When I was playing around with my Dad’s guitar when I was a kid, I discovered you could “snap” the strings by pulling up on them to get a sound like a chicken “talking.” You know, like “buck-buck-buckaw.” I could also do a cow, a cat, a seagull and a mosquito, but I digress. James Burton is the first guy I heard who used that kind of sound in the context of a song. He used to be the main reason I watched Ozzie & Harriet because he was Ricky Nelson’s guitar player. Listen to his guitar on “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Branded Man,” and “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard and you’ll hear that staccato “popping” sound from his Fender Telecaster that is the quintessential chicken picking sound. I don’t know who first used the term “chicken pickin'” but I heard it first in the ‘80’s. Although chicken pickin’ is a playing style usually associated with country music, it has been used in other genres. Players like Albert Lee, Ray Flacke, Brent Mason, Vince Gill, Johnny Hiland , Tommy Emmanuel and Brad Paisley are experts at this style of playing and most of them play Telecasters, the guitar usually associated with the style. The guitar sound is usually bright and percussive. Having low “action” and using relatively light gauge strings help to get the right sound, too.
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