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With the possible exception of Les Paul, no single guitarist has had such a profound impact on instrument design as Chet Atkins. Already a major star in country music, his technique of plucking chords and melody lines with his fingers while using his thumb for bass was highly influential.
Atkins, who had earned the nickname “Mr Guitar,” began his association with Gretsch in 1954. The first guitar to bear the Chet Atkins name, the 6120, was a hollow-body arch top initially adorned with Western styling, debuted that same year and is regarded as the definitive Gretsch guitar.
Gretsch and Atkins continued to develop instruments, such as the hugely popular 1957 Country Gentleman, an elegant, single-cutaway, semi-hollow model that featured FilterTron pickups (Atkins wasn‘t a fan of DeArmonds, which were featured on many of the company‘s earlier guitars).
Sales of the Country Gentleman would soar in 1964 when George Harrison appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show playing a slimed-down, double-cutaway version. Other Atkins-branded Gretsches would follow, one of the biggest being the single-cutaway 6119 Tennessean, a lower-priced version of the Country Gentleman that featured real f-holes - Atkins was constantly hounding Gretsch to stop painting them on. George Harrison helped popularise the Tenny, as well.
Atkins’s discography is massive. In addition to over 50 solo albums to his credit, he recorded with artists such as Hank Snow, The Boston Pops Orchestra, Mark Knopfler, Les Paul, Jerry Reed and many others. Atkins died in 2001 at the age of 77.