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Ten Things You May Not Know About the Gretsch Guitar

Apr 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM | Music News | By Rock Square

Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it wouldn’t exist without the guitar – particularly the electric guitar. Originally imagined as a way of expanding the sound of contemporary jazz music, the electric guitar helped usher in the rock movement that produced some of the greatest musicians of all time and gave rise to many of the guitar manufacturers we now hold in an almost holy reverence – one of which is The Gretsch Company.

It twangs, cuts, clucks and roars. The sound of Gretsch guitars run deep throughout the history of modern music. From funk, country, R&B, jazz and rock – it’s been there.

Whether it was Pete Towshend, Neil Young, Brian Jones, George Harrison or most notably Chet Atkins, the unique properties of a Gretsch allowed players to leave a personal and indelible mark on music.

To celebrate one of the greatest guitar companies, we decided to offer up a brand new Electromatic® CVT III to one lucky member of our community and to mark the occasion – here are Ten Things You May Not Know About the Gretsch Guitar!

1.      Gretsch was not originally a guitar manufacturer.

The Gretsch Company was founded in 1883 by German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch in Brooklyn, New York as a small instrument shop that manufactured banjos, drums and tambourines. It was not until nearly 50 years later, in 1927, when Gretsch decided to use its own name on its guitars for the first time.

2.      Gretsch helped Fender decide on the name ‘Telecaster’

The initial name for Fender’s two-pickup version of the Esquire was “Broadcaster” but at the time, Gretsch was simultaneously marketing a drum and banjo line under the name “Broadkaster". Since, Gretsch was the largest instrument manufacturing factory in the world and Fender was the new kid on the block, to appease Gretsch, Fender changed the name to “Telecaster”.

Bonus fact: The guitars that Fender manufactured during the interim had no name and are now referred to as “Nocasters”. It’s rumored that fewer than 500 exist.

3.      Three out of the four Beatles owned a Gretsch guitar.

George Harrison, Ringo Star, and John Lennon were all pretty fond of Gretsch guitars and had at least one during their Beatles career. George owned at least four Gretsch Guitars: a ’57 Duo Jet which was used on the band’s earliest recordings and tours, a Tennessean, and two Chet Atkins Country Gentlemen models, one of which was used during the Beatles’ iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The second Country Gent Harrison picked up in December of 1963 and the current owner is none other than fellow bandmate, Ringo Starr. While John Lennon is widely associated with Rickenbaker guitars, he used a Gretsch 6120 during the recording of Paperback Writer.

4.      The 6136 White Falcon was meant to be a promotional item only.

At the 1954 NAMM Show Gretsch wanted to create shock and awe with their masterpiece guitar, the White Falcon, to show off their top-notch luthiers. The original Falcon was a total of 17” wide and 2 ¾” deep, featuring mother of pearl inlays, an ebony fretboard, Cadillac G Tailpiece and gold-plated hardware. Yes, that’s right – gold plated hardware.  At that time, Gretsch had no intention of releasing the Falcon to the public but it drew so much attention at NAMM that by 1955 Gretsch released a full line of 6136 models and dubbed it “The Guitar of the Future”. Since then Gretsch has released many variations of the original model.

Bonus fact: A custom built replica of the original can still be purchased today through Gretsch but it will put you back about $12,500.

5.      Brian Jones used a Gretsch guitar during a defining period for the Rolling Stones.

Late and founding member of The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, briefly used a Gretsch guitar from 1963 through 1964.  This was a defining period for The Stones as the band was developing their sound. Jones used his 1963 Gretsch 6118 Double Anniversary Model on the Stones’ debut album, 12x5 and classic tracks including: I Wanna Be Your Man and It’s All Over Now.

6.      A Gretsch guitar helped spark the British Invasion.

In February 1964, roughly 73 million people tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles perform live. With his Gretsch Country Gentleman in hand, Harrison shined during the band’s performances of All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand. This was an important moment for not only the Beatles but for The Gretsch Company as well. Music changed overnight. Beatlemania was born and beginning the British Invasion as well as the guitar boom of the 1960s officially started.

7.      A rockabilly artist from the 1980s helped Gretsch see a resurgence.

The rockabilly artist Brian Setzer became a star in the U.S. during the 1980s with his band Stray Cats. At this time, Gretsch was working to revitalize the brand after a few unforunate years, but had not yet been completely successful until Brian Setzer. After playing an all-acoustic show on MTV, the Stray Cats topped U.S. charts and Setzer’s essential bluesy boogie-woogie sound – along with his 1959 Gretsch 6120 – captured the hearts of many. He created such a buzz using the 6120 that Gretsch made an insanely limited tribute guitar for him—only 59 were actually manufactured! This was also the first person to be honored with a signature model since Chet Atkins.

Bonus fact: Setzer also used this particular model on Robert Plant’s The Honey Drippers: Volume One.

8.      Neil Young is an avid Gretsch guitar player.

While Neil Young’s most famous axe, “Old Black” is clearly his guitar of choice, the rock vet also holds a special place in his heart for his Gretsch guitars. In fact, he has been playing on his Chet Atkins since his Buffalo Springfield days and when he joined Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, he traded his mono 6163 Falcon for Steven Stills’ 1959 stereo single-cut White Falcon. The 6163 can be heard on much of Déjà Vu and the White Falcon can be heard on Harvest among others. Notable tracks include: Ohio, Southern Man, Alabama, Words (Between the Lines of Age) and L.A. Later, Young added yet another Gretsch to his collection, the double cutaway model, and would eventually enhance his White Falcon with a B7 Bigsby.

9.      Bob Dylan, Geoge Harrison, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty inspired a Gretsch line.

In 1967 Gretsch sold the company to Baldwin Pianos. By 1979 Baldwin let the company fall out of favor and ceased production after Chet Atkins withdrew his endorsement. Ten years later a Gretsch family member re-acquired the company and began production on a new guitar line. The Traveling Wilbury, or TW line was named after a short-lived, but notable supergroup consisting of Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan. All six signature guitar models featured Wilbury-themed graphics and each artist’s “autograph” on the back. However the guitars themselves bore little resemblance to past or present models and were manufactured in Korea – albeit, they had a sort of funky appeal to collectors.

10.    Joe Walsh gave Pete Townshend his favorite guitar – a Gretsch.  

As Townshend tells it, one day Joe Walsh called up the guitarist and primary songwriter for The Who to inform him that he was giving him a gift: a 1957 Chet Atkins Gretsch. Townshend liked it so much he used it on just about every track on Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Townshend even went as far to say that it’s the best guitar he’s ever had when he told a Gretsch company rep: “It’s the finest guitar I’ve ever owned, it’s the loudest guitar I’ve ever owned.“

Have any other Gretsch guitar facts? Let us know in the comments section below and make sure to check out our Gretsch Guitar Giveaway – only a few days left to enter!

In the meantime, check out George Harrison on his Gretsch below:

Facts Courtesy of Gretsch

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