The first part of this question is simple to answer, Yes, Gretsch Guitars are as good as they look.
Obviously there’s a bit more to it than that. Let's start with a brief history of the brand.
A Brief History of Gretsch.
In 1883 Friedrich Gretsch decided to leave his home in Germany to start manufacturing Banjos, Drums and Tambourines out of a shop in Brooklyn, New York. Sadly after 12 years of doing so, Friedrich died, leaving the company in the hands of his 16 year old son Fred.
Fred worked hard growing the company, so much so, by 1916 they had to relocate to a larger premises in Brooklyn. By this point Gretsch had become one of America’s largest manufacture and importer of musical instruments.
The key to Gretsch’s growth was listening to what the public wanted, and that meant they needed to start manufacturing guitars.
Gretsch started manufacturing acoustic archtops aimed at Jazz musicians and hand-full of flat tops for all the country musicians.
After retiring in 1942 the company would eventually end up in the hands of Fred’s son Fred Jr.
It was in the 1950’s when Fred Jr. started to introduce legendary custom Gretsch colours and state of the art gadgets which eventually led to the company’s ‘Atomic Age’ era.
What famous guitarists played a Gretsch guitar?
One thing that determines the popularity of a guitar make is to look at the famous guitarists that have played them over the years.
In the early days the first big artists signed by Gretsch were Chest Atkins and Duane Eddy. Then the following artist donned the Gretsch brand, Eddie Cochran, George Harrison, Brain Setzer, Billy Gibbons, Billy Duffy, Chris Cornel, Malcom Young, Bo Diddley, John Frusciante. This is just to name a few, there are many pictures and video footage from over the years showing some of the most legendary players holding a Gretsch. A great example of this would be the Travelling Wilburys.
What is special about Gretsch guitars?
Whether you’re a fan or not, I think we can all agree that Gretsch guitars make some of the most eye catching guitars ever made. Imagine going to see a band and the guitarist walks on stage with a Gretsch G6136T White Falcon. At first you might think ‘this person’s cool’, then suddenly they strike the first note and you’re ears are filled with the bright, powerful tone that can only be produced by the combination of the large hollow body and the distinctive Gretsch Filter’Tron pickups.
Part of Gretsch’s success was down to fact that they knew how to finish a guitar. From their famous bright orange stain, vibrant sparkle colours and even their sparkly binding, there is simply no need to look at what name is on the headstock to know that you're in the presence of a Gretsch Guitar.
Some people say you shouldn’t buy a guitar just on its looks, thankfully Gretsch guitars are still some of the highest quality instruments you can find. Although they won’t be suited to every player, Gretsch’s expanding catalogue of body shapes and designs means that chances are there is a Gretsch guitar for every player, you just might need some guidance to help you find the right Gretsch guitar.
Which Gretsch guitar should I buy?
Let’s break this down to make things simple, starting with build style.
Solid Body Gretsch Guitars are a great option for anyone seeking a smaller electric that can be pushed with higher gain without the worry of feedback. The chambered body will help reduce weight, making the guitar easier and more comfortable to play. View Collection
A Centre Block guitar, also know as a semi-hollow guitars, is a shallow hollow body construction with a chambered piece of wood running down the centre (Centre Block). This build is great for any player seeking a hollow-body tone with enhanced sustain. They can also be comfier for a lot of players due to the shallower design. View Collection
Gretsch’s success was originally founded on their hollow body guitars, from the 6120 to the Country Gentleman. The hollow construction combined with the FilterTron pickups delivers a unique full, yet bright tone that really cuts through. View Collection
These days there are a few series that Gretsch offer, making it more achievable for players to own a Gretsch guitar.
The Gretsch Streamliner series is Gretsch’s most affordable series. With a variety of Solid, Hollow Body and Centre Block models available. In recent years, the Streamliner series has accelerated the number of players using Gretsch as they suddenly became more affordable for people. Buy Gretsch Streamliner
Gretsch’s most popular series to date. The Electromatic series offers players an incredibly high quality instrument for well under £1000. Again offering a vast selection of different build styles in beautiful Gretsch colours. Buy Gretsch Electromatic
As the name suggests, the professional series is a cut above. The professional series is hand made in Japan making these guitars some of the finest available on the market. Very limited numbers of Professional Gretsch’s are produced so be sure to act quick when you find the one you like, you could be waiting for over a year before another one is made. It’s within this series you can find reissues of the guitars that made Gretsch so famous. Models like the Gretsch White Falcon, G6120 Nashville and even the White Penguin. The Professional series also offers signature models from some of the worlds most poplar Gretsch players from over the years. Models like the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, Brain Setzer G6120-59 Smoke, Billy Bo and even the Bo Diddley. Buy Gretsch Professional
USA Custom Shop
These really are as good as it gets. There’s only a handful of Gretsch Masterbuilder’s making these some of the rarest guitars available. Every guitar is hand made by one of the master builders ensuring a build quality like no other. Due to the level of detail, time and quality of materials used, this is Gretsch’s most expensive series, but boy are they worth it. Buy Gretsch USA Custom Shop
One vital component to ‘That Great Gretsch Sound’ is the pickups. Although most of the pickups will give you a distinctive Gretsch tone, there are subtle differences that might one better suited to your style of playing.
Arguably the most common of Gretsch pickups, these humbucking Filter’Tron’s have a power output rating of 7 with a high definition rating of 9. A more traditional Humbucker, like one of those you would find in a Gibson, would have a much higher output of around 9.5 combined with a much lower definition of 5.
Power = 7
Definition = 9
The Full’Tron humbucking pickups are a slight hotter pickup compared to the Filter’Tron with a power rating of 8. As a result the definition is reduced with a rating of 8. These are better suited for drives and slightly higher gain whilst still being able to achieve a classic clean Gretsch tone.
Power = 8
Definition = 8
The hottest of all the pickups. These humbuckers have a power rating of 9.5 whilst still minting a high definition compared to traditional humbuckers of 7.5. The Broad’Tron pickups are versatile and great for players who play a variety of genres.
Power = 9.5
Definition = 7.5
The HiLo’Tron’s are a single coil that offer an incredibly high definition with a much lower power rating. Great for players who like High Fidelity and Brilliant highs.
Power = 5
Definition = 9
These are as bright as it gets. For any early Beatles fans, these would be the ones to go for. George Harrison’s Jet featured Dynasonic pickups, as a result they produced a very destinctive tone heard and loved by millions.
Power = 6
Definition = 10
This would be the last main thing to consider when buying a Gretsch. Starting with the most popular…
Gretsch have been using Bigsby Vibratos on their guitars since the 50’s. The Bigsby allows you to press down on the Bigsby arm, slackening the strings which as a result produces a vibrato effect. Some people won’t go near a Bigsby as they believe they will be tuning their guitar ever two seconds, this simply isn’t true. As a result of moving the strings across the bridge and nut you will inevitably have to tune your guitar more than a hardtail, however with the correct setup and restring technique this will not be as often as you might think. View Collection
The Gretsch V-Stoptail is for hardtail models. Unlike the Bigsby which likes a constant balance in tension, the V-Stoptail is great for any players that likes to experiment with drop tuning.
There are a few variations of these, such as the G-Cadillac, Chromatic II and the G-Cutout. All of which work by attaching to the base of the guitar a floating above the top. The tailpieces have notches cutout which allow you to hook the string inside before resting on the bridge.
We appreciate there is a lot to take in when learning about a new brand of guitar that you've never played before. All those different specs, models and pickups you've never heard of can be rather overwhelming. If you still have questions that need answering then email a 'Gretschpert' at Music Bros. for friendly advice. firstname.lastname@example.org