The Untold Essentials that Make That Gretsch Sound

Gretsch is at once a historic American brand and one that was resurrected for modernity after nearly going extinct. Because of this then and now history, Gretsch guitars are classic yet contemporary. They are, indeed, their own thing. So what makes a Gretsch so unmistakable and iconic?

This week on TPS, Dan & Mick played through about a million different Gretsch guitars across their modern anthology. This was, however, no mere shootout. As they played through the Gretsch collection they shad an ear out for what distinct tonal features make for that great Gretsch sound.

If you’ve haven’t ventured into the land of Gretsch, here are five features that you can expect to find there.

Jangly Cleans with Acoustic Quality

As Mick noted, all Gretsch guitars are in degrees of hollow-body. Whether full-on or chambered, Gretsch instruments rely on an internal echo for their tone. For Dan, this contributed to his initial attraction to Gretsch guitars. Because of this open airiness, Dan noted that “that [fundamental clean] sound is absolutely something that we all know and love.” For Mick, “they’re just clear, clear, clear so punchy!”

Open and Full Frequency Overdrive

Though the cleans are the gateway into a Gretsch, Dan continued that it was the gain potential of this design that truly won him over. Toss a gain source atop that acoustic-like character and you get why Gretsch has been part of modern rock history. As Dan demoed, the place you hear and feel this most is in the resonant feedback that is always close at hand with that open body at any volume. “For me to get that sort of feedback with any other guitar takes a lot of volume, but with the Gretsch it’s immediately all there.”

Top End Frequency Fidelity

“The range of frequency in these things is astonishing,” remarked Dan, “they’ve got that crazy top-end like a Jazzmaster but are less biting.” This means that the range of sounds you can get out of the guitar are closer to that of a a master built acoustic guitar plus a Jazzmaster vibe. But never mind the possibilities that are compounded by their versatile and non-traditional pickup designs. Speaking of which…

Pickups beyond the Beaten Trail

One area where Gretsch guitars extend well beyond the rest is in their pickup options. These range from traditional PAF style humbuckers to inspiring and exceptional vintage spec options such as Filtertron, gold foil, and TV Jones pickups. Take the Filtertrons, for example, and keep in mind there’s a crazy range of options even in this category. Though technically humbucking, they use a different design with a lower output than most modern buckers. Yet due to their character and quality, their output is something all its own and arguably more responsive and bright than others that might be more familiar.

(Not So) Solid Body Chime

In a brief history lesson by Mick, he contextualized the emergence of the Gretsch Jet series of guitars. Rewind to the mid-1950s and just about every guitar company is running to the mills to make solid-body electrics. Gretsch, however, wasn’t satisfied with simply a solid plane slab. As hinted above, they tucked away a chamber beneath to allow for a stealthy acoustic-inspired quality. After a bit of A/B comparison with Dan’s Les Paul, he remarked “that’s that Gretsch top-end twang, it’s still got it even in the solid body! It’s a whole different fidelity thing going on.”

So how did Dan & Mick draws things to a verdict on Gretsch? In Dan’s words, “man, these things are absolutely magic.” Nuff said. If you’re stuck in traditional design rut and looking for something classic yet forward-looking, perhaps a Gretsch is in your future.

TPS Episode Rig Rundown:

Guitars: • Gretsch Electromatic G5422 TG; Gretsch 6118T Anniversary Players Edition; Gretsch G6120DE Duane Eddy Signature; Gretsch G6120T Limited Edition ’59 Nashville; Gretsch G6228 Player’s Edition Jet BT w/V Stoptail; Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster; Fender Classic Series ’60s Jazzmaster Lacquer; Gibson Memphis 1958 ES-335; Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard; Collings 360LT.

Pedals: TC Electronic Polytune3 Mini, Hudson Broadcast Dual, Wampler Tumnus, Jam Pedals Ripple Phaser, Jam Pedals Waterfall Chorus, Catalinbread Adineko Delay, Keeley D&M Drive.

Amps: Matchless HC-30 & HK 212 cab with Celestion G12M Greenback speakers, Victory V140 The Super Duchess & V212VC cabinet / Celestion G12H Creamback speakers.

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2 thoughts on “The Untold Essentials that Make That Gretsch Sound

  • September 12, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    My fist electric was a ’78 Country Gentleman (I know) followed a year later with picking up a ’62 Corvette that was modified with ’62 Les Paul pu’s and bridge with a 3 way phase shift. Sadly both are lost and gone forever. CG I sold to a young guy with better chops than me and the ‘vette hurricane Andrew decided the gators in Florida needed. In the 90’s I found another ’62 ‘vette in Culver City CA I stole for $250. Had a partner in LA with a ’68 Nashville (original) that I played the hell out of in studio.

    I’ve owned Gibson Les Pauls and just don’t like them as a main axe. Played a few 335’s and compared to hollow body Gretch’s, no, don’t like them. I suffer through with my heavily modified ’91 Tele Am Stand. (yes I had to put on a Bigsby ’cause, Bigsby)

    Basically Gretsch can turn you away from the dark side into the light.

    I play fairly clean, not a fan of effects other than tremolo and reverb. (I mic through a ’66 Vox v1031 in the studio)

  • September 12, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Good article and definitely hit the nail on the head as to why the Gretsch guitar is one of a kind. They can do it all with no problems. I started playing on a Gretsch, went over to Fender, then Gibson but now came back to Gretsch. My first guitar was a 3/4 size Gretsch copper colored solid body or at least I thought so at the time back when I was about 8 years old. Now approaching 70 and 136 guitar later I’m back to where I began. Maybe I just should have stayed with Gretsch to begin with? LOL