Electromatics

Electromatic Centerblock Jet G5655T: Dialing It In

1

I have an instinct for double-cut electric guitars which my realization that a single-cut Jet with Dynasonics is The Ultimate Electric Guitar has done nothing to dull.

Maybe it's because a single-cutaway electric guitar still retains an obvious functional link with its dull, boring, staid acoustic forbears while a doublecut unambiguously proclaims itself fit for duty in the future: you wouldn't need those cutaways if you weren't boldly going new musical places where no old-fashioned gitbox has gone before.

I guess I don't consider the Gretsch double-cut Jet the most beautiful guitar ever: the high waist and stubby horns give the impression the body was stunted before it grew into something more graceful. But I don't know how I'd improve it, and the classic Gretsch has grown on me. My first Gretsch, in fact, was (and is) a 12-lb pre-FMIC goldtop Electromatic with mini-buckers. An extremely solid solidbody.

While that guitar pretty much scratched my doublecut Jet itch, and I haven't been much tempted by pro-line doublecuts, I was intrigued by the 5655 centerblock Electromatic Jet from the time it debuted at the 2014 NAMM Show.

First, it was "chambered." Entirely solidbody guitars and more-or-less full hollow guitars (with various sorts of bracing) mark the extremes of construction options, and there are classic examples of both which are universally and deservedly revered. We all know and love'm. But I'm continually fascinated by the subtle range of tone and response to be found in chambered and centerblock guitars, particularly those in the 14" - 16" body size.

I usually find completely hollow (maybe sound-posted) - but completely closed-body - guitars sonically entertaining, but they don't suit every purpose. Guitars which are chambered or "planked" to various degrees suit more traditionally solidbody purposes while retaining some "air," but lose some of the open character of the fully hollow variants.

But I just know that somewhere along the continuum from really hollow to mostly solid there's a formula which will magically combine the best features of both approaches with none of the compromises of either.

So for me the question is less whether a Jet/Paul-sized guitar should be solid or hollow, and more just how hollow it should be. The chambering of the 5655 would, I thought, at least give me another data point in this ongoing search - if it didn't prove to have perfected the formula.

But what really pushed me over the edge was the 5655's shapely, graceful arched back - an indicator, at least in Gretsch construction, that despite appearances, the guitar is not a solidbody. Here was a Jet-sized guitar, but with elements of Gent construction. Similar, I guess, to the old Gent Jr - or a mini-335. In any case, it was a unique spec unavailable (to my knowledge) anywhere else in the Gretsch line.

That made the 5655, like the CVT, a unique product, not a version of something in the pro series. I always appreciate uniqueness.

The rest of the spec was fine as well. Neoclassics, check. Standard-size Filtertron pickup routs, check - so there would be options if the standard pickups didn't ultimately serve. Straightforward control set, no mud switch, yep. Tension-bar top-mount Bigsby: well, OK. We're used to them. If it's what goes on a TV Jones Spectra Supreme, it must be OK here. Mini-Grovers: good. Maybe not as distinctive as the Waverly-looking open-back tuners on some of the 5400 series, but smooth and even, arguably, more reliable.

Also, I've been going through a red thing for a few years - and there it was in Rosa Red.


But in 2014, it wasn't like I needed another guitar. (It still isn't.) So I didn't succumb just yet. In fact, I'll admit the triple-pickup catseyed 16" 5622 in Georgia Green had fascinated me a tad more - probably because it was an affordable way to get into Gretsch centerblockness and had 3 of the new SuperHiloTrons. (And yep, I like that guitar plenty good!)

In the fullness of time, however, the 5655 called out to me again, and Rocky at Street Sounds made me a good deal on a Rosa Red. It came to me flawless from head to toe and impeccably set up. Action was just right.


At the same time I ordered the guitar I also consulted with TV Jones about replacement pickups for it. Why? Man, I don't know. Because having a new platform for a different variety of TV Jones pickup was part of the attraction in the first place.

I'd already had plenty of experience with the SuperHiloTron on the 5622 - where I love having three of them deployed and have never considered swapping them out. So I figured I'd want something different in the neck position of the 5655.

And the blacktop FilterTron at the bridge? Well, I've tried. I have a 5420 with blacktops and I've heard others get great sounds from them. But I just don't get along with them.

But I do like the notion of a double-coil for slightly fatter tone at the bridge, and a single-coil for more crisp at the neck; I've configured many guitars that way through the years. So the 5655 already had its heart in the right place. (I know the SuperHiloTron isn't really a single-coil, but it's brightish. I characterize it as a cross between a mini-humbucker and a HiloTron.)

The neck MagnaTron and bridge Classic Plus on my Anni Jr make a perfect combo. But TV has all those other options to try. I just didn't know which for this project, so I called him and we discussed it. (I'm not recommending that everyone call Tom every time they want to choose a pickup. His website does a fine job of guiding you through options.)

I thought maybe I'd try the Setzer sigs, but after discussion we hit upon the Paul Yandell Duo-Tron at the bridge and ... I'm not sure what I have at the neck.

Black, single row of big fat slug polepieces. On the back it says "SpectraSonic Standard Neck," but isn't a SpectraSonic a guitar, not a pickup? This is my fault - Tom told me what pickup it is during our conversation, but by the time I got the package I'd forgotten. And I haven't been able to find its like on his website. So. Mystery TV Jones pickup.

Anyway, self-evidently a single at the neck and a double at the bridge.


Only I didn't put them in as soon as I got the guitar. Thought I'd try the stockers first, and who wants to tear apart a perfectly good guitar as soon as it comes in the door, without even playing it?

I did play it - in constant rotation for many months. Whatever else I had out, the 5655 was always close at hand. I was enjoying it, but there's always a honeymoon, right? You gotta get through that to know where you really are. Sure, the guitar was good - but where did it stack up against all the other options? It takes time to figure that out.

During this long period of adjustment, its only live outing was at last year's Hoosier Daddy Roundup, where I didn't seem able to get what I needed from the stock pickups. Maybe I needed to optimize amp and pedal settings (something there's never time for at a Roundup).

Also, I'd put 11s on it in place of the stock 10s - knowing better but still failing to open the slots up a little) - so, no surprise, the nut was grabby. Also, some pinging and creaking at the bridge; maybe to be expected with an Adjusta-matic that close to a tension-bar Bigsby.

Also. My gawd is this even a SPRING in the Bigsby, or is it a solid tube of steel? Pretty stiff!


So Rosa was going to need some tuning for the track. And this thread is about the process of getting "her" (OK, I don't generally feminize my guitars - or gender them in any way - but "Rosa," right?) dialed in.

2

Man, that was a long read, and I appreciate your hanging in there. But it gets all the explanatory minutiae out of the way, so we can get on with the show-n-tell almost-wordless workshop.

(I know, y'all don't appreciate the long wind now, but eons hence, when the GDP is discovered as a resource providing insight into the strange subculture of the Electric Guitar Enthusiast, anthropologists are gonna LOVE me.)

That was also a sub-average bog-standard fuzzy-rez picture in the first post. Here's a slightly more glamorous shot of Rosa reclining on the peacock divan.

3

Baby got back. I have a hard time photographing it, but the back is quite shapely in its archness.

4

Closer.

(Bax, man, the picture rules are killin' us. One pic per post is painful. The inability to size images to take any advantage of their actual resolution is worse. Can we maybe get 3, or 5, images per post? And maybe specify full width of the frame, or more options than the one we have now?

It's really tedious to upload everything to a hosting site and then link in manually, but that's what it takes to post anything that respects the time and effort we put into photography. (Suck as I do.)

5

Installing the Pickups

I'd put the guitar away after wearing through the honeymoon. Then, a couple months ago I saw the new TV Jones pickups doing the backstroke in their boxes on my desk and figured it was time to install them.

I can solder, and I've fished controls out of enclosed Gretschs through the pickup holes, though both are jobs that come on my Fun List somewhere around scraping paint and stuffing hot pokers up my nose.

So I was glad when I removed the stock pickups and saw they were connected via quick-connect sockets, which would save me both tasks. Sure was easy to disconnect the stock pups.

Then I was sad when I couldn't source the mating connectors to fasten to TV's pickup wires. Such a good idea - universal pickup connectors. So meagrely implemented. Maybe Gretsch and TV (for a beginning) could decide on a standard, and always ship pickups ready to connect?

For the record, here's what the connector looks like.

6

I confess to not trying hard enough, but I did reach out to a couple of sources to find the mating connectors. When a few days went by with no result - and the guitar was laying on the bench with its guts spilled - I decided to meatball ahead.

(A view into the business end of the connector on the wiring harness.)

7

And a detail shot of the other side, where the wires from the harness are crimped to the individual connectors.

8

I was anxious to just hear how the new pickups would sound, and cast about for an appropriate temporary approach.

I could, I suppose, have cut the connectors off the stock pickups, tried to fish the individual leads out, pry them open, and then crimp or solder them onto TV's leads.

But, 1: old clumsy fingers, never exactly the right tool, and was it going to work? I've had too much experience to have much faith. Also, 2: I wanted to preserve the connectors on the stock pickups in case I'd ever want to undo what I was about to do-do. I'll usually jump through a hoop or two to avoid making permanent changes if I don't have to. I'll jump off the cliff (yes, this is a very small cliff) if necessary, but I like having an escape route.

My solution? Tin the ends of TV's pickup leads and try to stuff them down beside the clips on the backside of the connectors. Figured it would at least hang together long enough to assemble the guitar and hear it.

Behold: wires stuffed.

9

We all know how to test whether a pickup is working when it's on the bench, right? Plug the guitar into an amp and tap on the poles with a screwdriver?

Both the pickups worked, so I taped up around my stuff-in job and chuckled.

(That's a taped-up connector at far right.)

10

Actually mounting the pickups in the cavities was, as the British say, a doddle. (I assume that means "easy.")

Both pickups had standard English-mount (see, doddling) ears, which was all that was needed on the treble side; adjustment screw through the center of the treble side of mounting ring threaded right in.

On the bass side, though, the Electromatic has two adjusting screws (to permit angling the pickup at whim). TV supplies a handy three-holed adapter: screw through the middle hole to the ear on the pickup, and the outer holes are then ready to receive the screws from the bass side of the mounting ring. Pretty slick!

(I suppose you can see that arrangement at the right of the picture. The little black plate is the TV adapter.)

And, in all cases, you remembered to put the springs between the pickup ear and mounting ring, right?

11

Paul Yandell Duo-Tron, back view.

12

Mystery neck pickup, back view.

13

Chambering

My meatball pickup wiring has held together since July - and it's worked so well (never a quiver quaver dropout or blip) I almost forgot in what a precarious state I'd left it. And I do intend to make it more performance-proof. (More on that momentarily.)

Today I restrung the guitar while making a couple more tweaks, and it occurred to me that, pictures being worth x-words, I should show y'all the pickup connectors and installation steps, so I took the pickups out AGAIN. (And will have to tape the bridge connector back up.)

In the meantime, why not see if we can tell exactly how chambered dear Rosa is? Chambering was, after all, one of the rationales for purchase. I did what every technologically maladapted Modern does: stuffed the lens end of the iPhone down the neck pickup hole and shot toward the butt of the guitar.

As you can (or can't) see, the cavity is about 1-1/4" wide down past the centerblock and the bridge pickup rout. The block seems to widen just past the bridge pickup (under the bridge), and then there's a little-finger-sized hole down into the lower bout of the guitar. How much of a chamber there is in that area I can't tell with the tools at hand.

At the right side of the pickup cavity, there's also a small hole into that or another cavity.

So how chambered? From the weight (certainly not heavy, but not surprisingly light either), I'd call this guitar closer to solid than to hollow.

(We watched Alien vs Predator: Requiem last night; this picture reminds me of the dark sewer scenes.)

14

And here's the flash-lit sewer scene. You can see more detail, we're just not sure what.

No face-hugger leapt from the guitar, though.

(For orientation, the bottom sidewall of the guitar is at left, the centerblock at right, and the wires run through the cavity from the neck pup toward the bowels.)

15

Buttoning Up

And here, dear Liza, is what would be a gorgeous detail shot of the installed pickups - along with excruciatingly enlarged detail of the Tru-Arc™ currently installed.

(If the GDP permitted excruciatingly large and gorgeous detail shots.)

About the bridge. Despite my bridgeworking avocation (which I hope might one day ease my retirement), I don't necessarily and by default replace the bridge on every guitar I have. For one, I couldn't afford it. For another...well, OK, I couldn't afford it. (Yes, and sometimes another variety of bridge is absolutely called for.)

In this case, though, when I had the guitar apart a couple months ago and was in the testing mood, I put an aluminum Standard (non-compensated) bridge on it instead of the the stock Adjusta. The bridge shown in the pictures is a first-generation prototype of what is now the AL-120/ES-1.

I like the aluminum on the guitar - I always seem to like aluminum on Electro Jets - but haven't tried other species yet, and can't swear it would be my final choice.

16

Final Tweaks

From the pure-nickel 11s I'd had on the guitar last winter (Gretsch Chet Atkins series), I'd gone to brighter D'Addario XL 10.5 - 48s with the pickup swap a couple months ago. 10s on the guitar had been too slinky for me, 11s a touch too stiff. The 10.5s are just right, and I think the brighter tone of the XLs is right as well. But in two months I'd played those strings completely dead.

I was saving the string change, though, till closer to the Nashville Roundup, and until my package of Reverend Soft-Touch springs came. (The vibrato wasn't unusable with the stock spring, but it took commitment and planning.)

Changing both was the reason for today's teardown and rebuild. In the process, as mentioned, I changed the bridge - and also tweaked the pickup heights. I was looking to get just a little more presence. Both pickups, it turns out, are extraordinarily sensitive to height adjustment. I had the neck pickup close enough today to generate eharmonic "wolf" tones on the bass strings. Just a touch brought it back down to "just right." The greater height, though, really brought authority and snap to the neck pickup, which is now lush, clear, and defined.

I really enjoy the Duo-Tron at the bridge. It's smooth, again "lush," and with great definition and not a hint of stridency. I could do an entire gig with only the bridge pickup, a tone control, and varying levels and colors of gain. From clean chording to crunch and all manner of overdriven lead, it delivers a supple and expressive voice.

The middle blend position is a treat, mixing the bright fat of the neck pup with the dark shimmer of the bridge - surprisingly effective for fingerpicking.

Alas, I'll have to wait till my wife leaves the house tomorrow for a real play-in at volume, but so far I'm more than satisfied with the tweaks.

And oh yeah - not that it's a surprise to anyone, but what a difference the soft-touch spring makes! Suddenly it's all greasy buttery smooth and responsive, a world away from the rigidity of the stock spring. After a new set of strings, probably the best 10 bucks you could spend on one of these guitars. Holy geez. It was the final touch in going from great-bang-for-the-buck Electromatic to this-could-be-pro-line.

Pic at top of post shows both the stock spring and the Rev. Can you tell which is which?

17

But is it perfect? Is the 5655 well and truly dialed in?

Alas, not yet.

It's no criticism of either the factory's work or Rocky's setup; the nut was really as close as could be expected on a guitar that hasn't been tweaked for a particular player. But I seem unusually aggressive on the low E, and get fret rattle low on the neck that I can't adjust out no matter how high I crank the action. (It takes an unreasonable amount of crank at the bridge to quell fret buzz in first position.)

As the problem is specific on this guitar to that string, shimming the nut (and then likely having to file the nut slots) is of no avail. It will end up going to a shop for this work (I'm no good at it) - and while they're going to the trouble, I'll have a new bone or hard composite nut made.


Also, the meatball pickup connections have to be fixed. Whether with mating quick-connect sockets or by soldering direct to the wiring harness. I'm not going to fish those pots out, either - they're as inaccessibly buried in this guitar as any I've ever seen (the price to be paid for the lovely sculpted back with no access plate). Whoever does the work is going to hate it, but that's what they're paid for.

While they're at that, they may as well put in betterbest pots. (I've had zero trouble with these, and it goes without saying that I haven't seen them - they may be betterbest already. But if not.)

The guitar also has a wiring quirk I don't like: only the bridge pup routes through the tone control. There has to be a reason for that; I can't think of it. I'll have it rewired so the tone control acts on both pickups.

18

But it's darn close.

None of my adventures should suggest this isn't a dandy guitar out of the box. It is. I doubt its design was intended in the first place for someone of my particular tastes: as a mid-priced small-body centerblock guitar, it's specifically pitched at players deeper in the gain zone, and probably louder, than I am. In short, a rock guitar.

In truth, I don't know exactly what I am looking for from it. I just had the sense there was something else lurking in it, and I'm trying to find it. Just trying to "make it my own."

And if I wasn't getting close, I would have given up by now.

Anyway, that's all I got. I'll bring it to Nashville and see what others think. Always good to have others' perspectives - even if I'll wander around aimlessly by my own dim lights anyway.

19

One thing about these double cutaway jets that you do not see in others is that they have eliminated the long heel that plagues the others. I mean the neck and fingerboard look like you have all this room up the neck (not that I ever play there you understand) and then you try to play up there and you like to take your thumb off with this heel that's hitting about the 8th fret (exageration: it is slightly higher). That alone makes me want one.

20

Didn't I once say, "My wife begs for this kind of stuff" to keep me occupied.

There must be an equivalent statement...

Ha!

21

One thing about these double cutaway jets that you do not see in others is that they have eliminated the long heel that plagues the others. I mean the neck and fingerboard look like you have all this room up the neck (not that I ever play there you understand) and then you try to play up there and you like to take your thumb off with this heel that's hitting about the 8th fret (exageration: it is slightly higher). That alone makes me want one.

– Don Birchett

Ditto. The combination of easier upper registry access (not that I go there much but at least have a better opportunity to do so if desired) and the symmetry in appearance make double cuts the better choice imo.

Congrats Proteus. I hope you get it where you want it.

22

Can't wait to see it, hear it and feel it. You mod so we don't have to , but we will anyway.

23

Love it. It's go to be tons lighter than mine. They are great little ROCK machines.

24

I wonder, since you're coming to Nashville, if a quick email to Joe could get him to bring you those pickup connectors. Just a thought.

25

Good wonder, Dave - I'll give that a shot.

And yes, I didn't think to mention the smooth neck heel and upper fret access. I do regularly visit that region of the fretboard, but when access is unimpeded, I guess you quickly get used to it and don't even think about the alternative.

Forgot to mention having removed the pickguard, though I guess it's obvious. Something about the black didn't work for me visually - seemed plain and un-deluxe. I think I'd like a white pearloid guard, though.


Register Sign in to join the conversation