|He was one of the most influental finger picking guitarists and was an idol not only in his original country background, but also with a lot of guitarists playing various styles. Prominent guitarists like George Harrison or Mark Knopfler said that his style of playing was a major influence to them: On Saturday, June 30 2001, Chet Atkins died at the age of 77.
But Chet Atkins not only was one of most influential guitarist with his unique thumb-and-finger picking guitar style, he was equally influential for his guitar designs. He listened to his brother Jimmy, who played in a trio with another big name in guitar design: Les Paul. In the early '40s, he electrified his guitar, even though his home in rural Harris County, Georgia, had no electricity. He first played in a studio session in 1945 recording with a band that would become the Oak Ridge Boys later.
During the '50s Chet became a star solo performer in country music. His first Gretsch signature in a family of eight different Chet Atkins by Gretsch models came out in the early '50s. In 1958 (concurrent with Gibson's development of the semi-hollowbody ES-335), Chet extended the top bracing on his hollowbody model all the way to the back of the guitar so that it gained more solidbody characteristics. All the F-hole models, including the top-of-the-line Country Gentleman and the entry-level Tennessean, eventually featured a top with no soundholes, which were simulated with plastic inlays, to reduce feedback. At the same period he also became a pioneer with mechanical tremolo and electronic effects like fuzz and oktaver.
By the late '70s, Chet had become interested in classical, nylon-stringed guitars, an interest spurred in part, he said, by the fact that his fingernails were so brittle that they couldn't hold up to steel strings. He wanted a classical guitar with a pickup system that would produce a true acoustic sound without feedback. He had Kentucky guitarmaker Hascal Haile put a piezo pickup on a guitar with a solid "body" (actually it was just a board), and the result was the first solidbody acoustic guitar. Having terminated his affiliation with Gretsch, Chet approached Gibson with the idea.
Gibson introduced the Chet Atkins Standard in 1982, available with standard fingerboard or a wider classical fingerboard. A steel-string version, the SST debuted in 1987. Although Chet had envisioned his "acoustic solidbody" only for the small classical market, the SST caught on with performers of all styles of guitar music, from stadium rockers to singer/songwriters.
Chet's original guitar-picking style has never gone out of style and in response to his legions of loyal followers, Gibson introduced a new, updated edition of the legendary Chet Atkins Country Gentleman in 1987, followed by the Chet Atkins Tennessean three years later.
Chet Atkins, who's role as RCA vice president country music marked milestones for the carreers of several big names in country, will definitely be remembered as one of the most influental guitar players of the last millenium along with Django Reinhard, Les Paul and the inventor the electric guitar, Charlie Christian.