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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Traveling Wilburys guitar to be auctioned for THASavannah 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 OnRolling 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 £358kIrish 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 £360000Liverpool 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 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 Sells for $530K to Colts OwnerRollingStone.com, 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