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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Jim Irsay brings another Beatles guitar into his foldIndianapolis Star, March 11th
The Colts owner pursued the orange 1963 Gretsch hollow-bodied model for several years. Lennon, who played the guitar during the 1966 recording session for chart-topping Beatles hit "Paperback Writer," gave the instrument to his cousin, David Birch, ...Read more
John Lennon's "Paperback Writer" Guitar Bought by Colts Owner Jim Irsay for ...WFJA Classic Hits and Oldies 105.5 FM, March 9th
This past November, a 1963 hollow body Gretsch guitar that John Lennon used to record The Beatles' 1966 hit “Paperback Writer” went on the auction block but was pulled from sale by its longtime owner when it failed to reach the $600,000 reserve price...Read more
Gretsch Underwrites Music Center at Country Music Hall of FamePremier Guitar, March 5th
The Gallery was created through a generous donation by Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch and his wife Dinah, who is the historic guitar-and-drum builder's executive vice president and chief financial officer, through the Gretsch Foundation, which ...Read more
Showtime at the ApolloThe Independent, February 28th
Armed with a white, hollow-body Gretsch guitar, Linzie Helms wrestled the mic into position and had a seat before moving the crowd with her modified “Ain't No Sunshine When He's Gone.” The evening's performances concluded with a loud, aggressive ...Read more
Vintage Vault: 1962 Gretsch 6196 Country ClubPremier Guitar, February 16th
In 1939, while expanding the line to include high-end archtops, Gretsch also reacted to Gibson's first electric Spanish guitar—the ES-150, introduced in 1936—by debuting the Electromatic Spanish Model. These non-cutaway 16"-wide guitars were equipped ...Read more
Gretsch Announces 2015 LineupPremier Guitar, January 25th
The classic 1950s Gretsch New Yorker archtop guitar returns. From casual playing to pro performance, this grand auditorium size archtop will be your new favorite for its excellent tone, effortless playing action and handsome good looks. Features...Read more
NAMM2015: Gretsch Releases Updated Professional Collection Brian Setzer ...Guitar World Magazine, January 22nd
Gretsch is proud to release the entirely new and updated Professional Collection Hollow Body Brian Setzer guitars, each built to Brian's exacting specs. Gretsch Brian Setzer Nashville models are modeled on the guitars in his killer vintage collection...Read more
The Beatles memorabilia: John Lennon's Gretsch guitar may fetch $1m at auctionThe Independent, October 5th
Lennon gave his Gretsch 6120 guitar to his cousin, David Birch, in November 1967 – a year after the hit was recorded in April 1966 at London's Abbey Road studios. Mr Birch said he had fancied forming his own band. “I was just cheeky enough to ask John...Read more