These are the 10 greatest guitarists who have very clear roots in country selected by the WristRock staff for their
overall guitar skill level, influence, speed, solo capabilities and importance to country music. Many publications do not
make a distinction between country, bluegrass and roots players.
Chester Burton Atkins, born in Luttrell, Tennessee, defined the "Nashville
Sound" which shaped today's country music. Along with
Owen Bradley, he
took Country & Western from a sequined-jacket niche to mainstream
America. Influenced by
Merle Travis, George Barnes, Django Reinhardt
and Les Paul, Chet not only picked his Gretsch Country Gentleman,
produced for
Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings  Jerry Reed,
Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves and many more. With four Grammy Awards, nine
Instrumentalist of the Year Awards and a Lifetime Achievement
Award from the Grammy Foundation, Chet made his first appearance at
Grand Ol' Opry in 1946. Mr. Guitar was inducted into the Country
Music HOF in 1973 and the Rock HOF, posthumously, in 2002.
While working in Denver with Shorty Thompson & His Rangers, in 1949, he
received a call from RCA asking him if he was interested in becoming a
session player for RCA. He moved to Nashville and within was asked by
Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters to back them as a regular at the
Grand Ole Opry. He recorded his first album was
Gallopin' Guitar (1952) but
got his breakthrough hit in 1955 with a version of "
Mr. Sandman". It was
followed by "
Silver Bell," a duet with Hank Snow and "Say Si Si" (1956). By the
late '50s, Chet was known throughout the music industry as a first-rate player.
June 20, 1924 - June 30, 2001
does not. Each sub-genre of country music has its own Top 10 guitarists that reflect the unique player skills unique
and diverse flavors and talents it takes to play country guitar. Our Top 10 Greatest Country list includes both the
traditional Country & Western pickers as well as "
New Country" artists. Slide, Bluegrass, Southern Rock and Pedal
Steel have their own respective Top 10 Greatest Lists.
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Among the Guitar Maniacs' favorites are this take on "Orange Blossom Special"
and his version of Roger Miller's "
Engine No. 9". His infamous jams with
Nashville's best musicians,"
Lonesome Reuben" with Duane Eddy, Vince Gill, and
Earl & Randy Scruggs, this jam with Jethro Burns (of
Homer & Jethro fame)
doing "
Gallopin' Guitar"/ "Blackbird", this TV performance of "I Got A Woman"
with Albert Lee and Elvis' ex- guitar player, James Burton, and the entertaining
duet of "
Mule Skinner Blues" with Jerry Reed. Many believe that Chet only did
instrumentals. Not true. Check out this version of "
I Still Can't Say Goodbye".  
Yes, They SaiD It...
  • "Years from now, after I'm gone, someone will listen to what I've done and know I was here. They
    may not know or care who I was, but they'll hear my guitars speaking for me." --- Chet Atkins
  • "You know, in the days when I started, if you had Chet Atkins' name on your record as a producer and it
    was on RCA, you could work the road. It didn't have to be a big hit record, it just had to have that on it."
    ---  Waylon Jennings
  • "Chet Atkins... is probably the best guitar player who ever lived." --- Charley Pride
Stringin Along [10"] (1953)
String Dustin' (1953)
A Session with Chet Atkins (1954)
Stringin' Along with Chet Atkins (1955)
Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions (1955)
Amazing Chet Atkins (w/ Anita Kerr Singers) (1955)
Finger Style Guitar (1956)
Hi Fi in Focus (1957)
Chet Atkins at Home (1958)
Mister Guitar (1959)
Hum & Strum Along with Chet Atkins (1959)
Chet Atkins in Hollywood (1959)
The Other Chet Atkins (1960)
Teensville (1961)
After the Riot at Newport (1960)
Chet Atkins' Workshop (1961)
The Most Popular Guitar (1961)
Chet Atkins Plays Great Movie Themes (1961)
Christmas with Chet Atkins (1961)
Down Home (1962)
Plays Back Home Hymns (1962)
Caribbean Guitar (1962)
Our Man in Nashville (1963)
Teen Scene (1963)
Travelin' (1963)
The Guitar Genius (1963)
Guitar Country (1964)
Progressive Pickin' (1964)
Reminiscing (1964)
My Favorite Guitars (1965)
More of That Guitar Country (1965)
Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles (1966)
From Nashville with Love (1966)
The Pops Goes Country (1966)
Music from Nashville, My Hometown ( 1966)
It's A Guitar World (1967)
Chet Atkins Picks the Best (1967)
Class Guitar (1967)
Chet  (1967)
Solo Flights (1968)
Solid Gold 68 (1968)
Chet All The Way (1968)
Hometown Guitar (1968)
Relaxin' with Chet (1969)
Lovers Guitar (1969)
Chet Atkins Picks on the Pops (1969)
Yestergroovin' (1970)
Pickin' My Way (1970)
This Is Chet Atkins (1970)
Mr. Atkins, Guitar Picker (1971)
Chet Atkins Guitar Method Volume 1 & 2 (1971)
For the Good Times (1971)
Country Pickin' (1971)
Now & Then (1972)
The Bandit (1972)
Picks on the Hits (1972)
Finger Pickin' Good (1972)
Discover Japan [import] (1973)
Alone (1973)
Chet Atkins Picks on Jerry Reed (1974)
The Night Atlanta Burned (1975)
In Concert (1975)
The Golden Guitar of Chet Atkins (1975)
Chet Atkins Goes to the Movies (1975)
Teen Scene [reissue] (1975)
Love Letters (1977)
Me and My Guitar (1977)
And Then Came Chet [France] (1979)
Reflections (1980)
Country After All These Years (1981)
Standard Brands (1981)
Guitar Pickin' Man (1983)
Work It out with Chet Atkins C.G.P. (1983)
East Tennessee Christmas (1983)
Tennessee Guitar Man (1984)
A Man & His Guitar (1984)
STUDIO ALBUMS: 1950-1985
The Best of Chet Atkins (1964)
Early Years of Chet Atkins & His Guitar (1964)
The Best of Chet Atkins Vol. 2 (1966)
Play Guitar with Chet Atkins (1968)
Solid Gold 69 (1969)
The Nashville String Band (1969)
C.B. Atkins & C.E. Snow: Special Request (1979)
Solid Gold 70 (1970)
Me & Jerry [w/ Jerry Reed] (1970)
Down Home [w/ Nashville String Band] (1970)
Strung Up [w/  Nashville String Band] (1971)
Identified! (Nashville String Band) (1971)
Chet ,Floyd & Boots (1971)
Me & Chet (w/ Jerry Reed) (1972)
World's Greatest Melodies [Nashville String Band] (1972)
American Salute [Boston Pops w/ Chet Atkins] (1972)
Nashville Gold (1972)
Greatest Hits of the 50's [w/Arthur Fiedler] (1973)
Superpickers (1973)
The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show (w/ Merle Travis) (1974)
Famous Country Music Makers (1975)
Chester & Lester [w/ Les Paul] (1976)
The Best of Chet Atkins and Friends (1976)
Chet ,Floyd and Danny (1977)
A Legendary Performer (1977)
Guitar Monsters [w/ Les Pau]) (1978)
First Nashville Guitar Quartet (1979)
The Best of Chet on the Road: Live (1980)
First Nashville Guitar Quartet (1979)
The Best of Chet on the Road: Live (1980)
Country Music  [Time-Life] (1981)
Solid Gold Guitar (1982)
Great Hits of the Past (1983)
Collector's Series (1985)
Guitar for all Seasons (1985)
20 of the Best (1986)
Chet Atkins, C.G.P. (1988)
Masters of the Guitar: Together (1989)
Pickin' the Hits (1989)
The Magic of Chet Atkins (1990)
Country Gems (1990)
The Romantic Guitar (1991))
The RCA Years (1992)
Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat [w/ Amy Grant] (1993)
Simpatico [w/ Suzy Bogguss] (1994)  
The Essential Chet Atkins (1996)
The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World (1997)
Super Hits (1998)
Masters [import] (1998)
Guitar Legend: The RCA Years (2000)
RCA Country Legends (2001)
The Master and His Music (2001)
Chet Atkins Picks on the Grammys (2002)
Tribute to Bluegrass (2002)
The Best of Chet Atkins (2003)
Solo Sessions [2-CD] (2003)
Street Dreams (1986)
Sails (1987)
Pickin' on Country (1988)
Neck & Neck (1990)
Sneakin' Around (1992)
Gallopin' Guitar  (1993)
Jazz From The Hills (1993)
Read My Licks (1994)
Almost Alone (1996)
Guitar Man (2000)
2001 - RCA Country Legends (BMG/Buddha)
2001 - The Master and His Music (BMG/Buddha)
2002 - Chet Atkins Picks on the Grammys (Columbia)
2002 - Tribute to Bluegrass (BMG)
2003 - The Best of Chet Atkins (Belgium) (BMG)
2003 - Solo Sessions (2-CD) (CGP Records)
STUDIO ALBUMS (1986-2003)
On the recommendation of his older brother, Lowell, he played fiddle as a
child. However, Chet was still attracted to the guitar, Y the time he was 9, he
traded a pistol for a guitar. Chet  became an accomplished player by the
time he left high school in 1941. His first gig of substance was appearing on
the Bill Carlisle Show on WNOX in Knoxville. Shortly thereafter, he joined
the Dixie Swingers and soon began working with Homer & Jethro at the
radio station. He moved to a radio station in Cincinnati three years later
Red Foley, Atkins made his first appearance at the Grand Ole
Opry in 1946. That same year, he also made his first records.
Not only did his records sell well, he designed guitars for Gibson and
Gretsch. The popularity of these models continues even today. His star
continued to rise through the '60's. He did the
Porter Wagoner Show, the
1960, performed at the White House for JFK in 1961 and had his first Top
5  hit in 1965 with an instrumental cover of the Boots Randolph's big hit
(and Bennie Hill theme song) "
Yakety Sax". Chet re-badged the song and
called it "
Yakety Axe"; The song crossed over to the pop charts. One of his
more popular ballads was from the album,
Our Man in Nashville (1963)
and the cut "
Drown in My Own Tears".
Chet's role as an executive at RCA continued to thrive. He produced hits
for  Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold. He also discovered new
talent like
Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings, Floyd Cramer, Charley Pride
Bobby Bare. In 1968, he was promoted to VP of RCA's country
division. The next year, he had his last hit single, "
Country Gentleman."
He continued to have some minor hits In the l960's and 70s, but only
"Prissy" (1968), made the Top 40.
Collaborations were always a major part of Chet's music career. Some of his more
memorable include
Jerry Reed,  Steve  Stanley Jordan, George Benson, Les Paul,
Paul Yandell, Thom Bresh (the son of Chet's hero, Merle Travis), and this
Christmas Medley with
Tommy Emmanuel, Under the name the 'Nashville String
Band', along with Homer and Jethro, the trio released five albums between 1970
and 1972.He then shifted his focus to his dream of recording a jazz album in 1982.
He moved to Columbia and released
Work It Out With Chet Atkins (1983),
demonstrating that he was a bold and tasteful jazz guitarist as well. His versatility
was phenomenal. Check out this Classical guitar backdrop to this reading by
Johnny Cash in "
Recuerdo de la Alhambra."
In 1997, Chet was diagnosed with cancer. A tumor was removed from his brain and rendered Chet inactive. He passed
away at his home in Nashville on June 30, 2001 at the age of 77. "Mr. Guitar" as he became know, received numerous
awards, throughout his stellar career including 11 Grammy awards and nine CMA Instrumentalist of the Year honors, as
well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from NARAS. His Gretsch 'Country Gentleman' and 'Tennessean' remain
Gretsch's best selling models to this day. Take a look at
Chet's guitar collection on display at the Country Music Hall of
Fame and Museum in this slide presentation from Premier Guitar.
Since 1952, Chet has released at least one every year except for 1995 and
1999 ever since...for a total of
149 albums. The last was 2-CD Set, Solo
Sessions (2003). His best selling album,
Chet Atkins' Workshop (1960) was a
smooth mix of pop and jazz with no country tunes. A collaboration with Les Paul,
Chester & Lester, was a close second in total record sales.
Atkins thumb-and-fingerpicking style influenced George Harrison, Duane Eddy, the
Ventures, Eddie Cochran, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler, as well as innumerable
country pickers. Even the likes of Ted Nugent has credited Atkins with inspiring him to
take up the instrument .In 1973, Chet became the youngest person ever inducted to
Country Music Hall of Fame. Two decades later, in 2002, Atkins was one of the
oldest musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame. He was posthumously
inducted into the Rock HOF with his award presented by Marty Stuart and Brian Setzer
and accepted by his grandson, Jonathan Russell. For more information on
Mr. Guitar,
check out his
official website
Atkins did not have a style of his own until 1939 when, while living in Georgia, he heard Merle Travis picking over WLW
radio. This early influence dramatically shaped his unique playing style. Whereas Travis' right hand used his index
finger for the melody and thumb for bass notes, Atkins expanded his right hand style to include picking with his first
three fingers, with the thumb on bass. Chet's "
Dizzy Fingers" picking style has not been duplicated since.
  • ‘’I think he influenced everybody who picked up a guitar,’’  --- Duane Eddy
  • “When I was coming up, I made a religion of the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, and a lot of the
    sessions that Chet produced and played on. My whole sensitivity, my whole approach, my whole way of
    listening to music stems from all that.” --- Mark Knopfler
  • “I just try and play things that give me chills, to express myself from the heart through my music.”
    --- Chet Atkins  
One of his most revered efforts was the concert that became both an album and DVD called "Chet Atkins and Friends"
Wings to record a track with Chet and Floyd Cramer, "
Walking in the Park with Eloise" )Paul playd washboard!) In 1994,
One of his most revered efforts was the concert that became both an album and DVD called "
Southern Nights,” for the
Rhythm Ch" Country & BluesCountry & Blues. Atkins and Mark Knopfler released an LP of guitar duets, . Atkins
and Mark Knopfler released an LP of guitar duets,
Neck and NeckNeck and Neck, (1990)., (1990).
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