The Legacy of Electric Guitar in Classic Country Hits

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Country music has always been a cornerstone of American culture, with its unique blend of storytelling, heartache, and hope. Since the early days of country music, guitar has played an essential role in creating the genre’s signature sound. However, as music evolved and tastes changed, the electric guitar emerged as a new voice in the classic country music scene. With its twangy sound and amplified power, the electric guitar added a new dimension to the storytelling and heartache that has always been at the core of country music. In this article, we will explore the history and impact of the electric guitar in classic country hits, as well as look at some of the masters of the genre and the role of electric guitar in modern classic country music.

The Emergence of Electric Guitar in Country Hits

The Emergence Of Electric Guitar In Country Hits
For many fans of classic country music hits, the sound of an electric guitar can transport them back to a simpler time when honky-tonks were a dime a dozen and life was all about love, heartbreak, and the open road. But how did the electric guitar come to be such an essential element in some of the genre’s best-known songs and who were the pioneers that brought this instrument to the forefront of country music? In this section, we’ll explore the history of the electric guitar in country music, from its beginnings to its role in modern classic country hits. Join us as we delve into the evolution of this iconic instrument and discover the famous guitarists and their techniques that made it a country music staple. To learn more about the techniques of country guitarists, follow this link, or for tips on how to write classic country tunes with an electric guitar, visit this guide.

The Early Days of Country Music

Country music has a long and storied history, with roots dating back to the 1920s. In the early days, country music was primarily played on acoustic instruments, with the guitar being the most popular. According to Country Music Hall of Fame, the guitar was perfect for country music because it was cheap, portable, and versatile. It could be played solo or as part of a small group, and it could be used to accompany singing or to play instrumental melodies.

Other popular acoustic instruments used in early country music included the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. These instruments were especially popular in the Appalachian region of the United States, where many early country musicians hailed from. They were often played in a style known as “old-time music,” which was characterized by fast tempos, lively rhythms, and intricate melodies.

Despite the popularity of acoustic instruments, however, there was a growing interest among country musicians in the electric guitar. This was largely due to the influence of other genres of music, particularly jazz and blues. As these genres became more popular in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s, many country musicians began to experiment with electrified sound.

Acoustic instruments Advantages
Guitar Cheap, portable, versatile
Banjo Bright sound, used for solos
Fiddle Expressive, used for melody
Mandolin High-pitched, used for rhythm

This move toward electrification was not without controversy, however. Many traditionalists in the country music community believed that electric instruments would dilute the purity of the genre. Nevertheless, by the 1950s, the electric guitar had become a staple of country music, and it would go on to play a pivotal role in the development of classic country hits.

The early days of country music were characterized by a focus on acoustic instruments, particularly the guitar. However, as the genre evolved and began to incorporate more electrified sound, the role of the guitar began to change. In the next section of this article, we’ll take a closer look at the birth of the electric guitar in country and its impact on classic country hits.

The Birth of Electric Guitar in Country

The emergence of the electric guitar in country music was a watershed moment in the genre’s history. Before this time, country music relied heavily on acoustic instruments, especially guitars. However, the advent of the electric guitar in the 1930s and 40s transformed the sound of country music forever.

The Birth of Electric Guitar in Country

Electric guitars were first invented in the 1930s. However, they were slow to catch on in country music. It wasn’t until the 1940s that electric guitars began to gain popularity among country musicians.

One of the early pioneers of incorporating the electric guitar into country music was Western swing bandleader Bob Wills. Wills and his band, the Texas Playboys, were among the first to use the electric guitar in their performances. With the electric guitar’s ability to produce a louder and more sustained sound than acoustic guitars, Wills and his band could play for bigger crowds and stand out in the competitive music industry.

Another key figure in the integration of the electric guitar into country was Leo Fender. In 1950, Fender released his first electric guitar, the Telecaster. The Telecaster was embraced by country musicians, including Eldon Shamblin of Wills’ band.

This new sound drew attention from musicians and audiences alike. Electric guitars gradually became a staple in the country genre, and the rest is history.

To summarize, the birth of electric guitar in country music was a pivotal moment that transformed the genre forever. It allowed for a louder and more distinctive sound, and opened up new opportunities for musicians to explore. From Bob Wills to Leo Fender, there were many important figures who paved the way for the electric guitar’s success in country music.

Impact on Classic Country Hits

It’s impossible to discuss classic country music without mentioning the impact of electric guitar. The electrification of the guitar gave country music a new dimension, and the songs that feature it have become timeless classics. Here are some examples of classic country hits that showcase the impact of electric guitar:

Song Artist Year Electric Guitarist
I Walk the Line Johnny Cash 1956 Luther Perkins
Ring of Fire Johnny Cash 1963 Luther Perkins
Stand by Your Man Tammy Wynette 1968 Billy Sanford
The Fightin’ Side of Me Merle Haggard 1970 Roy Nichols
The Devil Went Down to Georgia The Charlie Daniels Band 1979 Tom Crain

As shown in the table, Luther Perkins was one of the pioneers of electric guitar in classic country and his iconic guitar riff can be heard in Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire”. Billy Sanford’s guitar solo in “Stand by Your Man” created a new standard for country guitarists, while Roy Nichols added electric guitar to Merle Haggard’s classic sound in “The Fightin’ Side of Me”. Finally, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” features Tom Crain’s lightning-fast fingerpicking that has become a staple in country music.

The impact of electric guitar on classic country hits cannot be overstated. It brought a new energy to the music that resonated with fans and opened new doors for musicians to create unforgettable melodies and solos. These classic songs are still relevant today, and their legacy lives on through the many country artists who still use electric guitar in their music.

The Masters of Classic Country Hits

The Masters Of Classic Country Hits
When it comes to classic country hits, there are certain artists who stand out as the masters of the genre. With their soulful lyrics, heart-wrenching melodies, and distinctive twang, these country legends have left an indelible mark on the world of music. They have not only defined the genre but have also helped shape the role of the electric guitar in classic country music. In this section, we pay tribute to some of these legendary artists who continue to inspire and influence musicians even today. So, sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and prepare to be serenaded by the masters of classic country with their electrifying guitar skills.

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard, also known as the “Hag,” is a legendary figure in classic country music. He played a significant role in the emergence of the electric guitar in country and influenced many musicians who followed in his footsteps.

Early Years In his early years, Haggard was influenced by the likes of Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell. His music was a blend of classic country and western swing, with the electric guitar playing a prominent role in his sound.
Bakersfield Sound Haggard was part of the “Bakersfield Sound,” which was characterized by its twangy electric guitar sound and minimal use of the fiddle and pedal steel guitar. This sound was in stark contrast to the more polished and orchestrated Nashville sound of the time.
Musical Style Haggard’s musical style was characterized by his unique vocal delivery and his ability to blend traditional country music with a more rock and roll sound. He used the electric guitar to create dynamic, twangy riffs and solos that elevated his songs to new heights.
Hits Haggard had numerous hits throughout his career, including “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Mama Tried,” and “Okie from Muskogee.” His songs often dealt with socially conscious themes and were beloved by fans for their relatability and honesty.
Legacy Haggard’s influence on country music cannot be overstated. His use of the electric guitar paved the way for countless musicians who followed in his footsteps, and his impact on the Bakersfield sound has been felt for decades. Haggard’s music continues to be celebrated today and his legacy is secure as one of the all-time greats of country music.

Merle Haggard was a musical pioneer who helped shape the sound of classic country music. His use of the electric guitar was groundbreaking at the time and his influence can still be felt in the music of countless artists today. The “Hag” will forever be remembered as a true legend of country music.

Hank Williams Jr.

Hank Williams Jr. is one of the most iconic singers of classic country hits, and his music wouldn’t be complete without the twangy sound of his electric guitar. Born into a family of musicians, Hank Williams Jr. was destined for stardom from an early age. He learned to play guitar at the age of eight and started performing with his father’s band as a teenager.

Early Influence Hank Williams Jr. was heavily influenced by his father, Hank Williams Sr., and his music style
Career Breakthrough In 1979, Hank Williams Jr. hit the top of the charts with his song “Family Tradition” and continued to produce a number of hits throughout the 1980s
Electric Guitar Sound Hank Williams Jr.’s use of electric guitar was a defining characteristic of his music. He used it to create his own unique blend of country, rock, and blues
Impact on Country Music Hank Williams Jr.’s sound and style had a major impact on country music, inspiring future generations of artists to incorporate electric guitar into their music
Legacy Hank Williams Jr.’s music and trademark electric guitar sound will continue to influence and inspire country music for years to come

Thanks to Hank Williams Jr.’s use of electric guitar, classic country hits of the late 70s and 80s took on a new sound that captured the hearts of fans all over the world. Hank Williams Jr. is without a doubt a master of classic country hits and a true icon of the genre. His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of musicians to incorporate the electric guitar into their music, keeping the sound of classic country hits alive for many years to come.

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins, also known as “Mr. Guitar,” is considered one of the most influential guitarists of all time. He is credited with developing the “Nashville Sound,” which blended country and pop music. This unique sound was characterized by lush string arrangements, smooth vocal harmonies, and of course, the unmistakable sound of Atkins’ guitar.

Atkins started his musical career as a session musician in Nashville, where he quickly gained a reputation as a talented guitarist. His signature picking style, which involved using the thumb to play bass notes and alternately using the fingers to play melodies and chords, became known as the “Atkins Style.”

Throughout his career, Atkins recorded dozens of albums and produced records for artists such as Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. He also worked as an executive for RCA Records, where he signed and developed new talent.

Here is a table highlighting some of Chet Atkins’ career milestones:

Year Event
1946 Joins the Grand Ole Opry
1953 Records “Galloping Guitar,” which becomes his first hit
1961 Wins the first of fourteen Grammy Awards
1985 Becomes the youngest person ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame
2001 Passes away at the age of 77

Atkins’ influence can be heard in the work of countless guitarists who came after him, including Mark Knopfler, Steve Wariner, and Tommy Emmanuel. His legacy as a trailblazer in the world of country music continues to inspire musicians to this day.

The Nashville Sound

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the “Nashville Sound” emerged as a prominent subgenre of country music, which heavily featured electric guitars. This sound was characterized by lush orchestration, background vocals, and a smooth, polished overall production.

One of the pioneers of the Nashville Sound was producer Chet Atkins, who was instrumental in creating the sound. He utilized session musicians such as guitarists Hank Garland and Grady Martin to create a distinctive, twangy sound on hits like Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go” and Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me.”

Another influential figure in the Nashville Sound was producer Owen Bradley, who worked with artists like Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee. Bradley’s productions often featured a string section and heavily layered backing vocals, creating a rich, full sound.

The Nashville Sound Artists and Hits

Below is a table of some of the most notable artists and hits from the Nashville Sound era.

Artist Hit Song
Patsy Cline “Crazy”
Brenda Lee “I’m Sorry”
Eddy Arnold “Make the World Go Away”
Jim Reeves “Welcome to My World”
Skeeter Davis “The End of the World”

The Nashville Sound paved the way for a more polished and sophisticated sound in country music, and its influence could still be heard in modern classic country hits. Artist like Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood have incorporated elements of the Nashville Sound, such as lush instrumentation and layered backing vocals, while still making use of the electric guitar to create a sound that is both classic and modern.

Electric Guitar in Modern Classic Country Hits

The present-day country music scene features a diverse range of styles, sounds, and influences. However, one aspect that has remained constant is the prominent role electric guitars play in the modern classic country hits. From Keith Urban’s soaring solos to Brad Paisley’s intricate fingerpicking, the electric guitar continues to shape the sound of country music. In this section, we’ll delve into some of the top artists who have embraced the instrument and examine their unique contributions to the country music genre. Are you ready to explore the electrifying sounds of modern classic country hits? Let’s dive in.

Keith Urban

Keith Urban is one of the most recognized names in modern classic country music. His unique sound and innovative use of the electric guitar have made him a fan favorite for over two decades. With numerous number one hits and awards under his belt, Keith Urban has solidified his place as a country music superstar.

One of the distinctive features of Keith Urban’s sound is his use of various electric guitar techniques. He is known for his expert fingerstyle playing, which involves using the fingertips to pluck the strings of the guitar. This creates a melodic, intricate sound that is both beautiful and complex. In addition to fingerstyle, Urban also utilizes power chords, which are chords that contain only two or three notes and are played with a lot of force. This technique adds a raw, edgy quality to his music.

Urban’s use of the electric guitar is not limited to just the traditional country sound, however. He is known for incorporating elements of rock and pop into his music, creating a unique sound that appeals to a wide range of audiences. He often uses effects pedals to create different sounds and tones, such as reverb and distortion. This experimentation with effects has resulted in some of his most popular hits, such as “Somebody Like You” and “Days Go By.”

Urban’s talent with the electric guitar has not gone unrecognized. He has won numerous awards for his guitar playing, including the CMA Award for Musician of the Year three times. He has even released an instructional DVD for aspiring guitar players, called “Keith Urban’s Learn to Play Guitar.”

It is safe to say that Keith Urban has taken the electric guitar to new heights in modern classic country music. His creativity, technical skill, and willingness to push boundaries have made him a legend in the industry. And, as he continues to release new music and tour, there is no doubt that he will continue to inspire and influence musicians for years to come.

Electric guitar techniques Fingerstyle playing, power chords, effects pedals
Elements of music Rock and pop
Main hits “Somebody Like You”, “Days Go By”
Awards CMA Award for Musician of the Year (x3)
Instructional materials “Keith Urban’s Learn to Play Guitar”

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished guitarists in modern country music. Born in West Virginia, Paisley grew up listening to classic country hits and fell in love with the electric guitar at a young age. He moved to Nashville after college and quickly established himself as a sought-after session musician, playing guitar on numerous country albums.

Paisley eventually signed a record deal of his own and released his debut album, “Who Needs Pictures,” in 1999. The album featured both traditional and modern country sounds, as well as Paisley’s impressive guitar skills, which only continued to shine on his subsequent albums.

Paisley’s music often features complex and intricate guitar solos, which he executes with ease and finesse. The guitar riffs in songs like “Mud on the Tires” and “Ticks” are instantly recognizable and perfectly complement the upbeat, fun-loving lyrics.

In addition to his technical prowess, Paisley is known for his creativity and experimentation. He has incorporated elements of rock, blues, and jazz into his music, showcasing the versatility of the electric guitar in country. This experimentation is particularly evident in his instrumental tracks, which allow Paisley to truly let loose on the guitar.

Brad Paisley’s contributions to country music have solidified his place as one of the genre’s guitar greats. His unique blend of traditional and modern sounds, technical ability, and creative flair make him a standout musician in any genre.

Strengths Weaknesses
Technical ability on the guitar Limited vocal range
Creativity and experimentation in his music Some listeners may find his blend of traditional and modern country to be too polarizing
Strong songwriting skills At times, his guitar solos can overshadow his vocals and lyrics
Affable personality and strong live performances

Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill

Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill are two well-known names in the country music industry who have left an indelible mark with their impressive discography. The way they have integrated the electric guitar into their music is a testament to how the instrument has evolved in country music over the years.

Carrie Underwood is a multi-platinum selling artist who has won numerous Grammys and other accolades. She is known for her expressive and powerful voice, but her music wouldn’t be complete without the electrifying guitar riffs that have become one of her signature styles. Her hit single “Before He Cheats,” for example, is a song that showcases how country music has evolved with its spitfire lyrics and electric guitar riffs. The song’s energy is lifted by the addition of the guitar which provides an unmatchable flare to the track.

Vince Gill, on the other hand, is a seasoned musician who has been in the industry for decades. He is a remarkable guitarist, as well as a singer and songwriter. Gill’s style relies on the use of the electric guitar to provide harmony and complement his traditional country vocals. He has been a prominent figure in classic country music hits like “When I Call Your Name,” “Pocket Full of Gold,” and “One More Last Chance” just to name a few. These songs showcased his proficiency in playing the guitar, where he incorporated catchy riffs that created a signature sound that country music listeners continue to enjoy today.

The electric guitar’s impact on country music can be seen in the music of veterans like Vince Gill and modern country stars like Carrie Underwood. It’s clear that the electric guitar remains an integral part of country music, and its presence adds a unique sound that has become synonymous with country music over the years.

The Future of Electric Guitar in Country

As the world of country music continues to evolve and change, so does the use of electric guitar. With the emergence of new technologies and musical influences, it’s hard to predict exactly what the future of electric guitar in country music will hold. However, there are a few potential scenarios that could play out:

  • New Technologies: With the advent of new technologies, it’s possible that we will see new ways of incorporating electric guitar into country music. Whether it’s through the use of digital effects pedals, innovative amp design, or other cutting-edge tools, the possibilities are endless. Additionally, as virtual reality and other immersive technologies become more widespread, it’s possible that we could see electric guitar playing a role in new types of country music experiences.
  • Changing Musical Tastes: As the next generation of country music fans begins to come of age, it’s possible that their musical tastes will push electric guitar in new directions. For example, we could see a resurgence of traditional country music, with more emphasis on vintage instruments and analog recording techniques. Conversely, we could see electric guitar being used in more experimental and boundary-pushing ways, as younger musicians explore new sounds and genres.
  • Musical Collaboration: Finally, it’s possible that the future of electric guitar in country music will be shaped by cross-genre collaborations. As country music continues to gain popularity both in the United States and abroad, we could see more collaborations between country musicians and artists from other genres. These collaborations could result in new sounds, new sub-genres, and new ways of incorporating electric guitar into country music.

All in all, the future of electric guitar in country music is both exciting and unpredictable. However, one thing is certain: as long as there are creative musicians pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, there will always be a place for electric guitar in classic country hits.


In conclusion, the electric guitar has played a significant role in the evolution of classic country music hits. From the early days of country music to present times, the electric guitar has brought a unique energy and sound to country music that has helped it to evolve and remain popular.

Today, modern classic country hits continue to incorporate the electric guitar in new and innovative ways. Artists like Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and Vince Gill continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with the electric guitar in their music. The future of electric guitar in country music looks bright and promising.

As we look back at the masters of classic country hits like Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., and Chet Atkins, we can see the impact that the electric guitar has had on this genre. Their innovative playing and use of this instrument has inspired countless musicians and helped to shape the sound of country music as we know it today.

In conclusion, the electric guitar is an integral part of classic country music, and its role in the genre’s past, present, and future cannot be overstated. Country music fans and musicians alike will continue to appreciate and celebrate the unique sound and energy that the electric guitar brings to this beloved musical style, making it a vital component of classic country for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes electric guitars popular in country music?

Electric guitars offer a unique, twangy sound that perfectly complements the storytelling that is at the heart of country music.

When did electric guitars become popular in country music?

Electric guitars began to appear in country music in the 1930s and gained popularity in the 1950s with the rise of rock and roll.

Who were some of the first country artists to incorporate electric guitar into their music?

Muddy Waters, Bill Monroe, and Bob Wills are some of the first country artists who adopted electric guitar into their music.

What is the Nashville Sound?

The Nashville Sound was a style of country music created in the 1950s and 1960s that featured lush instrumentation, including electric guitar and strings, and polished production that aimed to appeal to mainstream audiences.

What role did Chet Atkins play in the country music scene?

Chet Atkins was a guitarist, producer, and executive who helped popularize country music and bring it into the mainstream. He was known for his fingerpicking style and use of electric guitars in country music.

Who are some of the current country artists keeping the electric guitar alive?

Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood are just a few of the many current country artists who continue to use electric guitars in their music.

What is the significance of electric guitars in classic country music hits?

Electric guitars played a crucial role in the sound of classic country hits, adding emotional depth to songs and complementing the raw emotion of the lyrics.

How does the use of electric guitars differ in modern country music?

Modern country music often blends different genres, such as rock and pop, and uses electric guitars more heavily to create a modern and dynamic sound.

Can you play country music on an acoustic guitar?

Absolutely! While electric guitars are often associated with country music, the genre has a rich history of acoustic guitar use as well.

What is the future of electric guitar in country music?

The electric guitar will continue to be a staple of country music, evolving to meet the changing tastes of audiences and artists alike.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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