The Gretsch model 6122/Chet Atkins Country Gentleman is more often referred to simply as the ‘Country Gent’. First shipped in 1957 for the 1958 model year, it followed the appearance of the 6120/Chet Atkins hollowbody and 6121/Chet Atkins solidbody models in Gretsch’s 1955 full-colour catalogue, Guitars For Moderns.
The more budget-friendly single-pickup 6119/Chet Atkins Tennessean similarly made its advertising debut in 1958, completing this set of four classic Gretsch signature guitars. Hailed by Gretsch as a recording sensation and TV star with “an army of enthusiastic admirers," Chet Atkins (Chester Burton Atkins, 1924-2001) was, in more ways than one, instrumental in helping the electric guitar gain mass acceptance during the post-war years.
In a similar vein as his friend Les Paul (Lester William Polsfuss, 1915-2009), Chet widely promoted the instrument via popular media, and played a vital role in the evolution of modern guitar playing styles and recording techniques.
Both Chester and Lester’s influence on the electric guitar is legendary, though these days most people are probably more aware of their signature instruments than their music. As studio engineers and tinkerers, they were practically minded and full of interesting ideas when it came to guitar design, but Chet had significantly more input into the development of the Country Gent than his earlier signature models.
When he first began collaborating with Gretsch in 1954, the bulk of the design was already in place for his hollowbody and solidbody guitars, which borrowed heavily from Gretsch’s pre-existing Streamliner and Round Up models, respectively.
Thus, intent on helping create a signature guitar he could be truly proud of, Chet worked closely with Gretsch, eventually settling on several new concepts for his top-of-the-line model, including simulation f-holes to reduce feedback, a wider 17-inch thinline body, a subtler “mahogany grained” stain finish, trestle bracing and Neo-Classic/half-moon ‘thumbnail’ inlays.
Also among his requests was the inclusion of two newly developed Filter’Tron humbucking pickups – something inventor Ray Butts had been working on in conjunction with Gretsch and Chet as early as 1954.
Chet Atkins begins collaborating with Gretsch
First batch of 50 manufactured; single-cutaway; dual Filter’Trons; ‘stairstep’ Grover tuners
Advertised alongside 6119, 6120 & 6121 signature models
Zero fret; bone nut (replaces metal nut); Gretsch-branded Bigsby
Double-cutaway; standby switch; double-mute; padded back
Filter’Tron (bridge) and Super’Tron II (neck); ‘kidney bean’ Grover tuners
Dual Filter’Trons; single mute; model name on pickguard; black finish (rare)
Redesignated model 7670; open
f-holes; adjustable bridge; no mute
Rebranded Southern Belle (model 7176)
Players Edition G6122T; 3x Vintage Select models (G6122T-62, G6122-6212 & G6122T-59)
Chet had long been dissatisfied with the sound of Gretsch’s ubiquitous DeArmond Model 2000 pickup (marketed by Gretsch as the DynaSonic), which he felt was too bass-y in the neck position and overly bright in the bridge position.
Measuring anywhere between 7.5 and 13kohms, these powerful, punchy single coils are inherently different to the gritty sparkle of Filter’Tron humbuckers (which normally read around 4k), and the Country Gent was the first of Chet’s models to be fitted with what would soon eclipse the DynaSonic as Gretsch’s de facto standard pickup.
As well as being a preference of Chet’s, the Country Gent was favoured by George Harrison, who owned two double-cutaway models from the early '60s.
Following The Beatles’ TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 when a reported 73 million Americans tuned in to watch, the Country Gent instantly became an icon of rock ’n’ roll and production multiplied.
It was retired from the Gretsch catalogue in the early '80s when Chet allied with Gibson, taking his own name, and ultimately the Country Gentleman name, with him.