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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Kids and teens spend their summer finding their inner 'Rocker'TimesLedger, July 3rd
Nestor said she started teaching a classical guitar program at Queens College more than a few years ago, but wanted more of an ensemble program with more of a range in musical styles. “Queens College really wanted to keep with the classical program, so...Read more
Flashback: Rolling Stones Say Goodbye To BritainRolling Stone Australia, July 2nd
LONDON — "Boogie, Bobby, boogie," Marshall Chess is saying over and over to Bobby Keys in the seat next to him, slamming out the phrase and laughing, as they talk about old-time saxophone rides. "Booo-gey, Booo-gey," Anita Richards, nee Pallenberg, ...Read more
Singled Out: Jocelyn Arndt's Here To StayantiMUSIC.com (blog), July 2nd
For the guitar, I got to play the studio's Gretsch White Falcon, which was perfect for the feel of this track. Then we found an awesome horn section and some very high powered players of other instruments too: the amazing Tony Micelli played some sick...Read more
New Downtown SP Business Comes With StringsSouthern Pines Pilot, June 26th
It's so cool. We're partnering here with some of the biggest guitar makers — Fender, Taylor, Gretsch and others. We're super excited." Casino Guitars also sells mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, amplifiers and guitar accessories. The store is open Tuesday...Read more
30-year road: Spirit in the music keeps foursome togetherTerre Haute Tribune Star, June 22nd
The 59-year-old Greenwood native started playing guitar in 1966, inspired by The Monkees' Mike Nesmith. He bought a Gretsch guitar, a Vox amp and a wool hat. (Tyra still has the latter, a Nesmith trademark.) “I just wanted to play guitar,” Tyra recalled...Read more
Swampers guitarist Jimmy Johnson talks Huntsville show, Rolling Stones ...AL.com, June 17th
And I'm using a Gretsch 6120. It's the orange Gretsch and it's one of my favorite guitars too. And acoustic wise, I like a Martin D-28." Which artists or records made you want to play guitar in the first place? I guess you'd say my inspiration was...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