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 debuted—within a year, Gretsch was selling Chet Atkins guitars in both solid and hollow-body models, and by 1957 it was rebranded as the Country Gentleman. 1955 saw the introduction of a pair of gorgeous white guitars called the Falcon and its smaller sibling the Penguin. The Penguin was a total bomb with customers, but today it is one of the most collectible vintage Gretsch guitars around.
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.
Interviews & Articles
I started playing guitar when I was pretty young and bought my first guitar when I was 10 or 11. Like a lot of people of my genera… [more]
I grew up in upstate New York in Rochester, and started playing guitar when I was about 10 years old. We had this place in Rochest… [more]
I started out primarily as a collector and the business aspect of it evolved over time, almost by accident. I didn’t start out wit… [more]
I first started coming across Howe-Orme instruments when I was an apprentice guitar repairman in Boston in 1963. Their guitars hav… [more]
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Vintage Guitars Info
Vintage Guitar and Bass
Clubs & Associations: Guitars
Other Great Reference Sites: Guitars
Top eBay Auctions
Recent News: Gretsch Guitars
Source: Google News
Crosby, Stills & Nash's fantastic Huntsville show: Lots of questions and one ...The Huntsville Times - al.com, May 23rd
How much did that gorgeous white Gretsch Stills played on the few tunes he didn't use a Stratocaster cost? How many times did Nash and Stills rehearse their guitar-interplay interlude that was a highlight of the buoyant "Southern Cross? Does music...Read more
ALBUM REVIEW: In the Pocket dives into Philly music sceneThe Weekender, May 22nd
Guitar slinger Tommy Conwell turns in a rousing vocal, not to mention a slithering, Gretsch-toned, rockabilly twangfest on The Dovell's early 1960s hit “You Can't Sit Down,” a prime example of the brash, yet lovingly jubilant hand with which this...Read more
Gretsch Roots Collection G9220 Bobtail Round-Neck AEMusicRadar.com, May 20th
Those guys love over-engineered parts; and the resonator in our G9220 Bobtail is basically a mechanical speaker cone spun from 99 per cent pure Eastern European aluminium, which helps project the sound and gives the guitar its unique tone. "In the case...Read more
Beatles Guitar Sells For $408000 At AuctionThe Inquisitr, May 20th
Other items sold included a 1957 Gretsch Guitar owned by Conway Twitty — a.k.a. the guy from all those Family Guy cutaways — which sold for $23,750, a jumpsuit David Cassidy wore on stage that sold for $18,750, and Elvis Presley's “Jailhouse Rock”...Read more
Beatles guitar sells for $408000 at New York City auctionUPI.com, May 20th
Among the other highlights of the auction were the sale of Conway Twitty's 1957 Gretsch Guitar for $23,750; Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" pants for $12,500 and a jumpsuit David Cassidy wore on stage for $18,750. Topics: John Lennon, George Harrison,...Read more
Beatles guitar smashes auction estimates3News NZ, May 19th
Other highlights of the auction included a stage jumpsuit worn by David Cassidy, which sold for US$18,750 and Conway Twitty's 1957 Gretsch Guitar, which went for US$23,750. A slew of Elvis Presley memorabilia also proved to be big draws - his Hagstrom...Read more
Beatles guitar sells for more than $400000 in New York auctionExpress.co.uk, May 19th
Other notable pieces included Elvis Presley's trousers worn in “Jailhouse Rock” which sold for $12,500 (£8,000), Conway Twitty's 1957 Gretsch guitar for $23,750 (£15,500) and a David Cassidy stage worn jumpsuit, for which someone paid $18,750 (£12,000)...Read more
Gretsch Roots Collection G9500 Jim Dandy Flat TopMusicRadar.com, May 13th
The guitar echoes its ancestors' compact feel with a 610mm (24-inch) scale length. The chubby, glued-in nato neck is topped off with a 305mm (12-inch) radius rosewood fingerboard studded with 18 vintage profile frets, 12 of which are free of the body...Read more