In the late nineteen thirties, a cowboy musician called Bob Willis introduced the electric guitar to his audiences. Nobody knows whether they noticed this historic innovation but ten years later a whole generation sat up and took notice when Arthur Smith released his recording of “Guitar Boogie”. This hit instrumental established the electric guitar as a musical force to be reckoned with. While the world of rock and roll moved to the music of Stratocasters it took a while for country musicians to move from the more restrained tones of the Gretsch archtop to the more “biting” Fender sound.
Many guitarists play their country solos on the Fender Telecaster with a Fender tube “Twin”, Super Reverb or Deluxe Reverb amplifier. On the other hand, if they are on a tight budget they have been known to settle for a Peavey tube amp. One piece of equipment you will not need is the whammy bar. It is not used in playing country music.
In contrast to other musical genres that use the electric guitar, country music does not employ a wide variety of electronic effects in guitar solos. A lot of country guitar players use a strictly clean sound, maybe sprucing the music up with a little reverberation. The only effect consistently utilized by country guitar soloists is compression which enforces limits on the sound waves produced by the guitar. This effect enhances the volume of the softer notes and slightly mutes the louder notes. This makes the overall volume seem evener.
When it comes to the technique you can start off as a flat picker but many country guitar players will use a thumbstick in combination with the index and ring finger. This naturally increases your level of versatility more than somewhat. There is a technique called “chicken picking” which involves popping the guitar strings with your fingers. It is a little hard to describe in writing but you can see plenty of examples on YouTube, but to get a general idea, try this experiment: hold your right hand over the guitar strings, then mute your E (sixth) string by resting your index finger on it down towards the bridge. Next, pluck the string with your thumb. This will give you a “thunk” sound. To complete the chicken picking move, pluck the open string with the nail of your index finger. This move is repeated until it comes naturally.
Country solo playing can easily begin in the first position on the guitar. When you begin to play country guitar solos just play over the chords. Do not go looking for a “country scale”, although the blues scale is quite handy in country guitar playing. The trick is to practice with whatever chord shapes you have at your stage of playing and see what kind of riffs, licks and tricks you can get out of each of them. It is a very interesting way to learn because every chord has its unique character. Start with your basic chords like C, D, E, G, and A.
So if you want to learn to play country guitar solos which guitar players do you listen to? Listening to Chet Atkins will teach a lot to a guitarist in any genre. He is largely responsible for the smooth Nashville sound which is so attractive to many music lovers. Chet owes his style to Merle Travis, using his thumb to pick bass notes and other fingers to play the melody and fills. And do not forget to look for music recorded by Merle Travis himself. Another guitar great is Jerry Reed. A guitarist with boundless energy and enthusiasm, he played on the Elvis Presley single of his own compositions “Guitar Man” and “US Male”. This list could go on and on, so let us finish by mentioning Albert Lee, a British guitar player admired by many other famous guitarists.