The Essential Rockabilly Guitar Gear Guide


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Rockabilly has never gone away. It's not always sitting at the top of the charts, but its influence can still be felt today, when you look at Arctic Monkey's Alex Turner new quiff and love for Gretsch guitars, or notice that 1950s fashion is a "cool" alternative style. And since Brian Setzer is back with a new album, we thought it was the appropriate time to finally do our Rockabilly Guitar Gear Guide... enjoy!

Rockabilly Guitar Gear Guide

Since his early 1980s success with The Stray Cats, Brian Setzer has been a leading force in keeping Rockabilly popular, and since he's just released a new album, 'Rockabilly Riot', here's an opportunity to highlight some of the gear he uses, and some of the best gear to play rockabilly, in general.


No guitar is better suited to play rockabilly than a good Gretsch semi-acoustic. One of the greatest names of the genre, Eddie Cochran, was the main responsible for popularising these instruments, and he later inspired Brian Setzer to play them, too. Since the start of his career, Setzer could seldom be seen without a Gretsch, so it's no wonder that he's got his own range of Gretsch Signature Guitars:


Brian Setzer Signature Gretsch Guitars - pure Rockabilly vibes!

Gretsch guitars are great because they provide the required twangy sound, but with the power of humbuckers. Though Gretsch is the definitive Rockabilly guitar, by no means it's the only instrument suitable to play the genre. After all, when you talk of "twangy" guitar sound, the first thing that comes to mind is Fender and, indeed, Telecaster guitars are also great for playing this musical style. As the photo below shows, the legendary rockabilly guitarist Cliff Gallup, from Gene Vincent's backup band, the Blue Caps, was an adept of the instrument:

Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps

In general, though, semi-acoustic guitars (especially equipped with P-90 pickups) are the best choice for rockabilly. Many Epiphone semi-acoustic models have P90s and would be great for playing rockabilly.

The Eastcoast A300 semi-acoustic models are more affordable and look great.


There's no way around it - for authentic rockabilly tone, only valve amps will do. And the most suitable guitar amps for rockabilly are the Fender amps, which have been used since the birth of rock'n'roll and were the main amp for many of the first rockabilly players, such as the aforementioned Cliff Gallup, as you can also notice in the previous photograph.

Brian Setzer himself swears by a Fender Bassman (two heads & two cabs) and indeed this is the favourite choice of many current rockabilly guitarists, thanks to Setzer, no doubt about it! Other great Fender amps would be the more affordable Fender Blues Deluxe and the Fender Ramparte Pawn Shop valve amp, pictured below:

The Fender Rampart is an affordable valve amp that sounds and looks the part, with its retro looks and vintage tube tones!

The amps from the new Vox TV Front range are also great for rockabilly, and, like the Ramparte, they rock that retro look with authentic vintage tones.

If you're on a budget and don't want to buy a new amp, maybe a Boss FBM-1 Fender Bassman pedal could be the solution, to get the famous Bassman tone in stomp box format!

One important thing to remember: rockabilly guitarists don't use reverb. If you get an amp with reverb, you should turn it all the way down...


Rockabilly was born in the early fifties, before there was such a thing as guitar FX pedals. The only effect used then, and the only one that should be used today for an authentic rockabilly sound, is tape echo. Brian Setzer, for instance, only uses a Roland Space Echo RE-301, as the pic below shows:

Brian Setzer guitar amp setup

Vintage tape echo units from the 1950s are rare and expensive, but there's no need to get all muso here. After all, even Setzer's echo units are from the seventies! The important thing is to get that short "slap back" delay, typical of rockabilly, so pretty much any delay pedal will do!

If you want to get closer to Setzer's tone, maybe you should go for a Boss Roland Space Echo RE-20 pedal, but by far the best choices are the TC Electronic delay pedals. The TC Electronic Flashback pedals are great, but the best bet for rockabilly are the two TC Electronic Alter Ego pedals, which can faithfully reproduce tape echo units from the fifties, such as the WEM Copycat, which was widely used by the original rockabilly players:

TC Electronic Alter Ego X4


This is not as crucial as the rest, because if you go with the gear mentioned above, you are on your way to get the classic rockabilly sound, anyway. However... if you must go all the way, it's always good to remember that two of the greatest rockabilly guitarists ever, Scotty Moore (from Elvis Presley's band) and Cliff Gallup (Gene Vincent's band) regularly used flat wound jazz guitar strings.


Having a quiff is an essential part of rockabilly. If you get all the right gear, but don't have a quiff, we're sorry to inform you that you will not be considered a bona fide rockabilly guitarist. Unfortunately, we can't help you out on that one...

Feeling inspired, yet?

If not, then let's finish this article with an Elvis Presley song, featuring Scotty Moore, 'Baby Let's Play House', which is considered by many one of the greatest rockabilly songs ever!


7 Comments on “The Essential Rockabilly Guitar Gear Guide”

  • David King
    5th August 2017

    I found this on a search but some things aren't quite correct : "No guitar is better suited to play rockabilly than a good Gretsch semi-acoustic. " ~ most of these Gretsch guitars (and the examples shown) are full hollow body guitars (not semi-hollow with a central block down the middle ... although there are semi-hollow and solid-body and chambered solid-body Gretsch guitars too).... also many Gretsch guitars have single coil pickups so saying they have humbuckers isn't always true.

    • Lee Glynn
      8th August 2017

      Hi David, thanks for the input there. It's very much appreciated and we'll look at editing that! It's an old blog we've migrated from our old site Dolphin Music. Thanks! -Lee

  • Andy
    26th October 2017

    just to let you know, the guitarist in the Blue Caps photo is not Cliff Gallup, but his short-term replacement for the film The Girl Can't Help It, Russell Wilaford. Cliff Gallup, played a '54 Gretsch Duo Jet o those early Gene recordings. All the best, Andy.

    • Lee Glynn
      1st November 2017

      Thanks for pointing that out Andy! -Lee

  • Ron
    5th March 2019

    Hi there. Gretsch Guittars are the iconic Rockabilly Guittars, no doubt. But the real Rock´n Roll guittars at that time were the most affordable ones that the performers could get. In the old originals films any guittar could be seen, so any guittar did the Job. Buddy Holly played a Fender Stratocaster, Duane Eddy played Guilds and Gretsches, Chuck Berry played Gibsons, The Shadows and the Spotnicks Had Rickenbackers and Strotcasters, Bill Haley was with Gibson and so on. Rockabilly depends on the way to play the guittar and not an the Brand. It´s the style and the rhythm that counts. Even transistor or hybrid amps can be used. The essential things are a good Echo, a good Reverb and an electric Tremolo as well as a guittar should absolutely be equipped with a vibrato (often - thanks to Leo Fender - also called tremolo).

    • Lee Glynn
      6th March 2019

      Thanks for the insight Ron! -Lee

  • dasGrob
    13th March 2019

    Love that rockabilly sound. And getting it is not as easy as one may think. I use a semi-hollow sparrow guitar (humbuckers) through an Aqua Puss Mk III into a Laney cub tube amp. Still, I'm tempted to replace the pickups with P90s and replace the stock Cub speaker with the Jensen MOD 10-70 . Oh and practice. Lots. Sadly, my quiff days are over, although that photo does look like a wig, so maybe there's hope yet.

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