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Chet Atkins Shows Us Why the Electric Guitar Became the World’s Most Popular Instrument

Chet Atkins pictured in the studio with his Gretsch 6119 Tennessean signature model
Chet Atkins pictured in the studio with his Gretsch 6119 Tennessean signature model (Image credit: GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty)

20 years to the day, the guitar world lost one of the greatest and most influential players of all time: Chester Burton Atkins aka Chet Atkins. In the years leading up to the rock ‘n’ roll revolution of the 1950s, Chet Atkins was to Gretsch what Les Paul was to Gibson – a bona fide visionary, a musical virtuoso, and a talented recording engineer who not only leveraged significant influence on the design of the electric guitar but also taught the world how to play this newfangled instrument.

Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 Hollow Body and 6121 Solid Body signature guitars

Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 Hollow Body (with f-holes) and 6121 Solid Body signature guitars (Image credit: Steve Catlin/Redferns/Getty)

This amazing TV clip from the mid-1950s filmed soon after Atkins began his longstanding collaboration with Gretsch in 1954 shows exactly how he managed to do that. Here he is, a young man in his prime, playing an early permutation of his debut signature model, the 6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body. 

Later adopted as an instrument of choice for quintessential Gretsch rock ‘n’ rollers Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, and Brian Setzer the 6120 makes up a set of four classic Gretsch models that also includes the Round Up/Jet-style 6121 Chet Atkins Solid Body; the budget-friendly 6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean; and “Mr. Guitar’s” personal favorite, the 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.

1957 Gretsch 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

1957 Gretsch 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman (Image credit: Jesse Wilde/Future)

As the ultimate guitarist’s guitarist Atkins' influence lives on today both in terms of technique and guitar design. Explore Gretsch’s current line up of Chet Atkins-inspired models here.