How Chris Young Ended Up With Keith Whitley’s Guitar

Chris Young performs with the guitar once belonging to Keith Whitley.

How did Chris Young come to own a prized guitar of one of his heroes, the late Keith Whitley? The short answer is he bought it from Music City Pickers, the Nashville outfit formed by artist Brady Seals and former Gibson Guitars web editor Gabe Hernandez.

But here’s the rest of the story:

During the mid-to-late 1980s at the height of his popularity, Keith Whitley performed mainly with three guitars: a Martin acoustic, a Fender Telecaster, and a Sigma by Martin acoustic/electric.

The Martin acoustic and Fender Telecaster are owned by private collectors and have been displayed on occasion at museums throughout the southeast since Whitley’s death. The Sigma by Martin acoustic/electric, however, remained in the hands of a family friend and fellow musician, Earl Watkins, until now.

Watkins, who previously owned the Circle H Saloon near Lexington, Ky., met Whitley during the mid 1970s. They became close friends, and often played music together at the Circle H. During a visit to the venue in 1987, Whitley traded his Sigma by Martin SE-36 for the Fender Telecaster belonging to one of Watkins’ band mates, Jerry Fannin. Not long after that, Watkins purchased Whitley’s guitar from Fannin for $500. Watkins eventually passed it on his daughter Jeanne, who sold it to Music City Pickers during a recent event in Lexington.

In turn, Music City Pickers sold it to Young. He explains, “Keith Whitley has always been one of my musical heroes, so to get the chance to hold a piece of history in my hands and play his guitar on the Opry stage was beyond awesome.”

Young played it during a recent performance on the Grand Ole Opry, where he sang his own hit “Tomorrow,” and Whitley’s classic “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” The show is set to air Sat., Oct. 29 on GAC.


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Category: Artist, Featured, Weekend

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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