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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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Gretsch Custom Shop Unveils New Vintage Correct Knobs

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Stephen Stern of the Gretsh Custom Shop is always on a quest to ensure his guitars are as close to vintage correct as possible, accomplishing that by having his builders closely analyze all the vintage instruments that come across his desk.

Stern’s group recently examined Stephen Stills’ 1959 White Falcon— the one he played at Woodstock with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  And because that guitar featured the original knobs that were used on Gretsch Falcons and Penguins over a three-year period in the late 1950s, Stern now finds himself closer to his goal.

“From that one knob, we were able to spec out the three model years of Falcon and Penguin knobs,” said Stern.

In addition, Stern was helped a while back when he got his hands on George Harrison’s 1957 Duo Jet and recorded the knobs used over a two-year period on Duo Jet and 6210 models.

“I wanted to release all the new knobs at the same time, so when we got the Stills guitar in the shop, it was the last piece of the puzzle,” Sten noted.

Note photos of the new vintage correct knobs below.

Knobs used on the Gretsch Falcons and Penguins.

Knobs used on Gretsch Duo Jets.

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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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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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