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Country and Western Electric Guitar

How Electric Guitars Won the West

Country music had its roots in the hillbilly music of Appalachia, with immigrants bringing their instruments over from Europe to create a uniquely American form of music. Of course, these instruments, including guitar, were acoustic, and acoustic guitar still plays an important part in Country. But changing times, venues, and situations led to the electric guitar being introduced to Country, a successful marriage that has lasted over 75 years. In this article, we will review the history of electric guitar in this genre.

The Beginnings

By the mid-1920s, Country music had become a staple in record stores and on the radio. This was particularly prevalent in the Deep South and Southwestern states. One of the pioneers of Country music was the legendary Bob Wills. His mix of country and jazz became known as Western swing. In 1938, Wills was one of the first Western musicians to add an electric guitar to his band. 10 years later, Arthur Smith released the popular single “Guitar Boogie.” It hit the top 10 and demonstrated the potential of electric guitar in popular music.

Initially, archtop guitars were the electrics of choice, particularly those made by Gretsch and Gibson. Eventually, though, solid-body electrics such as those made by Fender became more popular.

A sub-genre of country music known as the Bakersfield Sound emerged in the 1950s. It used Fender Telecasters and similar electrics, and had a hard-driving sound distinguishing it from the string-laden Nashville sound popular at the time. Such musicians as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard exemplified this still-popular form of Country.

In the wake of the British Invasion, many musicians looked for a return to straight ahead rock, which had its roots in country music. The resulting hybrid of Country Rock became one of the most popular forms of music in the 1970s and 1980s, with new and established acts such as Gram Parsons, Poco, The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan all jumping on the bandwagon.

The Players

One of the great country electric players is Roy Clark, who has entertained audiences for generations, particularly on the long-running TV show “Hee Haw, “ which he co-hosted with fellow country legend Buck Owens. He is one of the masters of archtop guitar, and endorses the Heritage Guitar Company, which makes his artist model.

Glen Campbell first became known as a session musician, playing guitar with the famed L.A. musicians’ collective known as The Wrecking Crew and taking over for Brian Wilson on bass in the mid-60s for live performances of the Beach Boys. When he stepped out on his own as a country singer and guitarist, he soon became a huge success, garnering a TV variety show and numerous hit records and sold-out concerts to his credit. Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease sidelined this great guitarist and entertainer in the early 2010s.

The name “Chet Atkins” is synonymous with electric country guitar. He helped to create the smoother form of country known as the Nashville Sound. His unique picking style and production skills eventually led to his position as head of the RCA Nashville studios from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.


Electric guitar has taken its place of importance in the word of country music. Like many other forms of music, it is impossible to imagine the sound without it. These are but a few examples of some great players.

Phone Glenn Sutton at: 619-306-3664.

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