How to Play Choppy Postpunk Guitar


In response to this question on ilxor:

Choppy post punk guitar technique

That rhythmic thing used by Talking Heads, A Certain Ratio and all dem lot…

How do I achieve this? Is there a method? Is it just playing the chords with muted palm or is there more to it? And are there any particular chords or keys I should learn?

the next grozart, Tuesday, 25 November 2008 16:00 (3 weeks ago)

Here’s the exact answer:

The “chicken scratch” sound

[Jimmy] Nolen [James Brown’s main guitarist] developed a style of picking known as “chicken scratch,” in which the guitar strings are pressed lightly against the fingerboard and then quickly released just enough to get a muted “scratching” sound that is produced by rapid rhythmic strumming of the opposite hand near the bridge. This new guitar style was affected not only by Nolen’s choice of two and three note chord voicings of augmented 7th and 9th chords, but also by his strumming straight 16th note patterns, as in James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Nolen’s choices of guitars and amplifiers also affected the sound for which he would be nicknamed. In his first recordings with James Brown, Nolen used a Gibson ES-175 and an ES-5 switchmaster, both hollow body jazz guitars equipped with single coil P-90s. He also relied on a Gibson Les Paul Recording model with single coil pickups, an Acoustic Black Widow, and a Fresher Straighter, which were also single coil instruments. The single coil pickups on these guitars produced a thin “chanky” sound; Nolen ran these guitars through a Fender Twin Reverb with the treble set at 8 out of 10. The result of these factors was a rhythm guitar sound that seemed to float somewhere between the low-end thump of the electric bass and the cutting tone of the snare and hi-hats, with a rhythmically melodic feel that fell deep in the pocket. A good example of such tone would be in James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “I’ve Got The Feeling.” Nolen had been experimenting with the sound prior to his joining James Brown: it can be heard on an obscure 45 RPM single called “Swinging Peter Gunn Theme (Parts 1&2), released in 1960 on the Fidelity label, a subsidiary of Art Rupe‘s Specialty Records.

From Wikipedia

Yes, that’s right, Jimmy Nolen and James Brown invented the whole postpunk guitar sound, pretty much…basically take James Brown and dub reggae, throw the two together, throw in some open chords (just hit the strings with no notes fretted) and some harmonics, and BAM!, that’s postpunk for you…


3 Responses

  1. Hello fellow post-punk guitarists. Nice to see the funk roots of our playing style recognized. I might also add that you apply this technique to 9th and minor 7th chords for genuine post-punk angular goodness!

  2. hello, this sounds interesting, i’ll have to try this and if it works nicely i’ll teach my guitarist to do it aswell ;D

  3. um…damn, can’t figuer it out… x(

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