The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar

The first thirteen songs on this CD were recorded in a cottage in upstate New York in the winter of 2005. I was going to call that collection, "Merle, Chet, Jerry & Me," because the first three are songs Merle Travis did, the next three are from Chet Atkins, then three by Jerry Reed, and finally four by me (three songs I arranged and one I wrote). But as they are pretty short songs, there was still space on the CD to add the ten songs I recorded in my apartment in Albany, California in 2001. That collection I called "Two Bags," because the songs fall into 2 genres: jazz ballads and country/folk (e.g., Merle Travis to Leo Kottke).

This style of guitar playing goes by different names. Because I use the fingers of my right hand, rather than a pick, you could call it “fingerpicking.” That has sort of a folky connotation, so the term preferred these days is “fingerstyle” guitar. Playing with the fingers in this way allows better control of the bass, chord and melody lines in the song. Some of the tunes with a heavy alternating bass are sometimes referred to as “thumb style” guitar.

Though Merle Travis (1917-1983), said he learned to play listening to local Kentucky pickers Mose Rager and Ike Everly (father to the Everly Brothers), his genius took their “thumb style” playing to new heights. With his large hands he was able to grip very difficult chords and his left hand thumb technique enabled him to hit two bass strings at once for a fat bottom end. Some players can imitate him pretty well, but I'm afraid his huge sound is literally “out of reach” for me!

Often considered the best guitarist ever, Chet Atkins, CGP (1924-2001), was strongly influenced by Merle Travis, and added his own contributions to the art of fingerpicking. Chet's playing doesn't emphasize the rhythm as much as Merle's did, and his sense of harmony and composition are more nuanced and sophisticated. After an entire life on the instrument, Chet decided to add the initials for “Country Guitar Player,” to his name. However, on one of his appearances on the Prairie Home Companion radio show, host Garrison Keeler said it should be “Certified Guitar Player,” which makes more sense, since Chet played music from nearly every genre.

Jerry Reed (1937- ) started writing songs for Chet Atkins in his twenties and had several hits of his own. Also a character actor, you may have seen him as the truck driver in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Jerry adds a funky/bluesy tinge to his infectious tunes, which he usually performs on a nylon string guitar. Because of his habit of picking mostly with the second and third fingers of his right hand, Chetgave him the nickname, “The Claw.” Jerry once said, “I don't go to see a man pick. I go to see a man think.” Indeed, it takes quite a bit of thinking to come up with a “Jerry Reed-style” arrangement.

The final ten tunes on the CD feature two more Merle Travis numbers, as well as some jazz ballads I arranged and two from Leo Kottke's phenomenal first album, “6- and 12-String Guitars.” I hope you enjoy this collection of songs from my guitar heroes, as well as my own tunes and arrangements.


1998 Martin DC-1E (Blue Bell, Down Home, Wild Green Yonder, Fisherman, DP Hoedown, Watermelon, Buckdancer's Choice, Love Letters in the Sand)

1971 Gibson Super 400 (Guitar Rag, Cannonball Rag, Happy Again, Vincent, Reedology, Message in a Bottle, Rhiannon)

1959 Guild CE-100 (Jiffy Jam, This Masquerade, Here's That Rainy Day, Have You Met Miss Jones, Someday My Prince Will Come, My One And Only Love, My Romance)

1974 Gibson Howard Roberts (Mr. Bojangles)

Recording Technique

Tracks 1-13 were recorded with one Oktava MK-012-01 condenser mic on a 1965 Fender Princeton amplifier with Holy Grail reverb. Another Oktava in front of the guitar. Behringer mixer patched to a Digidesign MBox connected to an Apple PowerBook running Pro Tools LE 6.9.2. Final massage in Sound Studio.

Tracks 14-23 were recorded using a Zoom multi-effect and a Shure SM57 mic into a Yamaha mixer which was patched directly into an Apple G4 tower. Some were recorded with Digital Performer, some with Sound Studio.

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Recording, writing, photography, layout, printing by Dave Peterson