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Music

The trick to playing guitar and bass like the Ramones

@TylerGolsen

Few bands were more closely associated with their signature sound the way that the Ramones were. Having practically invented the blueprint for punk rock, the Ramones decided to fiercely devote themselves to their craft, rarely changing their sound in the 20 years of recorded material and live performances that they amassed during their career.

Even though the group flirted with bubblegum pop and heavy metal at different times, it always came back to pure, unadorned punk rock. That style was crafted largely thanks to Johnny Ramone and his limitations on the guitar: he could barely play, didn’t know a large variety of chords, and downright refused to play solos. He even had difficulty keeping time but found an easy solution: to completely eliminate upstrokes and focus exclusively on downpicking.

“I knew, of course, being a fan for years, that they only did downpicking,” recalled C.J. Ramone, who replaced Dee Dee Ramone during the band’s last seven years together. C.J. was brought in expecting to replicate Dee Dee’s style, which he had honed over the years along with Johnny, but the new bassist quickly found that he “did not have the stamina to do it.”

C.J. explains that, prior to his joining the Ramones, he was a traditional finger-style bass player. When he began the audition process for the Ramones, he found his “forearm was locking up, really seriously locking up, not to mention that I was tearing my cuticles and breaking off my fingernails”. It was dangerous work being the Ramones bass player, and it took some additional research on C.J.’s part in order to uncover an additional secret that would help him play the band’s music.

“I watched some video of the Ramones, and I noticed that Dee Dee’s bass was a little bit lower than I played mine,” C.J. explains. “I lowered my strap a little bit, and it got a little bit better, and that’s how I played for a little while. I still was grinding my fingers down to bloody stumps. Eventually I learned to wrap duct tape around my fingertips, around my thumb, and I wear a sweatband to protect my wrist.”

C.J. continued to experiment as he found that his forearm continued to lock up. Eventually, he took the lowered bass to the extreme: it was now down to his knee caps, with his forearm fully extended. It was now all in the wrist, which allowed C.J. to take the forearm out of the equation. That was the secret – C.J. found that he could play extremely fast songs for extended periods of time without the pain and discomfort that initially plagued him in the band.