Gretsch Guitars

Gretsch Guitars

Posted by Robinson Earle on Jun 13th 2019

Gretsch Guitars were Founded in the 1880s by a German immigrant, and the company initially focused on drums and tambourines. They began producing guitars in the 1930s and quickly gained a reputation for the production of quality 6-strings. It was in the 1950s, however, under the leadership of Fred Gretsch Jr. (great grandson of the founder, Friedrich), that the Gretsch renaissance truly began.

A Gretsch electric guitar is as emblematic of the 50s as a pink Cadillac. One of the first artists to wield one was the inimitable Bo Diddley, who played a Red Fire Jet. Bo was a musical genius whose experimentation with the electric guitar opened up a vast universe of sonic possibilities. Given the amount of tremolo and gain he required, the chambered solid-body design with its signature twang was the perfect fit (although he later commissioned a rectangular model that harkened back to the electrified cigar boxes that helped him pioneer his sound). Unlike the Fender Broadcaster and Telecaster, the Jet guitars (duo, fire, and silver, respectively) had open cavaties in the mahogany back and sides, which allowed them to retain an earthiness that perfectly suited early Rock & Roll’s country roots. It also had a similar warmth and bass to the early P-90 Les Pauls, but cut much more aggressively through a loud mix. Gretsch has never been afraid of innovation. The master volume knob that they included near the picking hand enabled the player to execute volume swells smoothly and swiftly. As for sheer aesthetics, they had access to a myriad of DuPont classic car colors typically reserved for drum wrappings. They dressed their growing lineup of instruments in vivid, strange sometimes sparkling finishes.

One of the integral figures during Gretsch’s formative years was a man named Jimmy Webster. An accomplished jazz guitarist, himself, Webster was able to tap into the art-deco zeitgeist of the era. Not only did he design the famous White Falcon with its winged headstock and gold/sparkle trim, but he also drafted the super-star picker, Chet Atkins, as Gretsch’s primary endorser. The first guitar to bear his name was a fully-hollow model known as the 6120. This became popular amongst rockers like Eddie Cochran and Duane Eddy. It later evolved into a thinner, sealed body guitar known as the Country Gentleman. This version was much more feedback resistant, but still sported painted on f-holes to maintain the arch-top vibe. It also boasted the newly designed Filter’Tron pickups which were hum-cancelling, but more articulate than the Humbucker pickups that Gibson was producing. This was the guitar that rose to universal acclaim by way of a little band from Liverpool called The Beatles

Although his first Gretsch Guitar was a duo jet that he bought second-hand off a sailor, it was the Country Gentleman that Harrison acquired new in 1963 that would change music history. When the Beatles took the stage on the Ed Sullivan show, he was playing his Brown Country Gentleman. It’s signature twang and warm bass both cut through and supported John Lennon’s jangling Rickenbacker. Due to the Beatles’ popularity, Gretsch sales soared. Throughout the rest of the 60s, you would frequently find Gretsch Guitars in the hands of the rock elite, including Neil Young, Steven Stills, David Crosby, and Lou Reed. The 70s and early 80s were hard for Gretsch. As the music got heavier, hollow-body guitars fell out of favor due to their tendency to feedback. Fred Jr. sold the company to Baldwin, a piano manufacturer, in 1967, and the build quality declined. His nephew, Fred III, even left for a while before triumphantly taking back ownership of his namesake company in 1984.

In the late 80s (and again in the late 90s), Swing and Rockabilly music came back into style, and a Gretsch was still the perfect guitar for the job. With Fred III at the helm, Gretsch proceeded to research and recreate the qualities that made their original guitars so great. They also expanded into the global market in a major way by forming an alliance with Fender in 2002. Beside the limited-run custom shop guitars that are made at the Fender headquarters in Corona, California, most Gretschs are now made in the Terada factory in Japan. Fred III has a long-standing relationship with this workshop, and they operate much like the original Gretsch factory in Brooklyn. They don’t use computers, and developed their reputation building arch-tops for master luthier, John D’Angelico. They say that the luthiers at the Terada factory spend half the day sharpening their blades, and the other half using them. 

Here at Midwood we are happy to host a wide variety of Gretsch Guitars. From the White Falcon to the newly released Malcolm Young signature Jet (which features one pickup and two empty pickup cavities), we carry all the iconic models that made music history. We also usually have a few options in our favorite finish, Cadillac Green. After all, as electric guitarists we are following in a rich tradition of innovation that Gretsch helped define. When you’re looking for that twang, only a Gretsch will do. They exist right at the nexus of Country, Jazz, and Rock & Roll. They harken back to the dawn of it all.