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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Vintage Guitars Info
Vintage Guitar and Bass
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Gretsch Guitars
Source: Google News
Jason Isbell: Brand New DayPremier Guitar, July 30th
It's my go-to in the studio—I use it on just about every acoustic guitar song. I sat down and redid the song in one take. Then I went back and put a slide guitar part on top. I've got an old Gretsch that I played through a Dumble with the SlideRig...Read more
For folk star Brandi Carlile, Minnesota might as well be a second homeMinneapolis Star Tribune, July 30th
“He had a 1957 Country Gentleman Gretsch, which is like a priceless guitar, and he left it to his kids and they gave it to me,” she said fondly. “I look forward to coming to Minnesota and playing it there.” And she's figured out another way to honor...Read more
How Joe Satriani Found Inspiration from His Fictional Alter-Ego on New Album ...Guitar World Magazine, July 28th
At the beginning and end of the song "If There Is No Heaven" I borrowed a friend's 59 Gretsch Chet Atkins guitar but you can barely tell because it's backwards. It sounds like it's from outer space. It's funny - you use instruments because of their...Read more
Guitars rock at auction, continue to climb in valueazcentral.com, July 24th
Custom Van Halen Ibanez Destroyer Guitar sold for $4,500 at auction July 2. (Photo: ... Your 1950s and '60s Gibson Les Pauls, American Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, Gretsch Falcons and the like are all commanding top dollar on the secondary market...Read more
Brian Setzer Shows Off His Amazing Guitar Collection — VideoGuitar World Magazine, July 16th
Brian Setzer is one of the most famous Gretsch players of all time. The former Stray Cat guitarist has, as of last count, no fewer than one dozen Gretsch signature guitars, 10 of which are based on the celebrated 6120. In this lengthy and informative...Read more
The Gretsch Electric Guitar Book: 60 Years of White Falcons, 6120s, Jets ...Guitar World Magazine, June 1st
Gretsch guitars have a style all their own: a glitzy, wacky, retro charm that over the years has drawn players from all kinds of popular music, from timeless stars to unknown teens. The Beatles, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Brian Setzer all made their...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 GuitarsGuitar 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