Modern Gretsch Guitars

The Elephant in the Room

1

Every one of us who plays guitar and is not adverse to spending real dollars to get a good one, realizes that all guitars are not created equal. Most guitars have something wrong with them, some just needing a tweek, and some (twisted necks) needing major surgery if there is any possibility of making them right. Add to this the fact that most music stores do not even bother to set up a guitar received from the manufacturer, and you have a real problem. You don't buy a new car, and have to take it to a mechanic to check it out. But with guitars, you do.

Here's my question: is there any way to make sure that the guitar that you order is cherry, or are we just supposed to take our chances with three or four thousand dollars?

2

Buy from a seller you trust. I've had good experiences with Sweetwater and Wildwood.

3

If you're going to spend that much and you have no other possibility than to order sight unseen, make sure the seller has a good return policy.

4

If you're going to spend that much and you have no other possibility than to order sight unseen, make sure the seller has a good return policy.

– WB

YES!! And there are dealers who meet that criteria, including Sweetwater (I know from personal experience) and Wildwood. From many comments here, I think Street Sounds (NYC) is also excellent in that regard.

5

You get to test drive a new car. I'd never buy a car, new or used, that I didn't test drive first, and go over with a fine tooth comb. With guitars, there are fewer local dealers for all of the various makes and models. I deal with a local car dealer that I trust (my wife works at the dealership), and I trust very few guitar dealers that much. Thankfully, Sweetwater is fairly nearby.

6

The last new guitar I bought was a Synchro 400 in 1995. I had tried a similar model and ordered it from Gretsch direct through a favorite guitar shop. Flawless.

7

I've purchased exactly one guitar in the last five decades that I did not "test drive" first, but I had already tested three or four of the same model from the same maker (Ric), so I was reasonably confident.

8

Every one of us who plays guitar and is not adverse to spending real dollars to get a good one, realizes that all guitars are not created equal. Most guitars have something wrong with them, some just needing a tweek, and some (twisted necks) needing major surgery if there is any possibility of making them right. Add to this the fact that most music stores do not even bother to set up a guitar received from the manufacturer, and you have a real problem. You don't buy a new car, and have to take it to a mechanic to check it out. But with guitars, you do.

Here's my question: is there any way to make sure that the guitar that you order is cherry, or are we just supposed to take our chances with three or four thousand dollars?

– RobLV1

I just bought a spectra sonic from TV Jones. A chambered alder body with TV classics.

Tom did the set up himself.

Where else are you going to find that?

Give him a look

9

Oh! And Rocky at StreetSounds. I’ve bought three there. I don’t know if they were set up in house, or if that’s how they came from the factory, but they all were sweet.

10

YES!! And there are dealers who meet that criteria, including Sweetwater (I know from personal experience) and Wildwood. From many comments here, I think Street Sounds (NYC) is also excellent in that regard.

– senojnad

Sweetwater has had many complaints about their so called 55 point inspection so you can leave them out of that list. Wildwood and Street Sounds have a great track record as far as I know! I've bought two Street Sounds guitars that are killer Gretsches. But just because you spend 3 to 4 thousand on a guitar, it doesn't guarantee perfection. Guitars can leave a place setup perfectly, but when they arrive in a new state, with a different temp and humidity, there's a good chance they are going to need a setup of some sort. So as others have said, you kind of have to check the return policy before you lay down the cash on a sight unseen guitar.

11

I’ve ‘test driven’ every guitar I’ve bought except for my Fender Jazz Bass. I did try a few in stores but no one had what I specifically wanted, so a friend who worked for Fender’s distributors got one for me. Turned out to be the way heavier than any of the ones I’d tried. Eventually sold it. Everything else has been either spot on or needed just a slight tweak.

12

I'm not good enough to own or play a $4,000 guitar, so there's that.

And since when does price determine if a guitar is good or not?

Telecasters are just fine with me. Anything else is gravy.

13

Well you can tweak a car all you like. Just because you don't doesn't mean nobody does. I have tweaked my Triump motorbike as much if not more than my guitars. Car geeks will fuss over details as much as us guitar geeks fuss over our guitars.

Then there is the concept of set-up. Set-up means different things to different people. When I used to work in a guitar store (before Japanese Gretsches became available) most guitars did actually come from the factory quite well set up. Sometimes a customer would want a new guitar set up differently from factory spec and we would do that as best we could. But everyone plays differently - there is no one set-up which suits all players.

One woman who was a regular and an excellent player had such a light touch that she could play guitars which just buzzed with such a low action for me. I don't know how she did it - her guitars were unplayable for me. But I learnt how to set them up for her.

I have bought quite a few new Gretsches online and every time they arrived perfectly well set up. But I always, always set it up for me. I almost always have to raise the action at the bridge because as a pick-and-fingerstyle player with a heavy touch I hate a low action, both for buzzing but also for killing tone. Even if you can't hear buzzing a low action will hurt your tone as strings brush against frets. A lot of my guitar-playing friends like their action a little lower than me - my guitars are not SRV-style high, just high enough to get a clear tone for me.

Does this mean the factory set-up was wrong? No, it just means I like something different.

Then there is the matter of truss rod adjustment. It's something I generally end up doing twice a year on all my guitars. In fact as winter is coming here in the southern hemisphere I have just loosened the trussrod on some guitars just a whisker as I could hear the strings kissing the frets as the truss rod tightened owing to the cooler weather. It's not a "set-and-forget" thing.

FWIW I have bought guitars from all over, including several from Dave's, Street Sounds and Wildwood. I doubt that any of them received any extra attention from these dealers before they shipped them to me. Why? Because they don't usually need it. And if there is any genuine damage or faulty workmanship they will get it sorted for you I have no doubt.

14

My first handful of guitars were bought locally. Then in high school I discovered Vintage Guitar magazine (actually, it was more of a flier back then). Since then, I've only purchased two guitars in person. One was a Custom Shop relic Nocaster. I had no interest in Teles, or Fenders in general, and didn't care one way or the other about the relic job (it was the first time I'd ever heard of the concept), but that guitar was a monster, and there was no way I wasn't going to end up with it. The other was a '53 Duo Jet that popped up on eBay. The seller was about a three hour drive away, so I went to check it out and struck a deal right then and there.

Everything else has been sight unseen. And more often than not, private sales (classifieds, eBay, etc.), so no guarantee of a smooth return, especially before PayPal and eBay's lopsided buyer-friendly terms of service. I've only been burned once. But most of my guitars have been vintage, so I go into it expecting that they're going to need some work to get into top playing condition.

15

I think I've test-driven enough guitars to get a feel of an electric and the tone it provides given the info provided by the on-line seller.

Buying my Black Phoenix from Street Sounds was a no brainer and Rocky set the platinum standard for phenomenal customer service. It arrived on a frigid night and still, the setup was perfect. I actually "knew" the guitar from all of the test driving of over a dozen Gretsch pro-line at Matt Umanov's. I bought from Street Sounds though because of the reputation and the fact that the Black Phoenix was nowhere to be found.

My Gibson Firebird, Tokai and Edwards LP clones all Ebay purchases and very fortunate on their perfect condition and setup upon arrival. My 5126 from a member here in 2012 so no worries and my '14 LP Traditional from Sweetwater was perfect.

I think I know enough about the feel and tone of a great deal of guitars on the market place to the point I can purchase another without worry from not having tested it first.

Acoustics though are another matter. I have 2 and bought both at the store. I have seen a few posts over the years about being more careful about buying an acoustic before playing it (which I need with acoustics anyway) and buying on-line because of quality control. Others' input is my influence so maybe I am a bit superstitious.

If I had the money, and that is a dream right now vs. reality, my next acoustic most likely be a Martin Dreadnought and would only by to compare the D28 to some of the other Martin Dreadnought options.

16

Oh! And Rocky at StreetSounds. I’ve bought three there. I don’t know if they were set up in house, or if that’s how they came from the factory, but they all were sweet.

– Sourpuss

Rocky has a guitar on the bench nearly all of the time. He's a stickler.

17

There's no one-size-fits-all setup so I'm not bothered by that. My biggest gripe is nuts, the slots are always too narrow or too roughly cut.

18

I’ve never purchased a guitar without trying it.....until my recent 12 string quest. I purchased a 5422G-12, used, and a case from Rocky at Street Sounds. Not the most expensive guitar, but it came as described and set up nicely. No issues.

19

I think I've test-driven enough guitars to get a feel of an electric and the tone it provides given the info provided by the on-line seller.

A variation on that theme is that I've bought enough guitars sight unseen that I feel pretty confident in my ability to evaluate them remotely. If you ask the right questions and request the right pictures, it's not that hard to avoid surprises. But again, I'm talking about vintage/used and there's no expectation of a perfect setup out of the box. I just mean that you can confirm that the fundamentals are sound without playing it.

20

i've rolled the dice every single time after the first. never been burnt, but i have been singed.

thing is, it used to behoove me to buy used guitars online, as i a) couldn't afford not to, and b) wanted more esoteric things that were not readily available in stores. and they used to not collect state tax, which was a huge difference-maker back then for ca residents.

just buy something you can trust from someone you can trust. there's a reason i buy mij guitars and not, say, gibsons. I'm not super prissy about things, and if a guitar is a winner (or can be made one), I might be willing to look over a few things, as it'll all come out in the wash eventually.

21

Joel at Shanghai Guitars also performs an ace set-up on guitars.

For us lefties, Southpaw Guitars ensures a proper set-up before shipping out.

Streetsounds NYC is, indeed, the platinum standard for customer service, set-ups, pricing, inventory, and just plain fun.

Paul/FF909

22

To the OP's ultimate question: yes, there is. Buy from dealers that speak the language of customer expectations and are happy to perform the work.

I apparently have been incredibly lucky with new guitar purchases over the past 15 years. No one has sent me a hot mess, and any adjustments I've felt were needed have been personal preferences, not responses to defects.

Used/vintage guitars: different story, and I keep a couple of shops busy with them. I just had a new nut installed on a modern Gibson J-185, because the slots on the nut were poorly aligned, and the low E-string was unacceptably close to the fingerboard edge. One wrong one-millimeter move fretting the low E and it would slop overboard. I don't know how the guitar left the factory.

Paul/FF909

23

Why is it "the elephant in the room"? I don't think it's really a problem. I have bought most of my guitars online and even those I have bought from a store in person are fine. Are "bad" guitars really such a problem? The only time I ever bought a guitar which was not so well set-up was about 20 years ago when I bought a Gibson 335 which the store employees said was a dog. So because it was a "dog" i got a very significant discount. Took it home, ten minutes with a nut file and a little truss rod adjustment and it played as sweetly as ever. I wish Gibson still set guitars up like that!

But all I've had to do with a Gibson in the past few years is raise the bridge a hair and maybe - because I can - adjust the nut a little. But they were still 100% fine as far as I'm concerned. When you get in a new car you do adjust the seat don't you?

24

It's the elephant in the room because at the two stores where I regularly shop for guitars, it's on everyone's mind. The stores do not take the time to set up the guitars before they are hung on the wall. We are expected to take for granted that once set up, the guitars will be what we want them to be, but that is often not the case.

Yes, when I get a new car, I do adjust the seat. I can also assume that the seat is adjustable! Unfortunately, not all of us have the experience and manual dexterity to make adjustments ourselves. What is a nut file, anyway?!?

25

There's a lot of over-thinking of it all these days. When I first got into guitar if you wanted a guitar you bought one and played it. Gradually you learnt what you like and adjusted little things here and there. These days there's an army of internet experts telling you that Gibson is terrible and Fenders need a set-up, etc. In reality we have never had it so good.

And when some stores tell you that they've "set up the guitar for you" I would take that with a rather large pinch of salt. They can say that because for the most part there's very little to be done, and how do they know how you like it set up anyway?

All I'm saying is the guitar is no different from any other thing you buy. Yes, most things could be better. It's part of mass production. They are made to a generic standard. But for whatever reason people want to make themselves sound more knowledgable or discerning or whatever. Buy a Gretsch these days and you are extremely unlikely to have any more issues than if you bought a new fridge.

If you buy a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amplifier it has been set up to generic specs. If you get a tech to bias it a bit warmer it can sound significantly "better", depending on taste. Using a different speaker can change the sound dramatically, far more dramatically than a regular pickup swap in a guitar where the average listener would not hear any difference. Yet these things are rarely discussed by guitarists in stores, or at least nobody seems to complain that Fender should bias their amps hotter. These things are just accepted, the way that guitars used to be!


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