Gretsch Guitars
by Turtle Jones


This is a repost from my site from about a year ago - expect this to happen every once in a while - and covers one of my favorite guitar companies:

greshmain.jpgAfter writing a post about The Reverend Horton Heat, I decided talk a little bit about Gretsch guitars. Guitarists are known to be particular about getting certain sounds. They attach themselves to certain pieces of equipment -- guitars, pedals, strings, amps, speakers, etc. Gretsch, every bit as much as Gibson and Fender, are responsible for a lot of those cool guitar sounds we grew up loving.

Some of the biggest names in guitar ever have played Gretsch: Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Bo Didley, Chris Cornell, Django Reinhardt, Neil Young, Brian Setzer among others. There's something cool, undeniably Gretsch about those Filtertron pickups. You can hear it in strumming, in the decay of those single notes. Sure, some guitars sound similar, but nothing sounds exactly like a Gretsch.

Founded, in 1872 by German-immigrant Friedrich Gretsch, the company started as a drum and banjo manufacturer in New York. They later added lutherie (guitar manufacturing) to their company and in the 1930s offered acoustic archtops and flat-top guitars. Their first amplified models, the "Electrified Spanish" guitar, appeared in 1940. The 1950s saw the introduction of well-received, though conservatively designed electric archtops.

GRETSCH65CountryGentleman.jpgIt was in 1956 that Gretsch cut a marketing deal with Chet Atkins and created his "Country Gentleman" guitar.

Click on the image of the Country Gentleman for a full-size image. Check out the tuners on this baby. Look at how cool those little art deco things are. It's a little touch, but the kind of cool thing Gretsch does on their instruments. For an example of where these tuners originally became popular, click here.

The Country Gentleman has moved on to Gibson. Unfortunately. Not that I personally have anything against Gibson as a company. In fact, I probably admire them more than any other American lutherie company. But they have had quality control issues. They acquired Epiphone and with the exception of the high-end models, Epiphone is now a manufacturer of low-end Gibson knock-offs. Gibson has also acquired Kramer and Steinberger and the quality of those instruments has declined extremely. It's cool that they try and make affordable instruments, but I wish they'd still offer the level of quality they offer under their own name.

This is not to say that the Country Gentleman is not a quality instrument under Gibson's helm. It is a fantastic instrument, it just doesn't have that same Gretsch kitschy cool. Oh well. I'll write more about Gibson another day.

harrisongretsch.jpgGretsch has had some amazingly cool players. Out of the list above, their most famous player must be George Harrison. While John Lennon was playing his huge Epiphone Emperor, Harrison knocked out some cool sounds on his Gretsch Duo Jet. Of course, all the Beatles played a variety of brands, the Gretsch Duo Jet is a mainstay of Harrison's sound. At least as much as Rickenbacker.

The modern Gretsch company has gone through some changes. It is now located in Savannah, Ga., and their company was acquired by Fender Music Company in 2002. While this would normally spell the end of quality and manufacturing integrity for a company if Gibson had done it, Fender is known for letting their subsidiaries continue to produce their instruments at the same level of quality. They may cut into production levels, but the heart of a company generally remains the same. Fender acquired Jackson about the same time and if anything, quality has gone up for them.

I find this slice of Americana so interesting. When you think about the industrial background of America's youth, what images come to mind? I think about railroads and car manufacturers. Seldom did instrument makers enter my mind, but obviously they did their part to keep our economy going. And they more than did their part to ensure we produced some of the coolest music ever.

I got a heck of a lot of the information for this piece from The Guitar & Rock Equipment by Nick Freeth. If you've not seen it, check it out. And I didn't even talk about the coolness of the Bigsby vibrato unit. Some time in the future, I guess.

Cullen writes daily at Half a Pica Distance


a rickenbacker bass and a cigar is just like a toothless hooker sucking you off for free

pure heaven


I just wanted to say....nice post, Cullen.

*tries not to think too hard about turtle's comment*


hey hey hey

all i was saying was i like rikenbackers, cigars and blow jobs

thats all



Chris Cheney from the Living End plays one and he is the shit.


Great article. Thanks! I've always wondered about the whole Gretsch / Gibson connection.


hey nothing wrong with a toothless hooker either...

cullen, what a great piece! is this that rockabilly sound that i hear?

cuz for the fucking life of me i can't think of the george harrison sound...


if i remember right, the really unfortunate thing about Epis is that Epiphone was started by some disgruntled ex-Gibson employees. Before they were bought by Gibson, they made some pretty quality stuff. I'm a big dumb Gibson fan, at least of the stuff they built prior to the '80s. Someday i'll be able to afford one.


Thanks everybody.

Kali, yes, by and large, this is the jangly rockabilly sound. Stray Cats, Reverend Horton Heat, Chet Atkins ... that sound.

Pril, I'm a big, dumb Gibson fan also. But I don't give them any slack.


I love the Gretsch sound too. To me, it's one of those "sounds of the 60's" that you can't reproduce these days, except on a Gretsch. If I ever get the money, I'll definitely get one.

On the other hand, my first electric guitar was an Epi Les Paul, and it served well and proudly for years, so I can't ACTUALLY complain about Epi.


It isn't even 8 am yet, and I've already learned a new word for the day: lutherie. Does this mean I can leave work and go get drunk?

Great article Cullen.


Yeah, nice one. I'm still on my Epiphone Les Paul too....
Works great for me but I have low expectations for myself anyway. Good match.


i don't know if i cut them any slack or not. I've only got about an hour's playing time in on any Gibson in my whole life. I mean, i play an Ibanez Gs100 that i got at a pawn shop for $95. (best guitar available under $100. No longer made, though). Now, you ask me about Harmony, Silvertone or Danelectro, and i'll talk your ears right off your head. But most people still have their ears, because no on asks about those.


My dad's got a Chet Atkins Gretsch (I'm not sure which model). He doesn't play anymore, so I'm hoping to inherit it one day.


Another great-sounding Gretsch player: Billy Duffy of The Cult ("She Sells Sanctuary," "Love Removal Machine").


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