Founded in Brooklyn in 1883, Gretsch started out making banjos, tambourines, and drums. It didn’t really get into guitars until the 1930s, when the guitar began to overtake the banjo in popularity. Evidence of that shift could be seen in the success of the L-5, Gibson’s fast-selling acoustic archtop, with its trapeze tailpiece and a pickguard that seemed to float above the f-holes carved into the instrument’s body.
Gretsch answered in the mid-1930s with the American Orchestra line of acoustic guitars, which started at $25 each. These guitars had spruce tops, maple backs and sides, and either rosewood or ebony fingerboards. By all accounts, they did little to slow down Gibson.
In 1939, Gretsch came out with a true competitor, the Art Deco-styled Synchromatics. These acoustic archtops included the top-of-the-line 400, which was designed to do battle in the marketplace with Gibson’s 1935 Super 400. The Synchromatics were unique in that they had a stairstep bridge, a harp-shaped tailpiece, an asymmetrical neck, and cat’s-eye sound holes instead of the more traditional-looking f-holes.
Like the American Orchestra guitars, the Synchromatics failed to make a significant dent in Gibson’s dominance, but today, a vintage Gretsch Synchromatic 400 is every bit as collectible as Gibson Super 400, so perhaps the guitar was simply ahead of its time.
The other Gretsch introduction of 1939 was its first line of electric guitars. Called the Electromatics, they were offered in Hawaiian and Spanish models. After World War II, Gretsch came out with three flat top acoustics, model numbers 6007, 6021, and 6042. Instead of cat’s eyes or even f-holes, these big-bottomed guitars had triangular sound holes in their centers.
The 1950s were an outstanding decade for American electric guitars: Gibson debuted the Les Paul in 1952 and Fender launched the Stratocaster in 1954. For Gretsch, the 1950s was the decade when its guitars really started to come into their own. The Duo-Jet, made popular in the 1960s and 1970s by the likes of George Harrison and Jeff Beck, went into production in 1953, and the Electro II was introduced in 1954. That guitar evolved into the Country Club line, which lasted 27 years.
1954 was also the year the Electromatic became the Streamliner (although the Electromatic logo remained on the guitar until 1958) and when the first Chet Atkins hollow-body debut...
The other Gretsch trend of the 1950s was to jazz up its Duo Jets. In addition to the original black model, Gretsch added a sparkly silver version, the Western-themed Round-Up (complete with leather-tooled strap and a big G branded into its knotty-pine top), and the Jet Fire Bird, whose bright red top caught the eye of Bo Diddley.
In the 1960s, the continued association of Gretsch with George Harrison and The Beatles kept the company in the limelight. Harrison played a Country Gentleman on the Ed Sullivan show, so it shouldn’t have been too surprising when Chet Atkins repaid the favor by recording an album of Beatles covers. The Monkees, a made-for-TV group, played Gretsch instruments exclusively, albeit under marketing contract. Naturally Gretsch produced a Monkees signature guitar.
Gretsch was sold to Baldwin in 1967—for many Gretsch fans, this sale had the same negative effect as the 1965 sale of Fender to CBS. But Gretsch heir Fred W. Gretsch vowed to one day get the company back, which he did in 1985, coincidentally, the same year CBS let go of Fender.
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Rig Rundown: G. Love & Special Sauce (2014)Premier Guitar, March 12th
Love also still tours with the first guitar he bought after getting a record deal—a 1970 Gibson Les Paul Custom. He also hauls along an open-G-tuned Gretsch Black Falcon. When Garrett wants to blues it up, his go-to guitar is a newish National metal...Read more
The new Lard Have Mercy! exhibit at UNC celebrates 30 wild years of Southern ...The Independent Weekly, March 12th
"I don't clean 'em, man, especially the old Danelectros," offers SCOTS patriarch and frontman Rick Miller, laughing. He recently found an old Gretsch he hadn't played in nearly a decade, covered in calcified banana pudding. Miller assumes that the...Read more
'Holy grail of guitars' among those in NY auctionSchenectady Gazette, March 8th
A wide range of makers are represented, including Gibson, Gretsch, Washburn, Stromberg and D'Angelico. The earliest instrument in Risan's collection dates to 1840; the newest is a 2000 re-creation of a 1930 Martin Among other highlights are a 1900...Read more
Gibson, Gretsch, Washburn, Stromberg among rare, vintage guitars going to ...Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 7th
John D'Angelico was a guitar maker with a studio in Greenwich Village during the first half of the 20th century; his guitars have been described by some "as the Stradivarius of guitars," Ettinger said. Pre-sale estimates of the instruments were still...Read more
CC-E to compete in art guitar competitionSpencer Daily Reporter, February 28th
Megan Wassom, senior at Clay Central-Everly High School, showed the progress she has made thus far on CC-E's entry for the 2014 Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association Gretsch Art Guitar Program. The guitar will be auctioned off with eight others to raise ...Read more
WIN: Gretsch Electric Guitar Giveaway!Rock Square, February 24th
This month we're rolling out the red carpet and offering up a brand new Gretsch Electromatic® CVT III electric guitar to the Rock Square Community! Since its debut, musicians have relied on Gretsch guitars for their tone, remarkable body shape and...Read more
Siouxland schools compete in guitar contestSioux City Journal, February 17th
ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa | Area high schools will take part in the Iowa Rock 'n Roll Music Associatiom's 2014 Gretsch Art Guitar Program. Each school decorates a non-playable guitar donated by the Gretsch Foundation in a way that honors an Iowa Rock 'n ...Read more
Vintage Vault: 1955 Fender BandmasterPremier Guitar, February 17th
The narrow-panel tweed Bandmaster is best remembered today as the amp Pete Townshend used to such great effect on the Who's 1971 album Who's Next. He paired it with a 1960 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model to create shimmering guitar orchestrations...Read more