Author Archives: Jeff Owens

GretschTech: Center-Block Guitars

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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…)

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GretschTech: Understanding Modern Gretsch Serial Numbers

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Serial Numbers
Even if this headstock didn’t say “Made in Japan,” the “J” that begins the serial number indicates that it was.

The serial number on your modern Gretsch guitar or bass contains specific information about where and when it was made. This allows you to accurately date a modern Gretsch guitar by its serial number.

By modern, by the way, we mean since 2003, which is when Gretsch serial numbering took its current form. Various other serial numbering systems existed before then that stretch far back into Gretsch history—all the way back to the very earliest Gretsch guitars of the 1930s. We’ll cover those older serial numbering systems in another installment.

As for the present, the modern system is quite simple. Gretsch serial numbers typically appear on the back of the headstock and begin with a two-letter prefix code indicating the country of origin and specific manufacturing facility, followed by numbers indicating year and month of manufacture and sequential order of manufacture.

“JT” is most common among the several two-letter country/factory prefixes, signifying Japan (J) and its Terada (T) factory. Others are “CS” (U.S. Custom Shop), “CY” (China, Yako facility), “JD” (Japan, Dyna Gakki facility), “JF” (Japan, Fuji-Gen Gakki facility), “KP” (Korea, Peerless facility) and “KS” (Korea, Samick/SPG facility).

After the two-letter prefix, two digits designate the year of manufacture; the next two designate the month of manufacture, and the remaining four digits designate the instrument’s sequential number among all models built that year. Of those last four sequential-order digits, 0001 through 0100 designate prototype and one-off models, sample instruments and other special instruments; 0101 through 9999 designate all regular production models.

For example then, a modern Gretsch serial number such as “JT07115922” would indicate that the instrument was built in Japan (J) at the Terada factory (T); that it was built in 2007 (07) in November (11); and that it was the 5,922nd production-model instrument made that year. Similarly, “JT12030040” would indicate a non-regular-production instrument built in March 2012 at the Terada factory in Japan, and that it was the 40th among the special-run instruments made that year.

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GretschTech: The Baldwin Era

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Late Baldwin-era models: (left to right) The oddly proportioned Roc Jet and Country Roc, and the bizarre TK300 appear in the 1979 Gretsch catalog.

Every once in a while when exploring the Gretsch world, you’ll run across mention of the “Baldwin era” or the “Baldwin years.” What does this term refer to?

Generally speaking, people use it to refer to Gretsch in the 1970s. More specifically, however, it refers to the period when the Baldwin Piano Company owned Gretsch, which was substantially longer—from summer 1967 to early 1985.

The Baldwin era is a much-maligned period in Gretsch history. The term is often used in an unflattering light to denote generally neglectful Baldwin rule that resulted in a decline in quality, unpopular new instruments, corporate upheaval and dwindling sales that ultimately led to Gretsch guitar production being shut down altogether in 1981.

Gretsch had been a family-run company ever since Friedrich Gretsch founded it in New York in 1883. But in the mid 1960s, then-president Fred Gretsch Jr. purportedly found himself with no heir interested in running the company and decided to sell. Baldwin, riding high at the time and spurred by its 1965 acquisition of U.K. guitar maker Burns, sought to acquire an established U.S. guitar maker and duly turned its attention to Gretsch. The sale was completed on July 31, 1967.

(more…)

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GretschTech: the Zero Fret

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Zero fret on a G6122-1959 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.

What’s the deal with the zero fret found on some Gretsch guitars? What is it, why is it there and what does it do?

A “zero fret” is an extra fret located directly in front of the nut. You don’t often see them these days, although they were once fairly commonplace. Regarded today as an antiquated feature, they nonetheless still appear on a small number of instruments as an item of vintage-style authenticity.

Nonetheless, a zero fret isn’t merely a cosmetic touch—it does serve a subtle purpose appreciated by discerning players. In effect, it takes over the role of the nut in determining string height above the fingerboard. A zero fret can even out string action even more uniformly than the nut.

It’s easy to understand how the zero fret achieves this. On most guitars and basses, the nut serves as the anchor point for the vibrating length of the string at that end of the instrument (the bridge saddles serving the same function at the other end of the instrument) and as the string “spacer.”

The slots cut into the nut are of a generally uniform depth, but there can be very slight variations, which in turn produce very slight variations in the height of each individual string above the fingerboard. Guitarists with a discerning fretting hand feel may be able to detect such small variances.

The zero fret eliminates these variances and uniformly evens out string height even more finely because all the strings rest on it as they pass over it, with the nut relegated solely to its role of spacing the strings apart evenly across the width of the fingerboard.

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GretschTech: “G Arrow” Control Knobs

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One of the most distinctively stylish features of Gretsch guitars past and present is the “G arrow” control knob. If you already own a Gretsch, you know what we’re referring to—the volume and tone knobs on your instrument, which are in most cases adorned with an engraved later “G” pierced by an arrow. This was an early but not original development.

Gretsch’s earliest electric guitars of the late 1940s and early 1950s—mostly Hawaiian lap steel and arch-top Electromatic models—had plain control knobs. When the original golden age of Gretsch electric guitars began in earnest in 1954, a much more distinctive control knob style was adopted, quite unlike that of contemporaries such as Fender and Gibson. 1954 saw the introduction of gold- and chrome-plated brass knobs with plain unadorned tops and a crosshatched pattern around the circumference. (more…)

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