The Quotable Chet Atkins

July 16, 2020 2 min read

The Quotable Chet Atkins

When I was a kid, I had quotes from famous guitarists stuck all over my bedroom wall.

It was a motivation tactic.

On the days when I didn’t feel the urge to pick up and play (rare, admittedly, especially when I was a teenager), those quotes reminded me of why I was strumming in the first place. 

My heroes at the time were guys like Hendrix, Slash and Jimmy Page. Chet Atkins did not feature. 

Today, though, it would be a different story. Not only was Chet a fantastic guitar player; his sage wisdom on the subject of pickin’ was most definitely bedroom wall worthy.

So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a selection of my favorite Chet Atkins quotes for your reading pleasure. If these speak to you, then I’d heartily recommend printing some of them out and putting them up in your practice space. They’ve been motivating me these past few weeks; hopefully they’ll do the same for you. 

On developing your sound:

Everyone has their own sound, and if you're heard enough, folks will come to recognize it. Style however, is a different thing. Try to express your own ideas. It's much more difficult to do, but the rewards are there if you're good enough to pull it off.

“Do it again on the next verse and people will think you meant it”

Copying one person is stealing. Copying ten is research.

“It took me 20 years to learn I couldn't tune too well. And by that time I was too rich to care.”

On Music as a career:

“When I was a little boy, I told my dad, 'When I grow up, I want to be a musician.' My dad said: 'You can't do both, Son'.”

If you hear something you like, and you're halfway like the public, chances are they'll like it too.”

“A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can't give you a formula for that.”

On practice: 

“Approach your guitar intelligently, and if there are limits, don't deny them. Work within your restrictions. Some things you can do better than others, some things you can't do as well. So accentuate the positive.”

“Everything I’ve ever done was out of fear of being mediocre.”

“It takes a lot of devotion and work, or maybe I should say play, because if you love it, that's what it amounts to. I haven't found any shortcuts, and I've been looking for a long time.”

On legacy:

“Years from now, after I'm gone, someone will listen to what I've done and know I was here. They may not know or care who I was, but they'll hear my guitars speaking for me.”

What is your favourite Chet Atkins moment of all time? Do you have a favourite guitarist quote? And, on those rare “off” days, what motivates you to pick up your guitar and play? As always, share your stories in the comments section.



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