The Workbench

Gretsch Guitar Mods - What and Why?

1

I've often said that playing a Gretsch guitar is like driving a manual transmission with their floating bridges, master volumes, Bigsbys, pickup adjustments, mud switches, etc. My first Gretsch guitar was a 1968 Corvette that was an unplayable husk with HiLotron pickups and a Bigsby. I had to mod this guitar since it would have taken more to restore it to its original condition than to transform it into the way I really wanted it so I decided to have my luthier friend customize it before sending it off to Curt to have him finish it in a hot rod purple nitro.

When I bought my 2011 DSV Duo Jet in February, 2012 from Rocky at Street Sounds I had no intention of modding it. I didn't think that after spending investment amounts of money on a guitar that I would ever want to change anything about it. It turns out it's precisely because I consider it an investment that I convinced myself to be willing to do whatever I felt would inch it closer to its full potential for me. I feel justified that all of the mods I've performed on it have helped to ensure a lifetime of joy from it. Joy is priceless. I have owned, messed with and played this guitar for 8 years now and after playing it a lot this weekend I feel it is finally finished. My Gretsch Duo Jet always was but now definitely is my favorite guitar to play and to listen to by far. Duo Jets can sound similar to other guitars but to my ears will always sound better. The airy hollow chambering, solid, immaculate construction and amazing playability place them at the pinnacle of great sounding and playing guitars to me and my ears.

Here is a list of everything I've changed.

  • Brass nut - The original nut was "synthetic bone". Haha! Yeah, nope! Besides not liking plastic nuts of any kind the G string slot was also cut a bit low. It was still playable but it did help make my first modding decision an easy one. I like both brass and bone nuts and have used both on different guitars. I chose brass for my Duo Jet because I liked the extra zing on the top and bottom end that brass nuts produce. It's very subtle but it's there. They also work really well with a Bigsby. I have to give Duane Eddy some credit here too. He uses brass nuts on his Gretsch guitars and his tone is unparalleled. I did have to buy a metal file and file the bottom of the nut. That took some time and some effort. The bonus was it took so long just to file a little bit that I was cautious by default and was able to eventually make it fit perfectly.

  • TV Jones Dynasonic spacer - I bought one of these foam risers to lift up the bridge pickup. It helps!

  • Tru-Arc Aluminum Serpentune Bridge - The guitar came stock with a Melita reissue Syncro-Sonic bridge. While I liked it, I didn't love it. I could tell the nylon saddles were sucking up some of the tone that I could tell were inherent in this guitar. I originally switched it out with a Gotoh Adjustomatic with a rosewood base that I bought from Blackrider. I really liked the sound and feel of that bridge but the extra rattle with all of its moving parts started driving me bananas. On a full solid body you don't hear them but on a chambered Gretsch the buzzing is amplified. This bridge ended up on my Corvette. I then tried a bowtie Bigsby compensated aluminum bridge and I really liked the sound and feel of that one too but it had a really high overtone that also drove me bananas. When the Tru-Arc Serpentunes first came out I knew I had to try one. A compensated bar bridge for a Gretsch guitar with a floating bridge base? Yes indeed. No moving parts = no extra buzz. The radius match sealed the deal. I originally bought a stainless steel version but I realized the tone was very neutral compared to the aluminum I experienced with the Bigsby bridge so I swapped it for an aluminum one. Spank restored! It's perfect.

  • 1 Meg CTS pots - When I found out through Billy Zoom here that the original 1950s Duo Jets and his signature Jets came with 1 meg CTS pots I knew I had to try them. My friend has a 1955 Duo Jet and I loved the way his sounds. In comparison I thought my Duo Jet sounded a bit darker. I already had experience with 1 meg CTS pots on an original design guitar a friend and I made so I knew what to expect. 1 meg pots open up all of the frequencies available. You can still get the same tones as you get from the stock 500 K pots by dialing in the volume and tone knobs but they give you even more when they are on full.

  • G Tailpiece - This Duo Jet came with a fixed Bigsby B3. When I first bought the guitar I switched out the fixed handle for the swivel handle which was included within the first few weeks. However, the swivel handle broke after a few more weeks so I reinstalled the fixed handle. I had that on there for years and yes, Bigsbys are fun! I first became curious about the G Tailpiece after playing my friend's 1955 Duo Jet which seemed to have a more pure, ringing tone than mine and also after watching a YouTube video of a guy who compared a stop tailpiece and a Bigsby on the same ES-335. I could hear an audible difference even through YouTube. I decided that while I use the Bigsby, when I weighed the pros and cons I decided I want this guitar to sound as amazing as possible. The G Tailpiece allows the top to vibrate more freely. I didn't drill any holes and I still have the B3 if I ever decide to reinstall it.

  • Rewinding the Gretsch Dynasonics - This is something I wish I took care of 8 years ago or at the very least swap them for TV Jones T'Armonds or even Seymour Duncan Dynas. I've mentioned this before but every time I was tempted to swap out the pickups I would plug in my guitar and fall in love with the sound of the stock pickups. I didn't like the balance of the pickups though. It turns out that Terada must have been going for vintage accuracy in 2011 as opposed to player preferences because both pickups measured in at around 7.75 K. I contacted my friend Sayoko Kuwabara who was a referral from Grover Jackson. I had contacted her a few years ago to rewind some Gold Foil pickups and they came out amazing. She is a pickup Master Jedi. I told her that I loved the sound of the stock Dynasonics but wanted more power and body from the bridge and I wanted more clarity from the neck, like a Stratocaster inspired Dynasonic sound. She delivered exactly what I heard in my head and exactly what I was hoping. She wound the bridge to 9.9 K and the neck to 7.15 K. I flipped my pickups 180 degrees a few years ago so the poles face in instead of out and I really like the results. I reinstalled them like that again and so far I'm loving what I'm hearing. With this rewinding I know they would work great with the poles facing out too. While I was in there I also added a treble bleed to the neck pickup.

Now all I want to do is play my Duo Jet!

After all of this I'm curious to hear of other "what'" and "why" mods on Gretsch guitars.

2

In my 1965 Tennessean era, to make it playable I had to:

reset neck; refret w/ big frets; Sta Tite 18:1 tuners; change mud values; swap mud and pickup selector positions;. put master volume on aftermarket guard; new E-Z turn pots all over; get rid of pickup pin connectors; remove Bigsby pins --string it straight thru the holes; all manner of Bigsby lube; Add a cut down Merle arm.

Then it was great and you couldn't dynamite that thing out of tune. Even dive bomb with a Bigsby --came back right in tune. Had to be 11s tho. 1965 George tone --effortless.

3

My 2006 6120: All I've done is chisel a bit under the pickups so they weren't so close. It opened up the tone and brought out more chime.

I also replaced the awesome looking Bar-Bridge with a Gretsch Adjust-o- matic. Not for intonation issues, but to give the lower strings more definition.

My 1967 Annie/Rally:

Sure looks like a Rally, but has an Anniversary plate???. I put another AOM bridge on that, but more for the high strings' definition. I also put Tv-Hilos on it because it was missing the neck pickup, so I bought a set that I found on Ebay. I also made a pickguard with a "Gretsch" logo and (tried to) color match it with the sides and back (copper mist).

Bono (RED):

I replaced truss cover and pickguard with silver Gretsch (guard), Added a Bigsby and replaced pickups with HS Filtertrons that I got in a trade HERE!

60's Corvette:

This was my first Gretsch. Got the husk for 8 bucks when I was in high school! It's had a single Dimarzio humbucker, a Gibson p-90 and now finally a set of vintage Hilo-trons (one from the Rally, the other Reverb) I added a Bigsby copy ( I know) and a "real" pickguard. and wired it to original-ish specs.

Bolt on neck Jet:

My friend gave it to me after I gave him his Marshall and Orange cab back after an ancient, bad trade that I knew he regretted for decades! I actually love this guitar! I did a naughty and changed the headstock to only say "Gretsch", no worries, as I'll never fool anyone but myself. I put a chambered brass Compton bridge on a base and a Bigsby wank, a set of Frankentone fake Dynos...they sound great, and BRIGHT! I also refinished it to a matte black and re-did the electronics. AND replaced (screwed to top) pickguard with Jet pickguard.

40's(I think) Syncromatic acoustic:

I got this last Gretsch in a box. Neck was off and in pieces, body was in pieces, no bridge, but tuners and tailpiece were cool, just super rusty. Pickguard was warped, but nothing a low-setting iron couldn't fix. I put it all together, refinished it, put a newer ...is it called "stairstep" bridge base and a bone saddle.
4

You adapt bikes and cars and everything else in your life to make it usable for you. Guitars are the same. Make it yours.

5

I did a once-over on my RHH, partly technical preference, partly Cowboy kitsch, absolutely Texas!

This is one of the nicer platforms I have to play on, fully audible acoustic tone with the Tone Bars and Sound Post, too.

I always compare Gretsch to Harleys when thinking customization...very much personal once you have some history.

Details in the directory.

6

"I always compare Gretsch to Harleys when think customization...very much personal once you have some history." - Twangmeisternyc

Yes! I realized this soon after I started down the path of customizing my own. A bass player friend of mine built one of the baddest Harley's I've ever seen one part at at time. Gretsch guitars are built so well that they ignite my imagination.

7

I specifically bought my G5190BK just to mod but after bringing the pick-ups up to the strings, I just went with it as is.

I know older Gretsch' used to have problems but the new line up is great.

8

I used to think that modding a proline was almost sacrilegious, however have come around to the “make it yours” side. The only irony I see is with vintage modified guitars and often agree when someone points out that “too bad it was modified”. Many of my guitars have been modified from just a bridge upgrade to refinishing (refin prior to purchasing). Some mods are easily reversible and some are not, but their mine.

9

Lots of great clues here guys. I'll store this info away against the day that might ever come across a Gretsch that needs some TLC or refitting of some kind.

10

I haven't done much to my 5120. But what I did, I thought was necessary. I had the standard nut swapped out for a bone nut. That improved tuning. I also installed an aluminum TruArc bridge because I didn't like the TOM bridge digging into the heel of my hand as I palm muted. That's it.

11

My two "work horses" have both been upgraded with TV Jones pickups. The 2005 6120 AM (nicknamed "Blondie") has a pair of T-Armonds, but other than that, she's stock. My '93 6120-60 (nicknamed "Gamla", translating to the affectionate "my old lady" - not because she's old per se, but ... well, my oldest Gretsch at the moment) has a pair of TV Classics, Tru-Arc bridge, pickguard by Paul Setzer, Sperzel locking tuners, Schaller strap locks, V-cut Gretsch Bigsby, a coupla stickers, and I disconnected the individual volume controls (kept the mud switch, though). The neck and headstock have both been broken and fixed a coupla of times, although a repair probably doesn't qualify for the term "modification"...

Anders


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