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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WSM and Nashville Guitar Store Team Up for Guitar A Day In May GiveawayBenzinga, May 1st
The online retailer has sold thousands of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and basses from a variety of manufacturers, including: Epiphone, Fender, Taylor, Ovation, Gretsch, Ibanez, and many more. The store also also carries banjos, mandolins...Read more
What is a Boutique Guitar? Seeking the X Factor in Koll GuitarsReverb News (press release) (blog), April 26th
Over the years, Koll has used pickups from just about all of the boutique builders, but tends to gravitate toward those built by friends. For example, TV Jones, a friend from way back in his Gretsch days, makes the Filter'Trons that have been featured...Read more
Thief ransacks Wichita musician's home, steals guitars (+video)Wichita Eagle, April 21st
Cruse, 33, is a local folk-rock singer-songwriter who has played numerous Wichita venues – and some in Parsons, her hometown. She alternates between three everyday guitars – a Taylor 314 CE, a Gretsch Electromatic and a 1969 Gibson classical guitar...Read more
Gretsch G6119T Players Edition Tennessee Rose reviewMusicRadar.com, April 16th
The Anniversary and the Tennessee Rose, on paper, are the same guitar and plugging in the Anniversary after the Falcon takes us slightly further still from the 6120. With everything full up, we feel the need to add a little treble from our amp to...Read more
AthFest auctioning guitar signed by Drive-By TruckersOnline Athens, April 5th
AthFest Educates gives grants to Athens-area educators who teach children art and music. Proceeds from auctioning the signed Gretsch guitar will go toward future AthFest Educates grants. The bidding is open for the electric guitar online at BiddingOwl.com...Read more
GALLERY: Holy Grail of GretschPremier Guitar, February 4th
Sources for this story include American Sound and Beauty exhibition literature, The Gretsch Electric Guitar Book: 60 Years of White Falcons, 6120s, Jets, Gents, and More by Tony Bacon, and The Gretsch Book: A Complete History of Gretsch Electric...Read more
Gretsch Releases the Streamliner SeriesPremier Guitar, January 23rd
Brash and feedback-resistant thanks to the spruce center block, the sleek Center Block Double Cutaway guitars are designed for the guitarist who demands more than the mundane from an instrument—more performance, more style and most importantly, ...Read more
NAMM 2016: Gretsch Releases Players Edition GuitarsGuitar World Magazine, January 21st
A bold visual and sonic statement, the G6136T Players Edition White Falcon with String-Thru Bigsby updates the archetypical hollowbody electric guitar for modern players who demand uniqueness from themselves—and their tools. The G6136T Players ...Read more