Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Discussion of history's greatest guitar player.

Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby Doug Working » Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:00 pm

Got your attention, eh?

Now I for one second do not believe that. But Chet did. In an article, Chet said (of the guitar) : "I haven't mastered it, yet."

He sincerely believed it! I think that is a testament to his humility. Chet was SO self effacing, which was probably a secret to his success.

But think of it this way. If one truly aspires to master the guitar, and has a great work ethic, then one will work extremely hard to reach that elusive goal. We know Chet had the habit of getting up early in the morning and going into his home studio with his guitar, a cup of coffee and his cigar, and making those exquisite recordings that we now enjoy as "Solo Sessions." Chet's beautiful, final gift to us. And he thought "Nah. Nobody wants to hear that stuff." Boy, was he ever wrong! Again, he underestimated himself. His humility was in full force.

He also said "I never listen to my records, because I'll think "I could have done that part better. Or " I could have played that section differently." He was a die-hard perfectionist! And we are blessed with the end result.

I read on the back of one record (the liner notes, when they actually had such a thing) "Chet. If he had decided to become a farmer, we'd be taking six foot high green beans for granted!"

Amen to that.

But as far as Chet's "non-mastery", if Chet hadn't mastered the guitar, where does that put little me on the scale??" I KNOW that I'm still on the bottom rung, inspite of decades of assiduous practice and very sore hands. . But that's OK. I'm happy. I'm happy learning and practicing and trying. Even if I never get famous, I'm doing what I love, making music for the walls of my room, with my framed Chet photo (the one of him in Mexican attire, puffing on his cigar); looking on from it's honored spot on top of my TV as I practice. And if I nail a lick, I look and ask "Are you proud, Chet?"

I always think "Would he approve? Would he suggest a different fingering?" "Would he smile and say something complimentary?" "Would he be proud for being my inspiration?" "Would he be happy to see how faithfully I practice?" I can only dream.

Gotta love it.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby DagerRande » Mon Dec 04, 2017 9:47 pm

I think that there may be varied definitions of "mastering" the guitar. There is probably nobody who can do everything possible to be done on the guitar. Chet's ability encompassed all that most of us would ever aspire to do on the guitar. Yet there are screaming high speed rock licks that he most likely hadn't spent any time with and whether we personally like them or not, some might consider those as also being included in the definition of "mastery". Fans of any category of music are going to feel that expertise in that particular area must be included in the definition of "mastery". Personally I feel that Chet was a guitar master, but I've had this conversation so many times over the years with people who feel that people like Eddie Van Halen or Joe Satriani were "true" masters of the guitar. I think I could make a pretty good case as to why I feel that the technicalities of Chet's playing are much less attainable by guitarists in other genres than their techniques are unattainable for him!
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby Roger Lane » Wed Dec 06, 2017 2:17 pm

Chet’s humble perspective on his own playing is echoed by some other great musicians in other fields. The late great jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson stated, late in his career, “No one has ever LEARNED to play to play the trumpet”. Chet was very wise as well as humble. To claim total mastery of any instrument would mean there was no further room for improvement, nothing left to learn or share. We are all indebted to Chet for his continual innovation and boundless good taste. To us, there is no one better.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby Doug Working » Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:07 pm

Very good thoughts, guys.
Mastery is SO elusive. My hands are VERY sore from trying. But that's the wonderful part. I mean the fact that there is ALWAYS something new to learn (if one is open minded and pervious to new ideas and musical concepts.)

To me, the level that Chet was at kind of reminds me of the Rifleman.

I think that needs some explanation! You see, when I was like 3 to 5 years old, I loved the TV she the Rifleman with good ol' Chuck Connors. One day, my hero made an appearance at an amusement park. And I got to meet him in person. Well, he was well over 6 feet. And here I was a tiny boy, standing next to him. I only remember craning my neck up to see his face, and it was like I was looking up at a tall ponderosa pine! I was awed! "Wow!!! The Rifleman!!!!"

So that's the way I see Chet, as far as his mastery of the instrument. He is a tall ponderosa pine. I can only look up in wonder and do my very best to grow taller and try to play like him. Eddie Arnold said that Chet stood head and shoulders above other guitarists. That's not an exact quote, but it captures the gist of what Eddie said.

Does anybody here recall that quote from Eddie?


If he WANTED to, I'll bet Chet could nail those rock licks with minimal practice, but not a whole lot of "shredders" could do Chet's licks! Although Mark Knopfler gave Chet a good run for the money! ("Chet, you're never gonna get to play that rock and roll!)"

And Chet proved real well that he could do anything classical players do, if he so desired, but how many Classical players can do Chet's stuff? After all, mastery includes being able to jam with other players and groups. Chet did that real well. But it requires a prodigious inner map (in the mind) of the fingerboard, and not just the ability to play established pieces that are committed to memory. It requires on the spot improvisation, and only a guitar master can pull it off.

Maybe I'm rambling. Sorry.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby the-ocean87 » Mon Dec 11, 2017 7:53 am

It is hard to discuss this topic. There are also tunes Chet struggled with (Stars and stripes forever, for example) which others could play better. That doesn' take away anything from Chet.

In my opinion, Chet was a complete player. He could play many genres with great taste. He wasn't the best country player, or best jazz player. But he was one of the best "Fingerstyle guitar" players ever. It doesn't matter much to me who the best player is. Chet was one of the most influential guitar players in the history of the guitar. He wrote the book for fingerstyle guitar. He played the guitar like it was never heard before.That is something very important IMO. He wanted to be remembered as a guitar player. He didn't need to be the best, technically.

Comparing his classical stuff with guys like John Williams or Parkening will show you a big difference. Chet didn't play as accurate or clean as these classical players do. He never considered himself a classical player but he could play classical guitar. Nowhere near as good as classical players, but I doubt he practiced this stuff 8 hours a day like these players do. My take is if you want to become a serious classical guitar player, you have to focus on that style, because it is a very hard stye. I have no doubt Chet could have become a serious classical player, if he intended to.

Someone once said "Chet was the best at being Chet". Chet's legacy will remain, unlike many youtube players, who can play his stuff at 300bpm but create nothing new.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby the-ocean87 » Mon Dec 11, 2017 8:00 am

Doug Working wrote:If he WANTED to, I'll bet Chet could nail those rock licks with minimal practice, but not a whole lot of "shredders" could do Chet's licks! Although Mark Knopfler gave Chet a good run for the money! ("Chet, you're never gonna get to play that rock and roll!)"

And Chet proved real well that he could do anything classical players do, if he so desired, but how many Classical players can do Chet's stuff? After all, mastery includes being able to jam with other players and groups. Chet did that real well. But it requires a prodigious inner map (in the mind) of the fingerboard, and not just the ability to play established pieces that are committed to memory. It requires on the spot improvisation, and only a guitar master can pull it off.

Maybe I'm rambling. Sorry.


Doug, with all due respect, I doubt Chet could handle some of these rock licks. It takes a lot of practice to do so. I'm not talking about easier riffs like Led Zepp or Eagles. Check out Paul Gilbert, for example.
I'd say every style has their difficulties. I like rock guitar as much as I do like Bluegrass from Tony Rice. It's hard comparing these different styles. I remember reading an interview with Chet himself saying that he admires many players from different style, rock music included. That's one reason why he was so great. He was always open for something new.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby Ray Bohlken » Mon Dec 11, 2017 2:46 pm

I think that Chet could play anything he ever wanted to play. When he was younger, he was a fan of Les Paul, George Barnes, and Django. All of those players had the chops to do what ever they wanted to and Chet did, too. I think he played things he enjoyed just like we all do and that's what he focused on. I believe that his playing on songs like Lullaby of Birdland and Yakety Axe, among many others, show that he had the ability to just let it fly and get great sounds. If you added some edge to either of those songs - distortion, up the tempo speed, and changed the tone settings some, you'd have some great rock sounding licks. Lullaby of Birdland sped up and gained up would make a great Allman Brothers Band sounding solo similar to In Memory of Elizabeth Reed - the great Dickey Betts Duane Allman song. That's just my opinion, though. Feel free to disagree. :) This has been a good conversation thread.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby Steve Moran » Mon Dec 11, 2017 3:41 pm

Chet could play just one note and, I believe a lot of Chetboarders would agree, no one else could come close to matching the sound of just that one note. That's what my ears tell me and that's including listening to quite a bit of music from other well-respected musicians including those referenced in this topic posting. Chet showed what could be played on guitar which, to me, went beyond any genre or style of playing.
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Re: Chet Never Mastered The Guitar

Postby Doug Working » Mon Dec 11, 2017 7:40 pm

I think I understand what you are saying. Are you referring to that elusive, impossible to pin down thing that Chet had, that we refer to as "touch?"

If so, I agree that the man's TOUCH was WITHOUT EQUAL. Ahhhhhhhh, touch! That's where the magic lies! Either you have it, or you don't. Perhaps it can be developed after years of playing, perhaps not. But it cannot be TAUGHT. Maybe it's in the DNA. I don't know. With Chet, it was so MANY elements: touch, phrasing, a fabulous ear and the ability to transfer what he heard on the inside to the strings...just so many things that come together to create a great picker.

He could HEAR muscal elements in an almost uncanny way. I'm sure you have heard the anecdote of the first time John showed him "Wndy and Warm", and he had not even got all the way through it, and Chet was way ahead of him and already knew the ending (where the piece was headed) and was able to pull it off before he heard it.

Chet had the ability to take a beautiful melody and improvise on it or embellish it, whatever you want to call it, he could play the melodiy in several different ways or variations, if you will. No good melody was boring in Chet's hands. He made the melody COME ALIVE. Take his playing of "Battle Hymn Of The Republic." He does like five or six different variations on the basic melody all in that one cut. That, my friends, is pretty incredible!

Or "Somewhere My Love" ("Laura's Theme") Going over my Chet records, I have found over the years probably five or six different arrangements he played on that tune, and they are all notably different. Guys like me struggle to master just ONE arrangement of the piece! But Chet seemed almost limitless. That HAD to be his musical imagination coming into play. His playing was kaleidoscopic.

Yet, he "never mastered the guitar." Lol.

But ya know, I've been thinking about this for a few days, and I guess in my mind, "mastery" boils down to having an absolute COMMAND of the fingerboard. Chet had that in spades.

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