check out Cannonball Rag.

    Also... a great DVD on his style is by his son Thom Bresh called The Real Merle Travis Guitar - Like Father, Like Son.

    One of the points he emphasizes is that while Chet played a very precise boom-chuck-boom rhythm with his thumb, Merle wasn't that precise... he just wanted a nice thud to get some rhythm going.

    It's certainly the best DVD that I've seen that gives the most insight as to how Merle Travis played and fingered chords.

    For a great DVD on getting started with Travis picking, check out Paul Pigat's Hillbilly Fingerstyle Guitar.

    adios

    gunther
     
  8. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Yes, good shots there.
    But not everything is being played by him in that one. There's a definite bass accompaniment - check around 0.25 and after, his thumb is not on the bass strings, but there's a bass there (and drums too, actually).
    Not saying that's a "cheat" or anything, but just in case anyone's under any illusions... ;) (And it's a shame because it makes it harder to disentangle exactly what the guitar is doing.)
     
  9. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    what's a good travis picking instructional dvd?
     
  10. CrazyFingers

    CrazyFingers Member

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    Homespun tapes has a bunch of DVD lessons that teach the technique. They do a pretty good job of rating the level of difficulty.

    www.homespuntapes.com

    I spent years playing this type of music. What fun! "Travis picking" is one of those things that has many different meanings. This type of playing--essentially playing the guitar like it is a piano--began years ago with the "ragtime guitar" guys like Rev. Gary Davis. This style shows-up in so many players--any of number of lessons on this site will display the technique.

    If you want a great lesson--but the level of difficulty is pretty high--you can go for the Thom Bresh DVD:

    http://www.homespuntapes.com/prodpg/prodpg.asp?prodID=105&prodType=


    Thom is Merle's son and he does a great job explaing Merle's style as well as how/when his own style (still considered "Travis picking" in the expansive sense of the word) departs from it. FYI: There is some intense finger picking on this DVD!

    There are also some cool Doc Watson lessons at Homespun. Doc is an awesome finger-picker and flat-picker.

    If you're looking for something less difficult, I would call them. The people there are usually very knowledgeable.

    Good luck!
     
  11. Elektrik_SIxx

    Elektrik_SIxx Member

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    Besides Bresh on Homespuntapes.com you MUST check out Buster B Jones and Marcel Dadi's instructional DVD's on Stefan Grossman's guitarvideos.com

    These guys have the styles of Travis, Atkins and Reed DOWN COLD!!
    In fact, I never had as much fun with an instructional DVD than I had with Buster's ' Guitar Styles and Techniques of Jerry Reed'
     

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