Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

It was in 1972 that the Gretsch Guitar Company sold its’ name, business and assets to the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company of Cincinnati Ohio. Of course, the biggest endorser and innovator of Gretsch guitars was Mr. Chet Atkins.

And though he played Gretsch instruments for years, his obligation with the company ended and did He chose not to sign on with the new owners. The quality of Gretsch instruments was slipping and Mr. Atkins was well aware of this fact.

It was around 1980 when Gibson and Chet Atkins began a relationship. Gibson started by designing the Chet Atkins CE (classical electric) thin body nylon-string guitar. This guitar was first offered for sale in 1981.

By 1987 Gibson designers had come up with the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. The design was loosely based on the Gretsch 6122; however there are quite a few differences.

Gibson used twin alnico humbucking pickups which include an alnico 492R humbucker on the neck and an alnico 490T on the bridge. These pickups are slightly hotter than Gretsch Super-Trons.

Chet's Guitar - note red markers
This guitar came with three volume controls, much like its Gretsch predecessor. The master volume is on the cutaway and there is one volume knob for each pickup.

Unlike the Gretsch Country Gentleman, which had tone switches, Gibson’s version included a single tone potentiometer.

The Gibson Country Gentleman featured a 17” wide body. This shape is wider than an ES 335 and similar width to that found on a Gibson L-5 CES or Tal Farlow guitar. The body is quite narrow and is 1.75” thick, which is the standard depth for most Gibson thinline models.

The cutaway is Venetian style.

The guitars three-ply laminated top features Curly Maple/Poplar/Maple, as does the instruments back. The rim between the guitars front and back is made of Maple wood. The guitar is surprisingly light. In fact it is lighter than an ES 335. Perhaps this can be attributed to the internal block in the center of the body being made of a combination of Balsa and Mahogany.

1996 Gibson Chet Atkins
The binding around the body is white on the top and back sides. The bottom lower bout features a tortoise shell Pearse style arm rest. The arm rest and pick guard have white/black bindings. Some models come with f-holes that are bound in white material, while others have no binding.

The neck is designed of three-ply Maple capped with an Ebony fret board. There are thumb print style red pearl or abalone fret markers on the bottom edge of the fret board. The guitar has 21 frets and a scale of 25.5”, which is slightly longer than most Gibson thinline models. The width of the neck is 1.75” at the nut and tapers out to 2.102” at the 12th fret. The headstock is black and capped with a crown inlay. The Gibson logo is inlaid at the top of the headstock.

The truss rod cover has Chet’s name engraved and features a surrounding white binding.

All hardware on the Country Gentleman is gold-plated, including the Schaller tuners, the tune-o-matic bridge, the Bigsby vibrato (some did not come with a vibrato), the ring-nut on the pickup selector switch and the strap buttons.

The tune-o-matic bridge is seated on top of a beautiful rosewood saddle with white inlays inlaid on either side.

The guitar features four speed knobs. Included is one volume control for each pickup, a single tone control and a master volume knob. The master volume is located on the upper bout and the selector switch is on the lower bout.

Ray Cummins with his CA model
The initial models were initially offered in wine red or brown. Later on sunrise orange became an option.

Scotty Moore's Guitar
As an oddity, Country Gentleman guitars that did not include the Bigsby vibrato option were shipped with block fret marker inlays in addition to the thumb print inlays.

This guitar was manufactured in Gibson’s Memphis plant.

How does the Gibson Country Gentleman sound? I will let you be the judge by watching and listening to the videos below. In my opinion, it sounds like a Gibson guitar.

Due to the use of the Super-Tron pickups, Gretsch guitars have a very unique sound. But keep in mind most of a guitars sound is in the player’s hands. I love the comment that Mr. Atkins once made to an admirer. He had set his guitar on a stand, when someone came over and said to him, “that guitar sounds great.” Chet looked at the resting guitar and said, “Well how does it sound now?”

Out of Gibson’s relationship with Mr. Atkins, several other styles of guitars were created, most of which bore his name. One worth mentioning is the Gibson Tennessean.

This guitar is sort of a stripped down version of the Country Gentleman, but it still remains an incredible instrument. The Tennessean was introduced in 1990. Many of the accoutrements were similar to the Country Gentleman. This guitar was equipped with chromed hardware.

The tune-o-matic bridge is mounted directly to the body.

Gone is the Bigsby vibrato which has been replaced with a stop tail piece.

The body is bound in white trim. However, there is no binding on the neck, arm rest or pick guard. And the pick guard is molded in a slightly different shape than what is found on the Country Gentleman.

The fret board on this instrument is made of rosewood, instead of ebony and the abalone thumb print markers are replaced by dot markers on the bottom edge of the fret board with a double set of markers at the 12th fret.

The logo is silk screened onto the headstock. The controls are essentially the same as the Country Gent. The guitar comes with two 490 alnico humbucking pickups.

I cannot say for certain what material was used for the center block. The body size, depth and width are the same as its big brother. This guitar also features a 25.5” scale.

Players have commented this instrument is one of the finest guitars that Gibson has ever produced and that its tone has more of a midrange character than an ES 335.

Both of these instruments have been discontinued, but can still be found in music stores and on eBay.

Below is a video by perhaps the greatest interpreter of Chet’s style, my friend Ray Cummins, who is playing his Sunrise Orange Gibson Country Gentleman.

Here is Chet playing his Gibson Country Gentleman
with Stanley Jordan and Paul Yandell.


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Cory said...

I have wanted one of these for as long as I can recall, I bought a Les Paul back in 94 due to the price. what a mistake

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