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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Rare Clapton, Elvis guitars coming to NYC auctionCNBC, February 10th
(L-R) Les Paul's 1954 black solid body custom guitar, 'Black Beauty,' and Chet Atkins's 1956 Gretsch black sealed top 6120 prototype, 'Dark Eyes,' seen at Guernsey's auction house in Manhattan, NY, on January 15, 2015. Over 300 guitars are up for...Read more
GALLERY: Holy Grail of GretschPremier Guitar, February 4th
Sources for this story include American Sound and Beauty exhibition literature, The Gretsch Electric Guitar Book: 60 Years of White Falcons, 6120s, Jets, Gents, and More by Tony Bacon, and The Gretsch Book: A Complete History of Gretsch Electric...Read more
Gretsch Releases the Streamliner SeriesPremier Guitar, January 23rd
Brash and feedback-resistant thanks to the spruce center block, the sleek Center Block Double Cutaway guitars are designed for the guitarist who demands more than the mundane from an instrument—more performance, more style and most importantly, ...Read more
Gretsch Releases New Golden Era Edition ModelsPremier Guitar, January 23rd
Designed for pure tone and top-notch playing feel, this guitar features the classic appointments longtime Gretsch fans desire—gold “G Arrow” control knobs, aged white binding with black purfling, mother-of-pearl thumbnail inlays, gold vintage thick...Read more
Gretsch Unveils Players Edition SeriesPremier Guitar, January 22nd
A bold visual and sonic statement, the G6136T Players Edition White Falcon with String-Thru Bigsby updates the archetypical hollowbody electric guitar for modern players who demand uniqueness from themselves—and their tools. The G6136T Players ...Read more
Gretsch Expands the Roots CollectionPremier Guitar, January 21st
Scottsdale, AZ (February 4, 2016) -- Gretsch proudly announces new additions to its popular Roots Collection, including the G9241 Alligator Biscuit Round-Neck Resonator Guitar with Fishman Nashville Pickup. Available in either an eye-catching Chieftain ...Read more
NAMM 2016: Gretsch Releases Players Edition GuitarsGuitar World Magazine, January 21st
white gloss urethane finish and gold vintage thick plexi pickguard with Gretsch logo. A bold visual and sonic statement, the G6136T Players Edition White Falcon with String-Thru Bigsby updates the archetypical hollowbody electric guitar for modern...Read more
Gretsch exhibit opens at Country Music Hall of FameThe Tennessean, January 14th
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy still remembers the day he bought his Gretsch Chet Atkins Model 6120, the guitar that would be forever associated with his irresistible, twangy sound. “I went into Ziggie's Music in Phoenix one spring day in 1957...Read more