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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Epiphone Limited Edition Wilshire Phant-o-matic W./ Deluxe Gig BagGretsch Duo Jet G6129t Sparkle GreenGretsch G6122 1962 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman ClassicGretsch G6136t White Falcon With Hard Case Immaculate Condition Customer ReturnGretsch G6120shptv Brian Setzer Hot Rod Purple Electric Guitar Guild Starfire V Original 1966 W/ Gibson, Gretsch, Harmony Hard Case No ReserveFully Loaded Rosser Guitar Body Orange Nitro, Gretsch PickupVintage 1964 Gretsch 6003 Acoustic GuitarGretsch Electromatic G5120 Electric GuitarLate '70s Gretsch Tk 300 Electric Guitar. No Reserve.Fender Telecaster Inspired Guitar With Gretsch Influences. Cool!!!Vintage 1965 Jensen C12q Special Design 12" Speaker Fender Ampeg Supro GretschGretsch G5128 Electromatic Series Hollow Body Gold Sparkle2010 Gretsch Professional G6118t Anniversary W/ Bigsby & Ohsc FiltertronGretsch G6122 1962 Country Classic Chet Atkins Country GentlemanGretsch 6120 Hollowbody Guitar 1999 (pre-fender) Filtertronic Pu Bigsby Case Gretsch Guitars G6199 Billy-bo Jupiter Thunderbird Electric GuitarGretsch G9240 Alligator Resonator GuitarGretsch Electromatic 4-string Bass Guitar Gretsch G100 Synchromatic Acoustic GuitarGretsch Filteron Pickups With Harness Gretsch Guitar Electromatic Clean No ReserveGretsch Synchromatic Electric GuitarGretsche G5120 Hollow Body Electric Guitar Custom CountrybuckersGretsch Professional G7593 White Falcon I Electric GuitarVintage Gretsch Dorado Classical Acoustic Guitar A Beauty!Gretsch G6122 1962 Country Classic Chet Atkins (like Country Gentleman)Vintage Grover Imperial Tuners 1964 Fr Gretsch Country Gentleman Gibson Es-345Gretsch Synchromatic Sparkle Jet G1615Gretsch Electromatic G5120 Electric Guitar 125th Ann. With Case And VibramateGretsch Electromatic G5120 Electric GuitarAutographed Guitar 1964 Gretsch Signed By Legends Of Rock And RollVintage Gretsch Gold Space Control Bridge 6 String Electric GuitarLot Of 27 Vintage Knobs,switches, And Jacks For Gibson, Fender & Gretsch GuitarsGretsch BigsbyGretsch G5425t Gold Double Jet Bigsby B50 VibratoVintage 1970s Gretsch 7594 White Falcon Gold Pickguard ScratchplateGretsch Synchromatic Model 100 TailpieceGretsch Professional G400 Synchromatic Archtop Acoustic GuitarGretsch Bass Tailpiece Bridge Gold

Recent News: Gretsch Guitars

Source: Google News

Traveling Wilburys guitar to be auctioned for THA
Savannah Morning News, April 14th

Gretsch Guitars has donated a rare collector's item guitar from the 1990s Traveling Wilburys collection. The Traveling Wilburys were a music group consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison (after The Beatles), Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty...Read more

Flashback: AC/DC Refuses To Give Up and Rocks On
Rolling Stone Australia, April 14th

Similarly, Malcolm does not look half so mean pushing a baby stroller with his four-month-old daughter in it as he does banging out the monster riff to "Hells Bells" on a wide-body Gretsch White Falcon guitar that's almost as big as he is. But the...Read more

Guitar Nerding With Chris Pérez: Selena lead man and Grammy-winning rock ...
Austin Chronicle, April 9th

CP: Yeah, the very first ones they came out with. AC: What is your favorite studio rig vs. your favorite performing rig? Guitar and amp combo. CP: Man, people are going to freak out. It's a Gretsch Duo Jet, with a Vox AC130. There's this Matchless that...Read more

Guitar John Lennon played on Beatles' classic Paperback Writer sells for £358k
Irish Mirror, April 1st

A guitar played by John Lennon on the 1966 Beatles classic Paperback Writer has been sold for £358,000. The Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Nashville model hollow body guitar was bought by American collector, Jim Irsay. Mr Irsay paid Lennon's cousin David ...Read more

John Lennon's Paperback Writer guitar sold for £360000
Liverpool Echo, March 31st

David had previously loaned the Gretsch guitar to The Beatles Story in 2010, and later to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2012. The Beatles used the guitar while they were recording Paperback Writer, which was the fourth track ...Read more

Jim Irsay brings another Beatles guitar into his fold
Indianapolis 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 Sells for $530K to Colts Owner, March 9th

Last November, John Lennon's Gretsch guitar, the instrument the rock legend used to record the Beatles' 1966 classic "Paperback Writer," hit the auction block, with TracksAuction, the company selling the instrument, calling it "the most significant of...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