In The Style of Chet Atkins

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

It wasn’t too many weeks ago that we gave tribute in this section to Mr. Les Paul, and today it’s his contemporary’s turn who he has so many things in common with; the first being his mastery of the guitar that made him revered and copied by almost all guitarists of his time and in his style, all those who came after; the second is his signature is also stamped on many of the guitars that amaze us in their beauty and sound when we see them in a real or virtual shop, and the 3rd is his impact on music and the guitar was beyond his mere recordings because, on the one hand, he took his instrument to new levels of quality thanks to the design and improvement of the guitars and on the other, for the design and recording techniques used in studios in the 50s and 60s, more precisely in Studio 8 at RCA Victor where Elvis and company recorded...Les Paul  has all this in common with today’s protagonist: ‘Mr. Guitar’, better known as Chet Atkins    

Many of you will immediately connect his name with Gretsch guitars, which isn’t surprising seeing how his name is part of those most legendary models. Today we will focus on 4 of them: the hollow body Gretsch 6120 (1954), the Gretsch 6121 solid body, the ‘57 Country Gentleman, and the 6119 Tennessean from 1958. These 4 models, together with the White Falcon are probably the most representative in this American brand’s history, and with different variations over the years, but still being true to the original design although nowadays they keep shipping them out of factories (now Japanese since Gretsch was absorbed by Fender) we can currently find them under the Nashville name, Country Classic, and Tennessee Rose.

However, Gretsch hasn't been everything in Chet Atkins’ career and on his records; in fact, in some of them we are given the perfect clue as to his tastes, like for instance in the album he titled My Favourite Guitars, where we can see a Country Gentleman along with a Delvecchio Resonator, made in Brazil and a classical guitar made in Spain. But beyond these models we can’t forget that once his relationship with Gretsch dissolved, after it ceased being a family company, he put his wisdom and image behind another colossal American electric guitar company: Gibson. However, the first custom guitars made with them were classical ones with nylon strings. From these came the Chet Atkins CE models, although the Gibson Country Gentleman also arrived, a guitar he chose to pose with on the cover of his book Me and My Guitars.     

A whole life dedicated to creating a new style based on finger-picking and looking for those clean, brilliant and dynamic tones that highlight his refined technique based on picking the basslines with a pick and the harmonies with the fingertips, a nod to his beloved Merle Travis and raising that music and way of understanding the electric guitar to a new dimension. 
In the beginning there were many radio stations and clubs who fired good old Chet for ‘getting too far away from country music’, so these words on him serve as a tribute to this 6-string genius, like so many of the genius’, it cost him blood, sweat and tears to be understood by the public at large; a public who, by the way, owe a lot to him, given that he was one of the culprits who created that ‘Nashville sound’, or put differently, he took American country music out of the south and made it global. 

Find you own way to the tone of Chet Atkins