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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Studio Spotlight: BroadoakAudio Media International, October 2nd
round-badge Gretsch drum kit (ex-Royal Opera House), sits alongside an F. Mulbach grand piano, while there is also a rare red-top Wurlitzer 200 electric piano, a broad range of guitars and mandolins and some unique backline, including boutique...Read more
The Women's International Music Network Announces the 2016 She Rocks Award ...Premier Guitar, October 1st
The 2016 She Rocks Awards is sponsored by Martin Guitar, Seymour Duncan, Roland, Boss, Gretsch, Guitar Center, Fishman, 108 Rock Star Guitars, with additional support from these media partners Premier Guitar, Tom Tom Magazine, Guitar Girl Magazine, ...Read more
Gibson and Gretsch Combo perform at coffee house seriesAbbotsford News (registration) (blog), September 25th
It takes place from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at House of James (2743 Emerson St.). Formed from a mutual passion for music, the Gibson and Gretsch Combo features Grant Lamothe on bass, Denny Slaght on guitar, recent addition Bob Nagle on the bongo and tenor ...Read more
The Dead Weather: Anarchy + Chaos + Melody = Rock 'n' RollPremier Guitar, September 22nd
At the center of the aural cyclone, usually seen manhandling a big-boned Gretsch White Falcon in his job as melodist, riff master, and sonic insurgent, is Dean Fertita—who can also be seen filling those roles in various balances with Queens of the...Read more
Ringo Starr Cleaning House, Will Auction Beatles 'Stuff' For CharityNPR, September 14th
Besides the Rose-Morris Rickenbacker already mentioned, a Gretsch guitar given to Starr by George Harrison. — A Ludwig Oyster black pearl three-piece drum kit used by Starr in more than 200 performances and recordings in 1963-64. — A 2000 Mercedes ...Read more
Acoustic Soundboard: Your Guitar Might Last Forever, But Will Its Parts?Premier Guitar, September 8th
This 1969 Gretsch has a severe case of celluloid rot and needs multiple layers of body binding replaced. Now that some vintage guitars from the mid-20th century are approaching the value of fine violins made 300 years ago, people tempted by the...Read more
Never Shout Never and Gretsch Team Up for Guitar GiveawayGuitar World Magazine, August 3rd
Here's a treat! Never Shout Never has partnered with Gretsch to bring you this fabulous acoustic guitar signed by the band's founder, Christofer Drew. And you can enter to win it right here! Celebrating the release of the band's new album Black Cat on...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