The Fingerstyle Guitar Of Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins is of course one of the great names of Nashville, and it is his name that is often affixed to the fingerstyle technique of guitar playing.
Chet was from Luttrell in Tennessee and started out as a session player, going on to become a solo artist and then a producer. As traditional country music wilted under the onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll (for which he himself was partly responsible), Chet was one of the musicians who helped create the Nashville Sound, giving country a more produced and modern style.
The fingerstyle technique was achieved with using the thumb of his right hand to play a walking bass line, and his second, third and fourth fingers to play rhythm and melody.
With so much going on he actually manages to sound like two players playing at the same time.
The strings are plucked with the fingertips or fingernails, or sometimes by picks attached to the fingers, which allows the guitarist to perform so many actions simultaneously.
This is how one good player can sound like a whole band, as he can play bass, harmonic accompaniment, melody and percussion at the same time.
Disadvantages are that players who bite their nails are off to a losing start, and that when playing on an acoustic guitar the volume is going to be notably lower than when using a plectrum.
The advantages however are many. Up to five strings can be plucked simultaneously, strumming variety gives more depth, there is less need for fretting hand damping in playing chords, and the separate musical lines make the style suitable for solo work.
Chet didn’t invent the fingerstyle: He was influenced by players such as Merle Travis and Django Reinhardt, and the technique of plucking strings with the fingertips goes right back to the days of the lute and the vihuela.
But he did make it all his own, and these days it is often referred to simply as “Chet Atkins style”.