Author Archives: Jeff Owens
Posted: February 3, 2014
Has it really been 50 years?
Seemingly incredibly, it has. And you could make a compelling case that the 1960s actually started on the evening of Feb. 9, 1964. That’s when the Beatles made their historic U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, drawing the largest viewing audience in the history of the medium at the time (73 million people—nearly half the nation—tuned in to the telecast).
President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated only 10 weeks earlier, and the still-stunned country was in a grim and uncertain mood. Who would’ve expected that a much-needed lift in spirits was imminent, winging its way across the pond on Pan Am flight 101 from London?
Two days before that first Ed Sullivan Show appearance, on the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 7, 3,000 screaming teenagers who were supposed to be at school that day mobbed Kennedy International Airport in New York. They were there to greet the Beatles on their first U.S. visit, a whirlwind two weeks that saw the group make two live appearances on Sullivan’s show; one in New York and one in Miami (the Beatles also taped a third appearance to be aired later that month). The group was topping the U.S. charts, general pandemonium surrounded them wherever they went, and the Beatlemania that had already swept across the U.K. now morphed into a potent new U.S. strain.
For their debut appearance on his show, Sullivan cannily had the Beatles perform twice—three songs at the beginning (“All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You”) and two at the end (“I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), presumably to ensure that his audience watched the entire hour-long show. The cameras seemed to spend as much time on the surging throng of screaming teenagers in the audience of CBS TV Studio 50, where the show took place, as they did on the group.
Nobody had ever seen (or heard) anything like it. By the time the broadcast ended an hour later, something fundamental had changed not just there in New York, but across the nation. The rest is well-documented history, but you very well might be able to say that with that one raucous event, the 1960s started in earnest between 8 and 9 p.m. on Feb. 9, 1964. (more…)
Posted: January 24, 2014
It wouldn’t be all that surprising if you didn’t know that there even was such a thing as the Gretsch Custom Shop. After all, all Gretsch guitars look like custom instruments, really. They’re all dazzling. They all look like coolness incarnate.
And yet here we are at the tenth anniversary of the Gretsch Custom Shop. 2014 marks a decade of the finest guitars to ever bear the name so prized by guitarists everywhere for most of a century.
It’s certainly true that all Gretsch guitars are fabulous creations, but those that come from the Gretsch Custom Shop offer something quite a bit more. Few in number, they are the truly extraordinary work of truly talented craftsmen. And if you think production Gretsch guitars are as wonderful in and of themselves as they really are, just imagine being one of the lucky few to get their hands on a Gretsch Custom Shop guitar. Just imagine playing the very best of Gretsch’s best.
Back in 2003, that’s just what Mike Lewis had in mind.
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Posted: January 6, 2014
Most ukuleles and five-string banjos, including many of those found in the Gretsch Roots Collection, use a form of tuning called reentrant tuning. Fair bet that you’re unfamiliar with the term, but you’re probably familiar with the concept if you play those instruments.
On a stringed instrument with reentrant tuning, the strings are not tuned in an ascending or descending order of pitches. That is, they’re not tuned in a succession of pitches that is strictly low to high or high to low (like, for example, most guitars). In reentrant tuning, there are one or more strings tuned to a pitch that breaks an otherwise linear order of pitches.
Take the ukulele, for example. Of the several ways to tune ukes of various sizes, a common tuning widely regarded as standard is gCEA.
See that lowercase g in front of the uppercase C, E and A? That’s not a typo. Rather, it indicates that this is a reentrant tuning in which that first string is not the G below the second string (C) by a perfect fourth, but a G tuned one octave higher than that, so that its pitch falls between that of the third string (E) and the fourth string (A).
This reentrant tuning is a standard tuning commonly used on tenor, concert and soprano ukuleles. Non-reentrant tuning can also be used for ukes, and indeed baritone ukuleles are often tuned DGBE in non-reentrant fashion (low to high, like the four highest strings of a guitar).
Most reentrant tunings only have one break in the order of string pitches; this break is called a reentry. The gCEA uke tuning described above illustrates this—the single reentry is the G that falls between the third (E) and fourth (A) strings.
Five-string banjos are another good example of reentrant tuning. Again, there is only a single reentry. The fifth string on these banjos is five frets shorter than the other four and is tuned higher than them, thus creating a reentrant tuning. Four-string banjos don’t have this shorter string and hence typically use non-reentrant tuning.
The most common five-string banjo tuning is gDGBD, an open-G tuning in which that first lowercase G represents the high shorter string, which is tuned an octave above the third-string G. Other five-string banjo tunings include aEAC#E, gCGCD, aDADE, gDGCD and aEADE, all of which are reentrant.
Other stringed instruments that typically use reentrant tuning include baroque and tenor guitars, the sitar, most lutes, the cuatro (a small Latin American guitar-like instrument), the Mexican vihuela (a small, deep-bodied rhythm guitar often used in mariachi groups), the charango (a tiny Andean member of the lute family) and the Ainu tonkori of northern Japan. The standard E9 tuning on a pedal steel guitar is reentrant; the instrument’s standard C6 tuning is not.
What about 12-string guitars—would that be an example of reentrant tuning? Actually, normal tuning on a 12-string guitar is generally not considered reentrant, as the matching octave strings for the standard G, D, A and low E strings are considered secondary rather than reentrant.
Posted: October 1, 2013
Gretsch guitars were all over the tube in the 1960s. Big hollow-body guitars remained in widespread use in rock and pop throughout the entire decade, and it seemed at times as though you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a TV set that was showing some variety or music show featuring some band that had at least one Gretsch instrument in the lineup. Pretty cool.
From the Beatles and the Stones and the Animals on The Ed Sullivan Show to the Kinks on Shivaree to the Zombies on Shindig! and more, Gretsch guitars were a staple on U.S. programming. Even across the pond, the Who’s John Entwistle wielded a Gretsch 6070 bass on Ready Steady Go! in 1965.
And yet there was a whole other category of U.S. television programming in the ’60s that also showed Gretsch instruments: prime-time series television on the three major networks at the time—ABC, CBS and NBC. Not only did you see and hear Gretsch guitars on variety shows and music shows; you also saw them on top-rated sitcoms, action-packed cop shows, cool spy shows and more.
Here are five notable examples of That Great Gretsch Sound on U.S. network series television in the 1960s. Some of these shows and the musical acts on them are well known and some are pretty obscure, but there’s simply no mistaking a Gretsch when you see one.
Gretsch instruments appeared in nearly every Monkees episode from first (Sept. 12, 1966) to last (March 25, 1968). In this clip, from fall 1965 pilot episode “Here Come the Monkees” (which, oddly, aired Nov. 14, 1966, as episode ten), NBC’s simian heroes swing their way through “Let’s Dance On.” Sort of.
And that’s three Gretsch guitars out front, wielded not only by Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork, as usual, but here even by Davy Jones. Nesmith’s guitar undergoes an interesting change toward the end, but it’s nothing compared to the utterly magical transformation of Tork’s bass. And pay close attention to the logo on that kick drum head, by the way …
Tags: Boyce and Hart, Buffalo Springfield, Gretsch basses, Gretsch Guitars, I Dream of Jeannie, It Takes a Thief, Mannix, Sundowners, The Flying Nun, The Monkees, The Name of the Game, Yellow Payges
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Posted: August 8, 2013
The coolest new guitars on the block are Gretsch’s new “center-block” models. Each distinctively designed instrument boasts “That Great Gretsch Sound” with a solid new sonic advantage in the form of a special spruce center-block design.
These new Gretsch guitars include the G6137TCB Panther Center-Block (pictured), and the G6139CB Falcon™ Center-Block Single-Cutaway and G6139T-CBDC Falcon Center-Block Double Cutaway models, with more to come. All are distinguished by classic pickups and special “thinline”-style bodies (1 ¾” deep, which is unusually thin for a Gretsch hollow-body guitar).
The most distinctive feature, however, is the interior solid spruce center block that runs the length of these thinner bodies. Its presence imparts a twofold sonic advantage.
First, the block’s mass and positioning inside the guitar makes the instrument especially “high-gain friendly.” In other words, whereas traditional Gretsch hollow-body guitar design never really lent itself to especially hot high-gain signals, the new center-block design does. The center block design delivers the best of both worlds, resulting in great Gretsch hollow-body character with joyously screaming high-gain pickup tone. (more…)