Dave Matthews & His Iconic Chet Atkins SST Guitar

Last Updated on April 9, 2023 by Lil Ginge

One thing about being a Dave Matthews Band fan in the ’90s was how easy it was to fall in love with Dave’s ultra-cool, black Gibson Chet Atkins SST thinline acoustic-electric guitar. The Chet was nearly synonymous with Dave Matthews and his guitar sound during that era.

At least it was to me.

As soon as I saw and heard that guitar at my first Dave Matthews Band concert in 1996, I fell in love with it. There was something spellbinding about its look and sound. Almost unlike anything I had heard before from an acoustic guitar.

Dave Matthews playing his Chet Atkins guitar

The Design and Sound of Dave’s Chet

One reason I found Dave’s Chet so cool was that its thinline body made it look like an electric guitar but sound like a full-throated, thick, and chunky acoustic. Truly a guitar born for an acoustic rock God like Dave.

That thick and chunky sound was a core reason why Dave gravitated toward the guitar. The thinline design of the guitar not only helped reduce or eliminate feedback, but the chunky sound was able to cut through the band’s mix like a steak knife. I remember that thick guitar sound ringing out through the vast and echoing caverns of Madison Square Garden in 1996 as Dave and the Band played an explosive Lie In our Graves” second in the evening’s set.

When Did Dave Use the Chet in DMB?

Dave introduced his Chet Atkins to the band – and the world – in 1994, just on the cusp of DMB becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the United States. Prior to the Chet, Dave had been playing an Ovation Celebrity, also black and also thinline like the Chet. 

In addition to the iconic black Chet, Dave also had one available to him in a natural finish.

According to Guitar Lobby, Dave was initially using an SST standard but upgraded to the newer SST studio model soon after.

The Dave Matthews Chet Atkins era came to an end in 1999 when Dave abandoned it and started using a mix of different acoustic guitars from brands Martin and Taylor. Two years after abandoning his signature 1990s guitar, Dave Matthews Band would soon abandon the 90s full stop, ditching the band’s signature acoustic roots-rock jam band sound. They almost wholly reinvented themselves with a shiny, crowd-pleasing pop-rock sound on the album Everyday.

Chasing Dave’s Chet

I don’t think Dave has ever quite re-captured the spellbinding power of that particular guitar at DMB’s live shows. This is kind of ironic considering the array of extremely high-quality and expensive guitars Dave Matthews has played since. But there was a certain aura around both the sound and look of the Dave Chet that contributed to an almost mystical concert experience for me.

Ever since then, I’ve been chasing that Chet sound myself. As someone who plays out at open mic nights – including some Dave Matthews covers – I’ve always hoped to find a way to replicate that sound on a low budget. Despite how fond I am for several budget Ibanez and Yamaha acoustic-electric guitars, which have gotten me part of the way there, it’s still a long way from that 90s acoustic-electric Dave Matthews heaven.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply