Recently, Guitar World did an interview with old-school rock ‘n’ roll legend, guitarist Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Among various topics that they discussed, there was the obvious question for someone like Hank — What can an instrumental provide the listener that a vocal song can’t? He replied:
“The human voice is probably the greatest instrument – easy to carry and doesn’t need a flight case! But the communicative element of a human voice which of course can vocalise the lyric, is enormous.“
“I’m not sure what an instrumental provides the listener that a vocal can’t; perhaps it’s the combination of an appealing tune and the overall sound of the recording. I wish I knew.”
One of the things that he was also asked about was the issue of guitar amp settings. When asked about particular settings that he preferred, and still prefers, Marvin replied:
“The early Vox AC30 amplifiers did not have a Top Boost but still plenty of treble. But when Top Boost models were revealed to us I found that there was so much top available it cut like a sonic knife so I would be very cautious with it.
“With the Strat, which is a bright sound anyway, I try to set up the amp to temper the brightness with more body from the mid and bass controls.”
“The volume depends on other factors; do I require a little overdrive to give me more sustain – the original recordings of ‘Man of Mystery’ and ‘Shotgun’ were a little overdriven – or even more overdrive for a solo so the guitar sustains and sings more?
“For example, the solo in my version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ the amp was well cranked but still a sweet distortion. Usually though I try to get a clean sound.”
Of course, Hank Marvin is one of the most famous Fender Stratocaster players and probably one of the few musicians who popularized the model. When he was asked about tremolo use — and bear in mind that a today’s conventional whammy bar was only present on Strats back in the day — Hank said:
“When I got the first Strat which we’d ordered with a ‘tremolo arm’, actually a vibrato bar, I was intrigued. None of us had seen one before or really knew what it did, although I soon found out.“
“I started experimenting with it pretty much straight away and found by wobbling the bar I could produce a vibrato, which I’d never heard on an electric guitar before (I’d never heard B.B. King back then).
“The vibrato made the guitar ‘sing’ which I really liked. Also with the very heavy strings we used back then the only string I could bend was the second (B) string and then only a half-step.”
“But I discovered that I could pull the bar up and the combination of bend and bar could give me a whole step. Whoopy! I learned to pull other strings up a little or dip them and also create an alarming, vicious wobble as on the intro of ‘Man of Mystery.’ The vibrato bar became part of my style during the latter part of 1959.”
When asked which pieces were the most challenging ones in terms of all the techniques, he answered:
“We recorded an interpretation of Not Fade Away on the Hank Plays Holly CD, and particularly on the two solos I tried to emulate a slide guitar. I cranked the amp a little for sustain and used a combination of the vibrato bar and just sliding with my fingers, no slide, and it was pretty raucous. Fooled me!
But as Hank further explained, he’s not super happy about his picking techniques. He continued:
“My picking isn’t that great and so fast passages with the bar in hand can be a challenge. I also have small hands and therefore don’t have the stretch that some genetically blessed players have. But we all work with what we’ve got!”
Since Hank Marvin is so well-known for his game-changing instrumental guitar pieces, he was asked about his favorites from other musicians. As he explains:
“Sleepwalk by Santo and Johnny, although originally played on a steel guitar, has become an iconic piece with a number of guitar covers. It helped me realize that a melodic ballad, played with feeling could reach people and be a success.”
“Rebel Rouser by Duane Eddy, again a simple melody but what a great sound on his guitar. The reverb and the tremolo, brilliant! The whole record sounded so big, a good production, it had real attitude.”
“More confirmation to me that a melody doesn’t have to be complicated and that the guitar sound had to have something special, a wow factor – I’m still trying to find it.”
“’Where Were You’ by Jeff Beck, a haunting composition beautifully played. Go the whammy bar! I’ve never tried to play it – I know my limitations. It was really inspirational, reaffirming how expressive a Strat can be in the right hands. Thank you, Jeff.”
As far as his personal top five pieces by The Shadows, he said:
“In no particular order: ‘Apache,’ a special place in my heart, our first hit, a wonderful tune, so different in 1960 and still a joy to play. ‘Wonderful Land’ was another Jerry Lordan composition, but very different in its melodic construction from pretty much everything else happening back then in the world of pop music. It’s a majestic composition. Brilliant!”
“’FBI’ was our composition although it had Peter Gormley on the label as the writer, but that’s another story. It was a return to our rock roots and had a simple Pentatonic based bluesy melody with an unusual sequence for the middle eight.”