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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Brian Setzer Orchestra Performs CHRISTMAS ROCKS Concert for SiriusXM TonightBroadway World, November 30th
In 2014, he received the distinct honor of being asked by the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. to donate a replica of his original 1959 Gretsch 6120 "Stray Cat" guitar, joining an elite collection of musical instruments at the museum including...Read more
Beatles Memorabilia Up For Auction in Beverly HillsPatch.com, November 30th
Also on the auction block are a Rickenbacker guitar given to Starr by John Lennon, custom-made drumsticks used by Starr on stage, a Gretsch guitar given to Starr by George Harrison and personal scripts for the film “Help!” More from Belmont Shore...Read more
Reverend Horton Heat & Friends Get Scout Bar Jumpin'Houston Press, November 30th
Country's stand-up bass and rock's bluesy Gretsch guitar sound met the early melodies of swing and bebop. Tinny guitar notes drilled delightfully along, countered by the plucked vibration of thick bass notes. Swing, rockabilly, and surf-rock were...Read more
Led Zeppelin tribute band plays at Birmingham guitar shopHometownlife.com, November 24th
Shannon Conley of Lez Zeppelin tries out a Cadillac Green Gretsch Duo Jet at Detroit Guitar in Birmingham. (Photo: David Bloom). P1060733. Lez Zeppelin members (l-r) Steph Payne, Shannon Colney, and Megan Thomas play an unplugged version of ...Read more
David Gilmour: There's Something Magical About This Old Guitar, I Haven't Got ...Ultimate-Guitar.Com, November 23rd
Pink Floyd guitar icon David Gilmour discussed his guitar collection, singling an old Gretsch Duo Jet for its distinctive sound he cannot seem to replicate. Asked by Music Radar about his trusty black Fender Strat, Mr. Gilmour replied: "Well, I used...Read more
Vintage Trouble's Nalle Colt on his new Gretsch and high voltage toneMusicRadar.com, November 23rd
It's been a whole two years since Guitarist caught up with Vintage Trouble's inimitable six-string hero, Nalle Colt, and the four-piece rhythm 'n' blues rockers have been typically busy in the interim. The band is slap?bang in the middle of yet another...Read more
Nashville Museum Announces Guitar ExhibitLeisure Group Travel, November 12th
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will explore the history of the guitar with the exhibition American Sound and Beauty: Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection, which opens Jan. 15, 2016, and runs through July 2016. The Bachman-Gretsch ...Read more
John Lennon's 'Love Me Do' Guitar Sells for Record $2.4 MillionRollingStone.com, November 8th
By comparison, Lennon's Gretsch guitar, used on the Beatles' 1966 single "Paperback Writer," sold for $530,000 to Indianapolis Colts owner and guitar collector Jim Irsay in November 2014. Irsay also spent $965,000 for Bob Dylan's Fender Stratocaster...Read more