Watch the Sounds and Gear online guitar lesson by Jason Loughlin from Rockabilly Survival Guide: Lead
It's not very tough or expensive to get a good rockabilly guitar tone. Good clean guitar tone and slapback. Done! Ok, now for you guitar nerds like myself. I pick my amp for the room I'm playing. I want a good tube amp that will cut through the band with a clean tone but break up if I dig in or turn my guitar volume up. Sometimes there is no way around having to use an overdrive pedal. Think of it as an amp. Set it to that same sweet spot where your attacks and guitar volume are really changing that characteristics of the pedal. There are so many good affordable pedals these days it won't be hard to find one that does this well. You probably already own it. If you like more modern rockabilly and psychobilly you'll want to start with a driven sound and go from there. Every delay pedal can do slapback. Set it to one quick repeat. I like having the option to use reverb and tremolo depending on the tune. I don't always use reverb and slap together. Sometimes you can wash out the guitar sound in effects. Not good. Once it starts sounding like surf music to me I pull back the reverb on the amp. Ok, compression, I use it when I play a gretsch but otherwise not much. Gretsch's pickups sound great but they do get spikey. Light compression even outs the attacks. For the purist, use tweed amps, standels...and real tape echo. Nothing beats it. Tweed amps have natural sag or compression. Play one...a real one. Listen and remember that sound when you set your compressor pedal. Try to imitate it. It's subtle but effective. Any good guitar will do. Guitars with high output pickup sound funny for any roots music to me but if that's what you have just roll down the guitar volume and turn up the amp. A bigsby is a plus. It's just another way to add expression to your playing. It's also a sound largely associated with rockabilly. Not necessary though. Everyone thinks Gretsch when they think of "rockabilly guitars". Primarily because of Brian Setzer's influence. Though the first wave of rockabilly guitarist were using Gibson arch tops, les Paul's, esquires, duo jets...Like I said any good guitar will do the trick. If you haven't tried flat wound string you should. You may hate them but remember that's all that was available in the 50s. If you want to sound like Luther Perkins you can't do it without flatwounds. I do want to end by saying don't stress too much over the sound and gear. It's more important that you can actually play the music a nail all the little style differences. No one is noticing your pedal when you're playing great.