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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George Harrison Beatles Guitar Sells For $485KantiMUSIC.com, May 23rd
The Maton Mastersound guitar sold at Julien's Auctions at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York, Rolling Stone reports. The instrument was lent to the late guitarist by Barratt's Music Store while his famous Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar was being repaired...Read more
ROCK MUSIC MENU: Stray Cats DVD coming in JulyThe Delaware County Daily Times, May 22nd
Setzer wants to play his guitar as Eddie Cochran did. There's little question that he has succeeded. He is still loved for this today, and this is why he is the first guitarist, after the legendary Chet Atkins, to have his own signature Gretsch model...Read more
Malpass Brothers release new albumCarolinacoastonline, May 21st
Taylor's fine musicianship is spotlighted with stellar leads on Gretsch guitar and traditional mandolin. Christopher Malpass said the music is a reflection of who the Malpass Brothers are. “This is who we are. My brother, Taylor, and I do the type of...Read more
George Harrison guitar sells for $485000National Monitor, May 18th
The auction house reports that the Maton Mastersound guitar was a stand-in for Harrison, who was lent the instrument by Barratt's Music Store while his iconic Country Gentleman guitar - made by Gretsch - was under repair. It was during the months of...Read more
A Guitar Once Lent To George Harrison Sold For $485000 At AuctionUPROXX (press release) (blog), May 17th
By “once used,” I mean Harrison only came by the guitar as a matter of happenstance. As Rolling Stone points out, his Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar was on the fritz and in need of attention, so while it was in the shop Harrison needed something for...Read more
Hopewell 'old school' becomes home for old school guitar repairNJ.com, May 15th
utilizing the single-room structure as a workspace for what he calls Old School Guitar Repair. "I've always played guitar, so I always fixed my own stuff," Wilson said. "My main guitar that I bought in 1978 was a Gretsch and I never wanted anyone...Read more
AthFest Educates to auction off guitar signed by Widespread PanicOnline Athens, May 12th
AthFest Educates plans to auction a guitar signed by the members of Athens jam-band Widespread Panic to raise money in advance of the local nonprofit's summer music festival. The Gretsch Tennessee Rose electric guitar, valued at $3,000, would sell for ...Read more
Watch Dan Auerbach Swoon Over Rare Guitar in 'American Pickers' ClipRollingStone.com, April 29th
"The Chet Atkins model is probably the most desirable Gretsch," Auerbach says as he reverently holds up a model nicknamed "Rudy." Though he has never played one, the guitarist appears set on Atkins' model being his first. "There's a difference between ...Read more