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Listening

Dueling Instructions

I’m a sucker for dueling guitars—or any dueling instrument, for that matter. Whether it be Allman Brothers’ solos, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, or the soundtrack to an ‘80s videogame played by dueling electric violins, they all have that intertwining golden braid I can’t resist. One player goes high while the other goes low—very multi-dimensional—but without lyrical content to take it to the next level I might as well be listening to alternating car alarms, which though fascinating in their layered textures, really say nothing. That’s when you drop some word-smithing on top, and it’s like three dueling guitars. And like multi-necked guitars, why use two when you can have three?

» Listen to Royal Bangs’ new album, We Breed Champions


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Actually the Royal Bangs song I was thinking of, (New Scissors), wasn’t so much dueling guitars, but guitars in unison. It’s what happens after the guitars are finished dueling, and they’re now happy friends holding hands, sharing milkshakes from the same straw, and playing rambling, orchestrated Frank Zappa melodies.

» Listen to “G-Spot Tornado” by Frank Zappa


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If you’re short on members, there are a few effects pedals and playing styles that can emulate the sound of a noodling music battle. A little finger picking plus some delay or echo pedals will do the trick. Eliminate the distortion and keep it clean and you can conjure that weird brightness of a Red Krayola track.

» Listen to “Another Song, Another Satan” by Red Krayola


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Or, like the Owls, you can just cop the style of Red Krayola, and build off it. That’s not to say that the Owls are talentless rip-off artists. No, they adhere to the international rule of style imitation, cover songs, and live performance—and that the result must improve upon or be significantly different than the original. If it makes any difference, there’s another band called the Owls who sound nothing like the Red Krayola (or the Owls), but who sound like everything else at the same time.

» Listen to “Everyone Is My Friend” by the Owls at Captain’ Dead


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Rather than bright and confusing, you may want to build up the ego of the listener. If so, really reach for the mountaintops with some epic myths played out in melodic multi-guitar synchronicity.

» Listen to Popol Vuh at Krautrockteam


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On the other hand, you may not be looking toward thrift with your lineup. Maybe you have a garage large enough to hold a hundred dueling guitarists. Invite them all over, get a lot of amps, and rent a backup generator. It doesn’t matter if you play Nordic metal or “Froggy Went a Courtin,’” because it will sound amazing no matter what. After the first practice you’ll realize that while “Froggy” can be overwhelming with a hundred guitars, it’s no Glenn Branca.

» Listen to Glenn Branca at The Rich Girls Are Weeping


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Instead of repeating the steps of Glenn Branca, where everybody is mainly in unison, give them all triple-necked guitars, each with echo effects, then teach everybody to finger pick, and play a million dueling guitars simultaneously. If done right it should sound like an epic battle amongst Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Eddie Van Halen—or pink noise.

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