Craig Dobbins writes and publishes the instructional
quarterly Acoustic Guitar Workshop. He is the author of
many books and recordings on fingerstyle guitar, including
two volumes on Jerry Reed, and one on Chet Atkins. He
also contributes to Acoustic Guitar magazine, Fingerstyle Guitar
and the CAAS "Mister Guitar" journal.
Craig's compositions have also been recorded by other
guitarists, including Winfield Fingerpicking champs Richard Smith (That's
My Boy) and Pat Kirtley (Through the Tears).
Craig's latest book/CD set is "5-String Banjo Styles for 6-String Guitar"
Contact Craig via email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scroll down to ask your question
Terry Tolle, AZ
Craig, have you ever put on a guitar clinic for beginning
guitarists, and if so, what approach did you use. I have been asked
to do this, and I don't have a clue as to what I should do. Thanks
for any suggestions you might have!
Hello Terry. My advice would be to teach a simple song that
incorporates a couple of techniques that you can discuss and
demonstrate. It's always good to have handout sheets, including the tab
to the song you're teaching. Don't make the mistake of trying to
include too much information, and be sure to allow for questions. Hope
Rip Wilson, TN
Two questions--Do you still sell a tape for your J.Reed
book?What tuning for Tupelo Ms. Flash ? Thanks -RIP
Hello Rip. Sorry, the Guitar Style of Jerry Reed tapes/CDs are gone.
If my memory serves me, the Tupelo tuning is D-G-C-G-Bb-E (6th-1st
strings). Jerry slid the capo up between each verse.
Dick Ezelle, VA
Can you educate me a little bit on the use of compression and how it
impacts your sound? Do you always use it when you record? Do you use
it when you just play for your own pleasure? Did Chet use it on all
his recordings and on the road? Is it in use on Stage 1 at CAAS? Are
there particular compression units (foot pedals) that you like? Sorry
for so many questions, but I'm really interested in this subject.
Thanks so much!
Hello Dick, good to hear from you. How many questions was that anyway?
First of all, compression makes the soft sounds louder, and the loud
sounds softer, so it evens out or compresses your sound, according to
how much of the effect you use. (Limiting, which is related to
compression, makes the loud sounds softer. It's useful for keeping your
volume level below a certain point when recording.) I rarely use
compression when I record. Sometimes I will use a little with a Tele,
to get a punchy sound. (Check out Jerry Reed's recordings from the mid
1970's to hear what I mean.) Compression is also helpful when recording
a boomy acoustic, like a Martin D-28 or an old Gibson. I don't know
how often Chet used compression on his recordings, but if you have the
Me and My Guitars book, you can see an LA-2A compressor and an 1176
limiter in Chet's recording rack. It's common to use both effects at
the mixing and mastering stages of recording. (You can hear it in the
puchy sound of Paul Yandell's recent CDs.) I don't think Chet used
compression much on the road. I don't know if compression is used on
Stage I at CAAS, but most professional sound systems use limiting to
keep the sound level from distorting on loud sounds. I like the MXR
Dynacomp compressors from the 1970's, and Boss compressors are OK. For
the best sound, use a rackmount unit, like a dbx 160. Now I need to
Duane Monroe, IA
I really do appreciate your transcriptions. Is there any chance that you would do a transcription of "Shine" from
Paul Yandell's new CD "Dream Train"? Of course, every tune on the CD is great and I wish there was a book trnscribing all the tunes. Sure would love to see in one of your AGW's a transcrption of "Shine"
Hello Dwayne, good to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words.
Don't tell anyone, but I'm working on a book of Paul Yandell tunes as we speak. Don't know the release date, but I'll let AGW subscribers know first.
Gerry Johnston, MA
Love your playing! I've been a Chet Atkins fan for over forty years.
What role did on-the-spot improvisation have in Chet's playing? Once I
have come up with an arrangement it seems VERY difficult improvise
freely around it, so I pretty much just change the rhythm a little and
add a few embellishments to the melody. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Hi Gerry, thanks for the question. Improvising had a great role in
Chet's playing. Paul Yandell has told me that Chet would keep changing
things around, "to make it interesting."
Steve Mumma, PA
The picture that I always see you in,you appear to be holding a Studio
CEC.Do you ever perform with it live and what amp works best with it
Hello Steve, thanks for the question. That's a Kirk Sand electric
classical that I've played since about 1996. It has a Gibson CE pickup
and a Ray Butts preamp. It's the guitar you hear in most of my
recordings and book/CD sets. When I play live, I usually go through a
Demeter Tube Direct Box and into the board, or into both the board and
an amp. For the last few years I've used various amps including a
Peavey Nashville 400.
Simon Way, WA
Thanks for your "Anytime'"in Fingerstyle guitar mag- fantastic! I
play a Gibson CEC, which I Iove -but your sound on the Kirk Sand makes me want
one of those too! What is the best midi transcription software (hope it's Mac
compatible) for fingerstyle transcribing and can it work with a nylon string
guitar? I have some gospel, Beatles + Jobim versions of my own I wnt to get
critiqued and maybe published. Any pointers? Are you coming to the Northwest? -
Thanks - Simon Way
Hi Simon, glad you enjoyed "Anytime." Kirk builds great guitars! I
use Finale 2004 for transcribing, but I do it the old fashioned way, one note at a time. Finale supports midi,
but you need a nylon string with a hex pickup, like an RMC. (Kirk uses them in his guitars, and I think Godin
does, as well.) As far as publishing, most publishers are interested in a book with a theme, or a unique approach.
I once made it as far as the Kentucky/Missouri border, but I don't think that's Northwest enough . . .
Andy Hogan, MA
I once read an interview someone had with Chet Atkins and in the interview Chet
said he tunned his G string 'A little flat'. He also said the reason he did that
was to complicated to go into. I've always wondered why he would do that and
just how much is 'a little'. Do you know of any reason why someone might tune
their G string a little flat?
Hello Andy. Chet talked about tuning his G string a little flat in an old "Guitar Pointers" column from the magazine Country and Western Jamboree. He said, "I personally tune my 3rd string (G) just a little flat which makes it in tune in practically all keys. If perfectly tuned to the procedure here (tuning the 3rd string, 4th fret to the open 2nd string), it would be in tune only when playing in the key of G."
Chet was "tempering" or equalizing his tuning, which really is too complicated to go into here. Suffice to say, when you tune, begin with the above procedure, or maybe use an electronic tuner. Then, check octaves ( such as the open 3rd string against the 1st string, 3rd fret, and the 2nd string, 8th fret) and harmonics (such as the harmonic at the 3rd string, 12th fret against the 1st string, 3rd fret). Next, play a G chord, followed by an E chord. If the 3rd string seems a little sharp in the E chord, lower it just a little bit. (A little means very, very, little!) The goal is to make the string equally in tune anywhere on the neck.
Hope this helps, and thanks for your question.
Larry Barnes, TX
One of my all-time favorite tunes by Jerry Reed is "Winter Walking" and I know
you are a Reedology officiando. Question: Is there tab for this tune? I have
worked most of the song out but I know there a few spots that aren't
note-for-note. Thanks, and keep on pickin and keep on teachin!
Hi Larry, good to hear from you. I don't
know of an "official" tab, but maybe I'll include that one in AGW sometime.
Can you please tell me where can I find the right tab of "Windy and
warm"? I am very interested in finger picking style, maybe you could
also tell where to find some songs that are played in this technique,
and that are not so hard to play, because I am practicly a beginner.
Thank you very, very much
Hello Tomislav! The most accurate transcription I know is in the John
Knowles book "Chet Atkins Contemporary Fingerstyle" from Hal Leonard
Publications. You can order it from funkyjunk.com. (The tab is also in
the Acoustic Guitar magazine Chet Atkins tribute issue. Try searching
acousticguitar.com.) If you'll send me an email, I'll try to help you
find some material. Hope to hear from you.
Eric Kushins, NY
I like to play some of the "other" Chet tunes (we all
play Windy And Warm,etc.)like
The Old Double Shuffle,and stuff like that. Have you considered doing a book
on the feedback you might obtain by asking all of "Us"
what we'd like to play? You may get a lot of same type requests that surprises
Hi Eric. That might be a good idea. Why don't you email me your "Top 10" list.
Herb Hunter, NC
I always enjoy your playing and workshops at the Chet Atkins
Convention. You arrive at your workshops better prepared and with more handouts
than any workshop teacher. I try not to miss your performances at the convention
because they are so enjoyable especially when you play with S. Bennett and T.
Emanuel. I missed your Beatle performances last year due to an unscheduled nap
than ran long. I hope your workshop this year will include a Beatle tune.
What microphones and Mic. positions do you prefer when recording unamplified
Thanks Herb. I'll try not to interfere with your naps in the future!
I can usually get a good sound about a foot or so away from the guitar, aimed at about the 14th fret. Over the soundhole is usually too boomy. Lately I've been using a Shure SM81 condenser mic through a tube preamp.
Roger Chevrier, Ontario
Love your work. I have a lot
of your stuff, not everything
but I'm working on that.
My question is on arranging.
Sometimes when I'm working from
sheet music and I run into a
problem where I can't get the
B section to sound right or the
chords don't seem right, what
should I do? Usually I leave it
for awhile, but when I return
to it I still have the same problem
How can I approach it differently?
I know this is a big question,
but a couple of hints would be
Yours truly Roger
Hello Roger, good to hear from you. I'm a big believer in using your
ears. Even when working from sheet music, I would refer to a recording of
the tune if at all possible. Sometimes, especially in collections of
standards, the chord charts leave a lot to be desired. I would work on
getting the melody right, then add the bass line, and then flesh out the
harmony. If the chords in the sheet music arrangement don't seem "right",
use some substitutions of your own. Hope this helps, and thanks for your
Charles Newman, Muth Lane
I've heard 2 songs by Jerry Reed that sound very similar, one
"Pushin'" and the other called "Sassy." Are they the same song?
Hello Charles. "Pushin'", from the Live at the Bottom Line video with
Chet Atkins, is an early version of "Sassy", from Jerry's "Pickin'" CD.
It's a great tune by either name!
Keith Capps, LA
I got a lot out of your Down Home Picking Book/CD, it's really
Have you any plans to do any work in Guitar Pro or Tabledit software
Hi Keith. I'm glad you enjoyed "Down Home Picking." At this time I
haven't worked in either program.
David Wolfram, FL
Craig, any basic rules for learning to execute fast smooth note
like chet in "Somebody's Knockin", Standard Brands. Chet would say start
if you can't play it slow you can't play it fast or, never pick a string
in a row with the same finger . But I always wonder which finger to start
first or should i force a certain pattern(i m a) (a m i) or whatever, no
Hi David, good to hear from you. Of course, specific patterns vary from
song to song, but Chet used various combinations of thumb (p), index (i),
and middle (m) in most scale licks. For starters, try experimenting with
a p-m-i pattern (or i-p-m-i, 'cause you don't always begin with your
thumb). Hope this helps.
I'm a big fan of your playing. Actually, that's not really true - at
more of a average-sized fan of your playing. My question is this: I was
wondering why a big guy such as yourself doesn't play one of those big
like that Bennett guy (the one you did the cool Beatles set with)
it called - a harp guitar? At about 5'20", you're a big enough guy to handle
one of those fine instruments.
Seriously, Craig - I love playing music with you and hope we can make that a
regular thing. You're one of those players that when I listen, I think that
there's not one extraneous note in what you play. No fat, just every note
is required to make your point, no more, no less.
p.s. you could continue the Beatles medley online here by not responding -
I'll think that you're doing the song No Reply...
Stephen! Actually, I've been experimenting with the harpoon guitar, but
that's another story. If you scroll down, you'll find at least one feller
who'll buy our Beatles duet CD (if we ever make it). Thanks so much for
your kind words about my playing- I love playing with you, too! Stay in touch!
Considering all your work related to Jerry Reed's music, I was wondering
you know whether there is a transcription available of "Jerry's Breakdown" as
played on his 2000 album "Finger Dancing". If not, have you ever considered
doing one, perhaps for publication in your own quarterly (AGW)?
Also, could you say anything about how Jerry manages to get his nylon
sound the way it does on this specific version of the song?
Thanks and all the best from Amsterdam
Hi GJ, good to hear from you! I don't know of a transcription of the "new
Jerry's Breakdown", but I have considered it for AGW, if only I could
figure it out! Maybe it'll be in a future issue. On the "Finger Dancing"
CD, Jerry played a Plummer Jerry Reed signature model nylon string. It
has the neck and scale length specs of Jerry's old Baldwin electric
classical. The electronics include an RMC pickup system. P.S. Say hello to Alexis for me.
Chuck Row, CA
Im looking for some of chet's arrangements, they seem heard to
of his older hits - even atkins old chrismas arrangments I would love to
Chuck, you're in luck! The new Mel Bay book "Chet Atkins in Three
Dimensions" by John McClellan and Deyan Bratic has some great older Chet
tunes like "Caravan","Heartaches", and "Walk Don't Run." John Knowles'
book "Vintage Fingerstyle" (from Hal Leonard) contains "Arkansas
Traveler", "Blue Echo", and "Oh! By Jingo!" And, my own book "The Chet
Atkins Collection" (Mel Bay) has "Whispering" and the 1955 version of "Jingle Bells." Hope this helps.
Larry Barnes, TX
I wanted you and Stephen Bennet to know how much I enjoyed your
Beatle tunes at the 2002 CAAS convention! I have enjoyed playing some of the
tunes you "taught" me how to play during your workshop. Have you ever
cd with just a collection of Beatles tunes before? If so, where can it be
obtained? Thanks for the show!
Hi Larry. I'm glad you enjoyed our Beatles set. It was almost totally
unrehearsed, but we had a lot of fun doing it. As yet, I haven't recorded
a Beatles collection, but it would be great to record one with Stephen. Maybe we can do that sometime!
Waymon Vickery, TN
Of course, you are one of my greatest heroes.
I've been playing guitar(mostly wrong)for a long time. When I first started
learning to do the classic pull-offs in 2nd/3rd frets, beginning with the
string, thence to the 2nd string and all the way to the low E string, I
that I erroneously used left hand fingers 1&2, and now I think I should have
learned it using left hand fingers 2&3. What do you think? I know it's
elementary, but what I have had to do most of my life is go back and visit
basics and correct as I can. Please give me your thoughts.
Once again, I appreciate you more than I am able to tell.
Hi Waymon, thanks for your very kind words. For those Chet-style pulloffs
in the first position (such as in "Oh! By Jingo!"), it would be better to
use your 1st finger on the 1st fret, 2nd finger on the 2nd fret, 3rd
finger on the 3rd fret, and so on. There are always exceptions, however,
so it's good to be able to execute pull offs with all your fingers. For an exercise, try
pulling off 4th finger, 3rd finger, 2nd finger, 1st
finger and open. It won't sound too musical, but it will help you gain control of all four fingers. Thanks for the question, and all the best to you.
Bill Monk, AL
Hey Craig -
Doug Grant was asking about accuracy. To my ear, your transcriptions always
spot-on and very, very close if not perfect. And I'm not just saying that
because you're seven feet tall....
In your book "The Chet Atkins Collection" (the one that has the Chet & Tommy
version of "Waltzing Matila") there is one thing that bothers me, though.
At the end of Tommy's part, there's an unusual form of a Bb13 chord. It's
to play and doesn't sound quite right, and the more I listened to it the
seemed like it must be wrong. This is page 47, measure 134, beat 3.
After getting the book, I watched Tommy play this really closely, and he
"Merle Travis Chord" here, with thumb barring 5th & 6th strings at the 1st
4th string open; first finger barring strings 3 & 2, and little finger on
string 3rd fret.
Chet's part and the rest of the Tommy part seem so close to the record.
you explain why that one chord is so wrong? :->
Take care my friend..
Hi Bill. That bothers me too, and I'm glad to have a chance to set things
straight. Actually, I was inclined to go with the Travis chord myself,
but my so-called Tommy Emmanuel expert (what was his name . . . Bill
something or other) insisted otherwise. Seriously, thanks for your help
on that project, and good to hear from you. (P.S. Bill is a fine
guitarist who has shared the stage with both Tommy Emmanuel and myself,
simultaneously and also at the same time.)
Marcia Chan, Vancouver
I've been a huge fan of yours for many, many years. Where can I find a list
your recordings? Are there any new CDs of your pickin' available?
Hi Marcia, good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. Email me
at email@example.com for a list of my recordings and books. Right now
I'm recording some tunes for a new CD, but don't know when it will be
released. My newest project is the book/CD set "5-String Banjo Styles for
6-String Guitar", just released from Mel Bay.
Scott Franklin, KY
Hey "Dr. Dobbins" as you know I absolutely love your work but it's
time for a CD from you. I'd like to know when you are going to transcribe
"Kentucky". It is such a beautiful Chet Classic. Any plans?
I'm recording as we speak, but don't tell anyone! In the meantime, I do
have two CDs available, "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs" and
"Christmas Time." You can email me for info.
I love "Kentucky" too. That would be a good one to transcribe. I'll put
it on the list.
Julian Smith, Bowdon, GA
I truly appreciate your many talents, especially your guitar pickin'.
What advice would you give in respect to song writing, copy writing, and
Hi Julian. I enjoy your pickin' too. As far as advice, consider the
source, but here goes. I think a good place to start is to try to write
songs in the style of players you admire. (I took this approach for the
tribute tunes in my "Down Home Picking" book/CD set from Mel Bay.) After
that, try your own ideas. A song is copyright protected once you record it or write it down, but
it's still a good idea to register the copyright with the Library of
Congress. They will send you the forms you need. When I record, I like to keep trying until I get a complete take that I'm
happy with (or at least one I can live with). Sometimes it happens right
away, but many times it means there's one great take at the very end of a
reel of tape. I'm not above fixing mistakes if I need to- but the basic
take needs to feel good to start with. I usually record my Sand and Taylor guitars direct, through a Demeter
Stereo Tube Direct, and a Lexicon PCM 60 reverb. Hope this helps!
Lee Starnes, Ooltewah, TN
Could you put together companion recordings for your Jerry
Reed and Chet Atkins Collections? I'm having a hard time locating
recordings some of these tunes. Sorry to hear about your back; I hope
your doing better. Thanks and keep up the good work
Hello Lee. Thanks for the encouragement, I appreciate it. Although I was
not able to offer companion recordings for these two books, all but a
couple of the tunes are currently available on CD. Two great sources are
www.funkyjunk.com and www.guitarrecords.com. I recommend them both
highly. Also, check these sites often for news of new Atkins and Reed CD
reissues. Thanks for the questions.
Joel Meek, Mansfield, TX
Any way to get an autographed photo?
Hello Joel, thanks for your interest. Write to me c/o Acoustic Guitar
Workshop, PO Box 8075, Gadsden AL 35902, or email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll dig around in the old photo box and see what
I can find.
John Stephenson, England
Although i am a "rock" guitarist, I would dearly love to play Chet's style.
Bearing in mind im in England, what are the best books/videos to start me
Hi John. Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop distributes two highly
recommended instructional videos, featuring Chet himself. "Get Started on
Guitar" is for beginning fingerpickers, and "The Guitar of Chet Atkins"
features Chet playing and explaining some of his classic arrangements. As far as books, once you are on your way, check out John Knowles' great
series of Chet Atkins books: "Chet Atkins Note for Note" (distributed by
Music Sales), "Contemporary Styles", "Guitar for All Seasons", "Almost
Alone", and the forthcoming "Vintage Fingerstyle" (distributed by Hal
Leonard). All these videos and books should be available in the U.K. If you have
trouble locating them, email me for further info. (Also, don't forget my
new book "The Chet Atkins Collection", which contains some easier tunes,
as well as some real knucklebusters.)
Bill Spann, Abilene, TX
Craig, you are so good at what you do. When did you begin
doing TAB? Do you use any type computer program or is it all done by
your great ear for music. Also, do you know the origin of TAB? Keep up
the good work and above all keep pickin. See you in July.
Hi Bill. Thanks for the compliment! I began teaching guitar when I was a
teenager, and TAB seemed like a good way to write it all down. Today, I
like to use a combination of notation, TAB, chord diagrams, explanatory
notes, and of course a recording of the tune, in AGW. It may seem like
overkill, but I think every little bit helps! I use Finale (a computer
program) to write out the music, but I transcribe strictly by ear.
I'm not sure of the origin, but I do know that lute music was written in
a kind of TAB hundreds of years ago. One system used letters, and another
used numbers, as in our modern TAB. Take care, and see you at CAAS.
Ed Powers, Craigsville, WV
Will you be transcribing any more of Ray Cummins' arrangements
in AGW? Ray has a new tune called EASY PICKIN' that I think you would like.Also are you workng on any more Reed tunes?
Hello Ed, good to hear from you. Ray and I have discussed the possiblity
of including one of his original tunes in a future issue of Acoustic
Guitar Workshop. His "Summer Daze" which appeared in Fingerstyle Guitar a
couple of issues ago is a great tune. Yes, there will be more Reed music in AGW in the future. ("Are You From
Dixie" is scheduled for the next issue.) Thanks for the questions!
Phil Dalton, Modesto, CA:
Could you tell me the differences between amplifying a nylon( ie. Godin)
as opposed to a steel string acoustic? I play a Taylor 514ce and it took
several years to get the sound I liked. Am I going to be faced with the
same types of problems with the nylon string guitar? I play through an
SWR acoustic amp plus a house PA. Will this require alot of tweeking for
the Godin? Thanks so much
Hello Phil. As you obviously already know, each guitar presents its own
amplification problems, so it's really a matter of experimentation.
Currently, I use a Peavey Nashville 400 amp (210 watts with a 15 inch
speaker). It's really a steel guitar amp, but most instruments I've tried
sound good through it (including the Kirk Sand electric classical, Taylor
514C, Tele, and Gibson Country Gent). The Fishman Acoustic Performer amp
is also very good for acoustic instruments, both steel and nylon string.
Also, I've heard Paul Yandell get a great sound through a Fender
Acoustasonic amp. Of course the fact that he's Paul Yandell may have
something to do with it . . .
Ron Reynolds, Georgia:
Which "Bell's of Saint Mary" are you doing in your book? Is it the one on the Superpickers album?
Hi Ron. It's the original 1953 version, one of my favorite Chet Atkins
recordings. (I did transcribe the intro for the Superpickers version in a
recent issue of Mister Guitar.)
Doug Grant, Virginia Beach, VA:
Craig how long does it take to write a book of Chet's tunes and how
accurate are you with your tabs?
Hello Doug, thanks for the question. I've spent most of the last year or
so on The Chet Atkins Collection, but it varies. I've always subscribed
to the approach that "it takes as long as it takes." Some of these tunes
I've played for years, but when it's time to write it all out, I go back
to square one.
I do strive for accuracy. In this book, some of my "proofreaders"
included Paul Yandell (The Bells of St. Mary's) and Guy Van Duser
(Whispering). My friend and mentor Clyde Kendrick has helped me proofread
every book project I've done. Also, I keep a running tab of any mistakes
or typos, to correct in the next printing.
Send in your own questions!