Gretsch has a long storied history dating back to 1883, when Friedrich Gretsch first set up shop in Brooklyn, New York. Their guitars are celebrated pieces of early rock & roll Americana, and are still amongst some of the most sought after guitars on the market today. The Gretsch brand houses some of the most recognizable and iconic guitars around, but what makes a Gretsch a Gretsch?
If you fancy yourself a Country Gentleman, you might say that signature Chet Atkins twang is what separates a Gretsch from its competition. On the other hand, they handled the stadium-rock riffage of Malcolm Young for decades. They’re incredibly versatile guitars with a tonal voice that is simultaneously legendary and hard to pinpoint.
In this article, we are going to focus our attention on the electronics in Gretsch guitars. There are obviously many factors that go into a guitar’s sound, but the Gretsch
approach to electronics is unique, and quite different from other guitar companies. If you’re thinking of buying a Gretsch electric, use this blog as a resource to better understand “That Great Gretsch Sound!”
Pickup Design Philosophy
Gretsch tend to subvert conventional pickup design, in favor of sonic distinction. In other words, regardless of the genre of music you play, a Gretsch is going to be immediately recognizable. Part of the reason they are so recognizable is because of a preference of installing lower output pickups in their guitars.
Gretsch designed low output pickups, particularly true for their humbucking units, to accommodate bass, mid, and treble frequencies. The goal is to provide a pronounced low end, transparent midrange, and a punchy high end to deliver sonic clarity and definition in every note.
Currently, Gretsch offers four general pickup types with varying levels of output. From lowest output to highest, these are their pickup types: Hilo’Tron, Dynasonic, Filter’Tron, Full’Tron, and Broad’Tron. Here is an abridged description of the main pickup families for Gretsch guitars.
- Lowest output pickup in Gretsch line
- Pronounced highs and mellow lows
- Example: G6119T-62 Vintage Select Edition ’62 Tennessee Rose Hollow Body
- Originally known as Gretsch-DeArmond Fidelatone
- Sparkling highs and full bass response
- Example: G6128T-53 Vintage Select ’53 Duo Jet
- Lowest output Humbucker option
- Warmer than Dynasonic pickups with increased sustain
- Example: Gretsch G5230T Electromatic Jet FT Single-Cut
- US Made
- “Full spectrum sonic range”
- Example: G6609TG Players Edition Broadkaster
- Highest output pickup in Gretsch line
- Powerful mids and lows/clear top end
- Example: G6228 Players Edition Jet BT w/V-Stoptail
For comparison, If you imagine a PAF pickup (like the pickups in this guitar from Dave’s personal collection), there is an iconic “muddiness” that these types of pickups generally elicit. Jimmy Page’s guitar tone on “Whole
One of the more charming things about Gretsch is their overall “look” and timeless retro esthetic. Quirky appointments like Bigsby tremolo systems and rotund floating pickguards give the guitars big personality, but also unique functionality. Perhaps the most eclectic appointment of the Gretsch electric guitar is the many knobs and switches.
There are, of course, many different guitars in the Gretsch product line with different layouts and functions. Gretsch offers a control guide along with in-depth wiring schematics for their many layout options on their website. For that reason, we’ll be focusing specifically on their approach to volume.
Master and Pickup Volume
There is a vast array of electronic configurations out there, some that are zanier than others. However, electric guitars all have a master volume (if I am missing an electric guitar that doesn’t have a master volume, be sure to post about it in the comment section below.)
The Gretsch approach is interesting, because in addition to a master volume control knob, there are individual volume knobs assigned to each pickup. This allows for nuanced sonic mixing and control.
A basic application for this kind of layout could be to set your neck position pickup at a lower volume, and switch to your bridge position pickup as type of lead boost (or the reverse order.) You could also use your master volume as a boost, or on the Player’s Edition models with Treble Bleed circuit, push your amp’s output and use the master volume as a pseudo-attenuator.
Gretsch makes a different kind of electric guitar. If you are looking for a guitar with a uniquely crisp sonic profile and timeless visual appeal, this a brand worth looking into. They’re versatile, iconic, and great guitars for players of all types of music.
Let us know what you think! Leave a comment and tell us your feelings on Gretsch guitars. If you’re intrigued, and want to know what they are like, visit us at our LaCrosse, Milwaukee, or Madison locations, today!