Jerry Reed

Jerry’s Breakdown

Guitar Techniques 171

Unfortunately I’m not allowed to put the actual transcriptions on the website.

I posted everything else though!


Jerry’s Breakdown is a great fingerstyle/hybrid picking piece which is considered a standard in the world of country guitar. Is that kind of piece that you play to show off the technical side of country guitar and to blow away the listeners with a continuos cascade of notes.

Every country guitarist has composed or performed this kind of tune. Brent Mason has his incredible Hot Wired, Brad Paisley has Nervous Breakdown, Albert Lee has T-Bird To Vegas, etc. So now you can start getting your teeth into something like that with this great instrumental track.

Jerry’s Breakdown was composed by guitarist/singer/actor Jerry Reed and appeared for the first time on his ‘Me & Chet’ album in 1972 a few months after Chet Atkins released his ‘Me & Jerry’ album. Both albums featured the two greats of country guitar: Jerry Reed on nylon string and Chet Atkins on one of his numerous Gretsch signature models. Jerry’s Breakdown is in the key of E and showcases mainly Jerry Reed with Chet Atkins joining in mostly for an electric solo section. It features lots of traditional country techniques such as banjo rolls and open string licks and it’s a challenging but very fun piece to play.

Jerry Reed has often referred to himself as a ‘guitar thinker‘ because of his constant research for new approaches to the instrument. Sometimes he would focus on unusual techniques – such as changing the tuning of the guitar while playing as in The Bird – but his real genius was in the way he looked at the physicality of the instrument. He would look at the guitar neck and always came up with new ways of connecting two shapes, or very unusual ways of playing lines incorporating open strings. It was his constant research combined with his sense of humor – try things out just for fun – that led him to be one of the greatest guitarists in the history of country music.

In this tune Chet Atkins plays a great comping based on (Merle) Travis picking and an astonishing solo in the middle of the song. His solos had always a strong melody, a few fleshy lines and a great execution and control of the timing. Listening to Chet Atkins is a little bit like listening to an encyclopedia of country guitar. He’s got it all! His style is mature, strong and knowledgeable. It’s full of traditional lines and musical quotes but always incorporate into his own vision and never as a pure reproduction of someone else’s idea. That’s why for many he was the Jimi Hendrix of country guitar.

In the transcription you’ll also find an additional solo taken from a later version of song which can be seen on YouTube ( This version shows the two geniuses playing and jamming on it and shows the spirit and attitude of the two. It’s also shows the differences between the two picking approaches. Jerry plays everything with the thumb-pick, middle and ring finger whereas Chet uses thumb-pick, index and middle.

Unluckily both Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins passed away leaving the guitar world with an unfillable space.


Any nylon string would do the job for Jerry’s but I would suggest an humbucking equipped guitar for Chet’s. Any valve amp with a nice clean tone would work but if you’re after Chet’s tone then use a Silverface Twin. I’ve used a Ramirez Elite 664 for Jerry’s part (kindly borrowed from my friend David Daws) and my 1965 Gretsch Country Gent for Chet’s (very similar to the one you see Chet using in the video).