When it comes to country music, one of the most recognizable and essential elements is the sound of the electric guitar. From twangy riffs to soulful solos, the guitar has played a major role in shaping the genre and attracting millions of fans around the world. However, behind every great country guitarist is a set of influences and techniques that have paved the way for their success. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the biggest electric guitar pioneers in country music history and explore their unique techniques and styles that have had a lasting impact on the genre. So grab your favorite six-string and get ready to dive into the world of country guitar!
Top Country Guitar Pioneers
The backbone of country music’s unmistakable sound is the guitar, where its strums and riffs often evoke the rural and southern landscapes that the genre represents. Throughout the years, a handful of talented musicians have stood out for their innovative and legendary contributions to country electric guitar. There are several guitar luminaries that have paved the way and made their mark on the genre, including Chet Atkins, James Burton, Don Rich, Albert Lee, and Brent Mason. These guitarists have influenced other artists of the time and aspiring country guitarists to come. Let’s take a closer look at what makes each of these pioneers significant to the country music scene. If you would like to learn more about other prominent electric guitarists who have shaped the country music genre, check out this article.
1. Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins is often referred to as the “Father of Country Music,” and his influence on the genre is undeniable. He was a master of the fingerstyle technique, which involves plucking the strings with the fingertips rather than a pick. Atkins used this technique to create a unique, intricate sound that helped define the Nashville sound.
Here are some key facts about Chet Atkins’ guitar style:
- He combined fingerstyle picking with the use of a thumbpick, which gave him both speed and accuracy.
- Atkins was known for his use of harmonics and other advanced techniques, which gave his playing a distinctive sound.
- He often used a Gretsch 6120 hollow-body electric guitar, which became known as the “Chet Atkins model.”
- Atkins was also a skilled producer, and he used his knowledge of music production to create the distinctive Nashville sound that dominated country music in the 1960s and 1970s.
Atkins’ legacy lives on today, with many modern country guitarists citing him as a major influence. His fingerstyle technique has become a staple of country guitar playing, and his use of harmonics and other advanced techniques has inspired countless guitarists to push the boundaries of what is possible on the instrument.
For more on the evolution of the electric guitar in country music, check out this article. And if you want to hear some of the greatest electric guitar solos in country music history, don’t miss this list of our top five favorites. Finally, don’t forget to pay homage to some of the genre’s greatest electric guitar heroes with our tribute to those who paved the way for modern country guitar playing.
2. James Burton
James Burton is widely considered one of the most influential guitarists in country music history. He has played with many legendary musicians, including Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard. Burton’s unique guitar technique and style revolutionized the genre and inspired many other country guitarists.
Background and Career
Born on August 21st, 1939, in Louisiana, James Burton was inspired to play the guitar by his father, who also played the instrument. At the age of thirteen, Burton made his professional debut with country singer Bob Luman, and by the late 1950s, he was a regular studio musician in Los Angeles. Burton’s playing caught the attention of rock ‘n’ roll star Ricky Nelson, and he became a member of Nelson’s backing band for many years.
Signature Guitar Techniques and Playing Style
Burton’s guitar style is characterized by his precise fingerpicking, fast and fluid runs, and staccato notes. He often used a Fender Telecaster, which became his signature guitar. He also used a unique technique called “hybrid picking,” which involves using a pick and fingers to pluck the strings simultaneously.
Here is an overview of some of the guitar techniques that Burton used:
|Fingerpicking||Burton used his fingers to pluck the strings, creating a smooth and precise sound|
|Bending||Burton used bending techniques to create a signature sound that was both precise and expressive|
|Hybrid picking||Burton used a combination of pick and fingers to pluck the strings simultaneously.|
|Staccato||Burton’s playing is characterized by staccato notes, which break up the melody into a short, sharp sound.|
Impact on Country Music
Burton’s impact on country music cannot be overstated. He brought a new level of technical proficiency to the genre and helped to create a new sound that was both precise and expressive. His work with Elvis Presley in the late 1960s helped to redefine the sound of rockabilly and opened up new opportunities for country and rock music to merge.
James Burton’s influence on country guitar cannot be overstated. He helped to create a new sound that was both precise and expressive, and inspired countless guitarists in the genre. His legacy lives on in his recordings and in the music of the many artists he influenced.
3. Don Rich
Don Rich was a renowned electric guitar player, fiddler, and vocalist, best known for his work with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. Rich’s guitar skills and unique playing style helped him become one of the most influential country guitarists of all time. Some of his signature guitar techniques include:
- Fingerstyle Picking: Don Rich was a master of fingerstyle picking. He used his thumb and fingers to pluck the strings simultaneously, producing a complex, clean tone that enhanced the melody of the song. His fingerstyle picking was heavily influenced by his love for bluegrass music.
- B-Bender: Don Rich was also one of the first guitarists to use the B-Bender guitar technique. The B-Bender involves bending the B string on the guitar by pulling down on the guitar strap, creating a unique sound that mimics the sound of a steel guitar. This technique added a new dimension to the Buckaroos’ music, and it has since become a staple in country music.
- Hybrid Picking: Rich was one of the early adopters of hybrid picking, a technique that involves using both the pick and the fingers to play the guitar. This allowed him to play intricate melodies while maintaining a strong rhythm, giving him a full, rich sound.
- Chicken Picking: Don Rich was also one of the pioneers of chicken picking, a technique that involves using the pick to pluck the strings in a staccato, almost percussive style. This gave his playing a distinct, biting tone that became a trademark of his sound.
Don Rich’s guitar techniques and playing style continue to influence country guitarists to this day. He was an innovator who helped to shape the sound of country music, and his contributions will always be remembered as a true testament to his skill and talent.
4. Albert Lee
Albert Lee is widely regarded as one of the most versatile guitarists in the country music industry. Born in England in 1943, Lee’s music career started in the late 1950s with British bands such as Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s when he started collaborating with American artists such as Emmylou Harris and Eric Clapton, that his fingerstyle guitar techniques and fluid playing style got the attention of the country music audience.
|Albert Lee’s Guitar Techniques||Description|
|Fingerstyle Picking||Similar to Chet Atkins, Lee’s fingerstyle technique involves using multiple fingers to pluck individual strings to create complex chord progressions and harmonies.|
|Hybrid Picking||Lee also incorporates hybrid picking, which uses a combination of a pick and fingers to produce more intricate and rapid-fire picking patterns.|
|B-Bender||Lee is known for using the B-Bender technique, which involves a mechanical device attached to the guitar that enables the player to bend the B string up a whole tone, mimicking the sound of a pedal steel guitar.|
Albert Lee’s guitar style is often described as lightning-fast, yet tasteful and melodic. His proficiency with the guitar has earned him a spot in the Guitar Player Magazine’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Lee’s unique approach to guitar playing has influenced many country guitarists, including Vince Gill and Brad Paisley. His signature guitar licks and playing style have also been heard on various studio recordings for artists such as The Everly Brothers, Jackson Browne, and Joe Cocker.
Albert Lee’s contribution to the country music scene has been immense, as he has pushed the limits of what could be done with a guitar, blurring the lines between country, rock, and jazz. His legacy continues to inspire many guitarists to this day, cementing his position as one of the most influential guitarists in country music history.
5. Brent Mason
Brent Mason is an American guitarist, born in 1963, who has worked as a studio musician for many famous country artists, such as George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn. He is known for his versatile guitar style, which combines different techniques and genres, from rock and roll to jazz and blues.
Mason’s Guitar Technique
One of Mason’s signature techniques is his use of hybrid picking, which involves using a pick and fingers simultaneously to play complex patterns and melodies. He also uses a B-Bender, a type of guitar modification that allows the player to bend the B string up by a whole tone or more, creating a pedal-steel-like effect.
Mason’s playing style is characterized by fast runs, flashy licks, and intricate chord progressions, which showcase his technical proficiency and creativity. He often incorporates elements of jazz and blues into his solos, using chromaticism, phrasing, and distinctive tone to create a unique sound.
Mason’s Impact on Country Music
Mason’s contributions to country music have been significant, both as a solo artist and a session player. His guitar work has appeared on numerous hits and classic albums, earning him multiple awards, including a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 1998.
Mason’s influence can be heard in the playing of many younger guitarists, who have adopted his style and techniques to create their own sound. He has also inspired a new generation of musicians to explore different genres and push the boundaries of country music.
Brent Mason’s legacy as one of the greatest electric guitarists in country music history is secure, and his contributions to the genre will continue to inspire and influence future generations of musicians.
|Birth year||Playing style||Signature techniques||Awards|
|1963||Versatile, combining rock, jazz, and blues||Hybrid picking, B-Bender||Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance (1998)|
Signature Guitar Techniques and Playing Styles
As much as the guitarists’ own personal style is crucial to country music, many of the genre’s best players have developed unique chord progressions, riffs, and techniques that make their sound truly unforgettable. From intricate fingerpicking that mimics the subtleties of a banjo to the use of the B-bender to bend the pitch of strings quickly, each of these pioneering guitarists has made an incredible contribution to the world of music. In this part of the article, we’ll explore some of the signature guitar techniques and playing styles that have helped to define the distinctive sound of country music. So, let’s buckle up and take a closer look at what these legendary guitarists have achieved!
Fingerstyle picking is a technique that involves plucking the strings of the guitar using the fingertips, rather than with a guitar pick. This technique is widely used in country music and has been popularized by some of the biggest names in the genre.
One of the pioneers of fingerstyle picking is Chet Atkins. Atkins was known for his “thumb style” of playing, where he used his thumb to play the bass notes while the rest of his fingers plucked the melody. His use of this technique can be heard in many of his songs, including “Mr. Sandman” and “Yakety Axe.”
Another influential figure in the fingerstyle picking world is James Burton. Burton’s style incorporated a unique use of hybrid picking, wherein he used a combination of fingerpicking and guitar pick playing. Burton’s solos in “Susie Q” and “Hello Mary Lou” showcase his impressive fingerstyle agility as well as his creative use of hybrid picking.
Don Rich, the lead guitarist for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, also utilized the fingerstyle technique in his playing. Rich’s use of the technique can be heard in many of the group’s hit songs, including “Act Naturally” and “Together Again.” His style emphasized the use of fast runs and sweeping arpeggios to accentuate the melody.
Albert Lee, a British guitarist who found success in the Nashville country scene, is also known for his fingerstyle prowess. Lee’s use of fast, intricate fingerpicking can be heard in his solo work, as well as his collaborations with artists like Emmylou Harris and Eric Clapton. His style is typified by its clarity and accuracy, as well as his use of harmonics and string bending.
Finally, Brent Mason, a sought-after session musician and guitarist, also incorporates fingerstyle picking in his playing. Mason’s use of the technique is evident in his solos on hits like Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” and Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” He employs a unique use of fingerstyle known as “needle picking,” which involves using the index finger to pluck the strings in a fast, rapid motion.
As you can see, fingerstyle picking is a versatile technique that has been utilized in many different ways in country music. Whether it’s the thumb-picking style of Chet Atkins, the hybrid picking of James Burton, or the fast runs of Don Rich, each guitarist adds their own unique spin to the technique. By using strong finger muscles and precise hand movements, these guitarists have been able to create some of the most iconic melodies in country music history.
The B-Bender is a unique guitar technique that has become a hallmark of country music. It refers to a mechanism installed in a guitar that allows the player to bend the B-string using a lever. This creates a distinctive sound that mimics a pedal steel guitar. These days, the B-Bender has become an essential part of country guitar playing, but it was not always that popular.
The history of B-Bender in country music
The B-Bender was first invented by Gene Parsons, who was a member of the rock band, The Byrds. Parsons created the mechanism in the late 1960s, and it gained popularity among progressive rock guitarists. However, it was not until the late 1970s that the B-Bender started making appearances in country music.
Country guitar pioneers who used the B-Bender
One of the earliest pioneers of the B-Bender in country music was Jeff Newman. Newman was a session guitarist in Nashville who played on numerous hits between the late 1970s and early 1990s. Another notable B-Bender pioneer was Clarence White of The Byrds, who used the technique to great effect in his country-influenced playing.
How the B-Bender works
The B-Bender mechanism is installed on the guitar and is operated through a lever on the guitar’s strap. When the lever is pulled, the mechanism raises the pitch of the B string by a whole tone, mimicking the sound of a pedal steel guitar. The B-Bender can be used to create a wide range of effects, such as vibrato, glissando, and pedal steel-style bends.
B-Bender guitar players
Today, many country guitar players use the B-Bender technique in their playing. Some of the top B-Bender players include Brad Paisley, Brent Mason, and Vince Gill. Each of these players has incorporated the B-Bender into their playing in different ways, creating unique and recognizable sounds.
The B-Bender is a guitar technique that has become synonymous with country music. It allows guitar players to mimic the sound of a pedal steel guitar, adding a unique texture and depth to their playing. The B-Bender has been used by some of the most influential country guitar players of all time and continues to inspire new generations of guitarists to this day.
One of the most versatile and complex techniques used in Country guitar playing is Hybrid Picking. This innovative technique was made famous by a variety of legendary guitarists, including Chet Atkins and Brent Mason.
Hybrid picking is a combination of both fingerpicking and standard flatpicking techniques. What this means is that, while the player is holding a flat pick in one hand, they use their other fingers to pluck the strings for added complexity and intricacy.
The beauty of hybrid picking lies in its ability to seamlessly switch between playing rhythm and lead parts with ease. Traditionally, guitarists would have to switch between playing with their fingers and with a pick to pull off this kind of versatility. However, hybrid picking allows musicians to achieve a more seamless transition between the two.
To achieve this technique, guitar players must first learn how to hold a guitar pick in the proper grip. This involves gripping the pick firmly between the thumb and pointer finger while allowing the other fingers to move freely. From there, the player will use their other fingers to fingerpick the strings while holding the pick between their thumb and pointer finger.
Hybrid picking is a complex technique that requires years of practice to master. However, the rewards are plentiful. By incorporating hybrid picking into their playing style, guitarists can create a unique sound and achieve a level of versatility that would be otherwise inaccessible.
Here are some of the key features of hybrid picking:
|Features of Hybrid Picking|
|Combination of fingerpicking and flatpicking techniques|
|Rhythm and lead parts can be played seamlessly|
|Requires guitar players to learn how to hold a pick properly|
|Other fingers used to fingerpick the strings while holding the pick between thumb and pointer finger|
|Creates a unique sound and allows guitarists to achieve a level of versatility|
Hybrid picking is an incredibly versatile and complex technique that has made a profound impact on Country music. Its ability to switch between playing rhythm and lead parts seamlessly has allowed guitarists to achieve a unique sound and level of versatility. Though it requires years of practice to master, the rewards of incorporating hybrid picking into your playing style are plentiful.
One of the most distinctive and recognizable playing styles in country music is chicken picking. This technique is characterized by rapid, staccato notes played with a combination of pick and fingers, creating a percussive, “clucking” sound reminiscent of a chicken. It is often used in conjunction with other signature techniques, such as bending and sliding.
The origins of chicken picking can be traced back to the 1950s and ’60s, with guitarists like James Burton and Don Rich incorporating it into their solos and rhythm playing. It gained widespread popularity in the 1970s with the rise of the Bakersfield sound, a sub-genre of country music that emphasized twangy electric guitars and a more driving rhythm.
To play chicken picking, a guitarist must have excellent control over their picking hand. The pick is used for the downstroke, while the middle and ring fingers strike the strings on the upstroke. The key to producing the signature “clucking” sound is to strike the strings with the fingertips at the same time as the pick. This creates a percussive attack that is essential to the style.
Chicken picking is often utilized in country music to add excitement to solos and to create a sense of forward momentum in rhythm playing. It is particularly well-suited to fast tempos and can add a sense of urgency and propulsion to a song.
|Characterized by rapid, staccato notes||Requires excellent control over picking hand|
|Percussive sound adds excitement to solos and rhythm playing||May be difficult for beginners to master|
|Creates a sense of forward momentum in rhythm playing||More challenging to execute at slower tempos|
|Well-suited to fast tempos||May be stylistically inappropriate for certain songs or genres|
Chicken picking is a highly distinctive and exciting playing style that has had an enormous impact on country music. While it may require some effort and practice to master, the rewards are well worth the effort – the ability to add a percussive, dynamic element to one’s playing that is sure to impress and delight audiences.
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Impact on Country Music
The impact of these country guitar pioneers on the genre of country music cannot be overstated. Chet Atkins, the “Country Gentleman,” popularized the use of fingerstyle picking, incorporating it into many of his songs and influencing countless other guitarists in the genre. His innovation with electric guitars, producing warm sounds and reverb, was also a major influence on fellow guitarists.
James Burton’s contributions, including his unique use of the B-Bender, had a huge impact on the sound of country music in the 1950s-70s. Burton’s distinctive picking style, characterized by fast picking and intricate runs, influenced guitarists across genres, and his work with Elvis Presley cemented his status as a guitar legend.
Don Rich was perhaps best known for his collaborations with Buck Owens, pioneering the Bakersfield sound of honky-tonk country music in the 1960s. Rich’s playing style drew heavily from rock and roll, with fast arpeggios and a unique use of pedal steel guitar.
Albert Lee and Brent Mason both exemplify the evolution of country guitar playing, incorporating elements of rock, blues, and jazz into their playing. Albert Lee’s unique blend of rockabilly and country has earned him high praise in both genres, while Brent Mason’s work as a session musician has seen him contribute to numerous hit country songs and earned him multiple CMA awards.
Collectively, the contributions of these guitar pioneers have shaped the sound of country music, inspiring new generations of guitarists to push boundaries and incorporate new techniques into their playing. Their impact in the genre cannot be overstated, and their legacies continue to influence country guitar playing today.
After exploring the electric guitar influences on country music and the signature techniques and styles of each pioneer, it’s clear that the guitar has played a critical role in shaping the genre. From Chet Atkins’ fingerstyle picking to Brent Mason’s lightning-fast chicken picking, there’s a wide range of techniques that have influenced generations of guitarists.
It’s fascinating to see how the guitar has evolved over time, and how each pioneer added their unique flavor to the mix. James Burton’s use of the B-Bender has become a staple of country guitar playing, while Don Rich’s hybrid picking proved that the guitar could be both melodic and percussive.
Albert Lee’s use of double-stops and pedal steel-inspired bends brought a new level of virtuosity to the genre, while Brent Mason’s use of complex chord voicings and jazz-inspired harmonies pushed the boundaries of what was possible on the guitar.
All of these techniques and styles have had a significant impact on country music, influencing countless guitarists and shaping the sound of the genre. The electric guitar has become an integral part of country music, and we have these pioneers to thank for the incredible music that has been created.
In conclusion, the contributions of these country guitar pioneers cannot be overstated. Their impact on the genre is undeniable, and their innovative techniques and styles continue to be studied and celebrated by guitarists around the world. As we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the guitar, we’ll undoubtedly draw on the legacy of these pioneers for inspiration and guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is fingerstyle picking?
Fingerstyle picking is a guitar playing technique that involves using your fingers to pluck the strings, instead of a pick. It’s commonly used in country music and allows for a greater range of dynamics and tonal variety.
2. What is a B-Bender?
A B-Bender is a device added to a guitar that allows the player to bend the pitch of the B-string up a whole step by pulling down on the guitar strap or pushing down on a lever.
3. What is hybrid picking?
Hybrid picking is a guitar playing technique that involves using both the pick and fingers to pluck the strings. It’s commonly used in country music and allows for greater speed and accuracy in playing intricate melodies.
4. What is chicken picking?
Chicken picking is a guitar playing technique that involves plucking the strings with a combination of the pick and fingers while muting the strings with the palm of the picking hand. It’s commonly used in country music and creates a distinctive staccato sound.
5. Who was Chet Atkins?
Chet Atkins was a legendary country musician and producer who is widely considered to be one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He was known for his unique fingerstyle picking technique and his signature Gretsch guitar sound.
6. Who was James Burton?
James Burton is a rock and roll and country guitar pioneer who has played with artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard. He is known for his innovative use of the B-Bender and his intricate, melodic playing style.
7. Who was Don Rich?
Don Rich was a musician and guitarist for the Buckaroos, the backing band for Buck Owens. He was known for his rhythm guitar playing and for developing the distinctive “Bakersfield Sound” of country music.
8. Who is Albert Lee?
Albert Lee is a British guitarist who has played with artists such as Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, and The Everly Brothers. He is known for his lightning-fast fingerstyle picking and his use of the B-Bender and chicken picking techniques.
9. Who is Brent Mason?
Brent Mason is a Nashville-based session guitarist who has played on countless country music hits. He is known for his intricate playing style and his use of hybrid picking and other advanced techniques.
10. How have these guitar pioneers influenced country music?
These guitar pioneers have had a tremendous impact on country music by introducing new playing techniques and sounds that have become synonymous with the genre. Their innovative approaches to the guitar have inspired countless musicians and helped to shape the direction of country music over the past several decades.