Modern country guitar is essentially an amalgam of older, more traditional and not so-modern playing methods borrowed from a number of related homegrown American musical styles. As such, it normally includes elements of bluegrass, blues, rock, pop, and even funk, and adds a delightful mix of challenging and expressive playing techniques to its repertoire. Some players may move to a more experimental approach in their playing and create more complex songs and licks, while other players stick to a more basic and simple approach. The result is typically a country guitar that is rich in its own special sound and contains enough variety in its repertoire to attract audiences of all ages.
The most identifiable characteristic of this genre is its heavy use of repetitive chord structures. Often, country guitarists will employ the use of classic open-string cascades (pedal steel strings) - which are similar to the harmonic structures of popular chord-based compositions - accompanied by a handful of strumming, slapping, whacking, and legato on the low end. These chord structures, plus the simple yet powerful melodies they express, have led to a lot of songs being recorded as country guitar gems - including those by some of today's most popular guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Steve Vai. It also has become quite popular for recording artists who are looking for a more experimental approach in their music. Classic rock songs are oftentimes performed as open-string cascades with very simple chords; however, they often have the added effect of complex harmonies when they are performed as solo parts. This effect can be achieved by changing chords during the progression or simply staying with the original structure of the piece.
Another characteristic of country guitar that characterizes this genre is the presence of "twangy" licks. In fact, one of the more popular characteristics of country guitar is the presence of several heavy licks that sound like they were ripped from the blues. This is often caused by the use of several pick strokes or repeated striking of the strings with the fingers. Country guitar players who are trying to achieve this effect must work on increasing their dexterity with their fingers by practicing callously and slurring their pick strokes. Country guitarists who want to take their playing to another level should consider enrolling in a formal guitar course that focuses on the use of several pick strokes and slaps. By doing so, they will improve the way they play in no time flat.
One other characteristic common to country guitarists is the presence of blues-type licks. Some of the most famous guitarists in the history of the genre all share the same trait: bluegrass guitarists will often borrow heavily from the blues. They will often alternate between the smooth tonality of the blues (which was borrowed from its guitarist brother Jimmy Hendrix) and the gritty sound of their own guitar hero Robert Johnson. On the other hand, bluegrass guitarists will sometimes also borrow from the heavy metal sound for a change of pace or as a contrast to the slower-paced blues. No matter what type of music a country guitar player likes to listen to, chances are that he or she will eventually end up listening to some form of bluegrass. In fact, many guitarists that are into the genre of bluegrass are also fans of the older forms of rock and roll.
Another characteristic that most acoustic guitars share with country music is their lack of use of amplifiers. Instead, most acoustic guitars employ what is called a "stomp box" or "fret box." A stomp box contains springs that enable it to create a large volume peak for the notes it is playing at one time. This method of amplification provides the guitar player with a warm, distinctive sound.
Picking is also very similar to that of country music. Country guitarists commonly employ a "dagger-foot" style of picking where the thumb and index finger plays the notes, while the remaining fingers play bass notes. Picking styles can vary widely depending on the guitar player and the tone desired. Some pickers like to add in harmonics or alternate picking (using three or more notes) for a variety of unique sounds. Country guitarists, however, typically stick to just standard picking patterns.
There are also some notable differences between an acoustic and electric guitar. An acoustic uses open strings, while an electric guitar usually uses closed strings. Although country guitarists primarily play with open strings, they also frequently play with closed strings (e.g. in the case of a slide on the electric).
The Strings of an acoustic guitar are often more flexible than those of electric guitars. Strings can be strummed, plucked, or flat-tipped. Many acoustic guitars have whammy bars, which allow the guitarist to create vibrato, which is a sharp, pitched sound. Finally, many acoustic guitars are fitted with what is called "thumbrest" that sits under the strings to help prevent them from breaking.