Author Archives: Jeff Owens

GretschTech: Ukulele Tuning

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Gretsch Roots Collection G9110-SM Concert Deluxe ukulele.

The Gretsch Roots collection includes several ukulele models of varying sizes and styles. Given the resurgence of the instrument’s popularity in recent years, many who acquire a ukulele for the first time often find themselves wondering how to tune it.

Of several ways to tune ukuleles, the most common standard tuning is gCEA. The third-string C equals middle C on a piano, and that lowercase G indicates that this is a reentrant tuning in which the strings are not tuned in an ascending (or descending) order of pitches. That first G is actually not the G pitched below the second-string C by a perfect fourth; it’s actually one octave higher than that, which makes it fall between the pitches of the third-string E and fourth-string A. This non-linear kind of tuning arrangement is partially responsible for the distinctively lilting tone of the instrument.

Of the four common ukulele sizes, three of them—soprano, concert and tenor (smallest to largest)—frequently use the reentrant gCEA tuning. The fourth and largest, the baritone ukulele—typically uses the non-reentrant version of this tuning, GCEA, in which the first-string G is tuned a perfect fourth below the second-string C.

Having said that, soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles less often can and do use non-reentrant tunings such as the GCEA arrangement just described.

Simply tuning a uke as you would the top four strings of a guitar presents a non-standard baritone-style tuning of DGBE (low to high). While this is clearly quite different than the standard gCEA uke tuning, note that applying a capo to the fifth fret of a guitar in standard tuning does yield a non-reentrant GCEA tuning.

A popular alternate ukulele tuning—especially for tenor and baritone models—is aDF#B (and its non-reentrant version, ADF#B), which is one whole step higher than standard ukulele tuning. Other alternate uke tunings include FBbDG, EbAbCF and EAC#F#.

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50 Years Ago: The Beatles—and Gretsch—on The Ed Sullivan Show

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The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show three times in February 1964. George Harrison (center) is seen here with the Gretsch Country Gentleman model he played during the historic television performances. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

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…)

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Ten Years of the Gretsch Custom Shop

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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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GretschTech: Reentrant Tuning

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The Gretsch Roots Collection G9100 "Soprano Standard" model is typical of ukuleles that use reentrant tuning.

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.

The Gretsch Roots Collection G9400 Broadkaster Deluxe 5-String Resonator model is typical of five-string banjos that use reentrant tuning.

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Gretsch on ’60s U.S. Series TV

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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.

The Monkees

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 …

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