Modern Gretsch Guitars

The Heartbreak of Gold Parts: Anything to Do?


I admit right here that I have a weakness for guitar bling. A black guitar with gold parts stops me in my tracks, as does green and gold and a few other combinations.

The problem is that gold guitars leave you feeling like a jilted partner in a marriage. A few months or so after getting that amazing new gold guitar, the Bigsby starts to reveal brown tarnish, which within a few years turns into an old banana skin look. The pickups follow the same path eventually.

Chrome or even nickel parts don't tarnish in the same way, and can actually look kind of cool in the opinions of some players. Personally, I'm no target for relics, I fume for months after I give a guitar its first ding.

So here's the question/plea: can ANYTHING be done to preserve the fragile gold plating on guitars? I recently looked at the Caddy green/gold Broadkaster Jr., yikes what a looker! But a few months after consummating the marriage, I know that she'll begin to leave me...


Always give the parts a light wipe down after playing with a soft cotton cloth to remove oils, salts, fingerprints, etc.

Past that, it's up to the quality of the Gold plating, which includes the proper steps to go from the base metal out to what you see.


All the gold on my 6120 is is aging to a nice dull silver, not sure where you're getting brown banana skin? My brass Tru-Arc™ on the other hand, that just gets uglier and uglier. One of these days I'll polish it up (probably not).

Every day it looks more and more like the guitar on this site's banner.

  • I had a beautiful Gretsch with a gold Bigsby that I stored in a case in a controlled environment for some months. I pulled it out and the Bigsby had brown freckles all over it. I hadn't even used the Bigsby very much, I usually folded it under.

It seems less an issue with pickup tarnish than the Bigsbys.


That could be the case. My Bigsby is not gold plated (don't know if it's just polished aluminum or actually chrome/nickel plated though). I guess the gold on the pickups wears away from hand friction, while the gold on the Bigsby is prone to only environmental oxidation.

I don't think there's anything that will prevent or reverse it. You can repolish the gold to an extent, but polish too much and the gold is gone. I hate to be that guy, but I'd say your best bet is learn to love and appreciate that the hardware marks the passage of time. Go look at an old brass or silver trumpet. Those tarnish far more rapidly than gold, and have far more hand friction, but you don't see a lot of horn blowers worried about patina.


Real gold will not tarnish at all but it wears off easily. I spray clear nail polish on the gold plated parts but you should remove them from the guitar before spraying them.


Use gloves when you play, and put a "Hands off" sign on when you're not.


Go chrome or nickel. Problem solved. Gold isn't worth the added expense considering that it's only a couple of molecules thick. Leave the gold for case piping.


Just enjoy the "Vintage Patina"


rhcole, I feel your pain. The first real guitar that I purchased was a Martin acoustic that had told tuners. Whenever I would clean up my guitar, I was always careful to make sure that I rubbed the tuners with my polishing cloth to make them all shiny, etc. Eventually, I noticed that, with time, the gold was leaving those parts. I was bummed then, but became even more bummed when I realized that it was my own fault for having rubbed on the tuning pegs as firmly as I had done.

Now, I have altered my view on this process and I see it as an honest sign of playing the guitar and it doesn't seem to bother me as much.

As for my Gretsch guitars and their "goldness" (like you, I am a sucker for gold hardware), mine seems to be aging pretty well. Part of it is that I have learned now to very lightly clean up the gold parts and to not use any elbow grease. I haven't really noticed too much wear yet.

As for the post about the weird stuff showing up in the gold Bigsby, I had a somewhat similar thing happen. I suddenly started noticing "bubbles" forming under the gold plating on a Bigsby. I concluded that somehow a residue from the materials used when making the Bigsby were offgassing and that the gas was just forming bubbles. It was the goofiest looking thing. Anyway, Gretsch was perfect about replacing the Bigsby for me. I had a replacement within about two days' time.


Obviously the tuning keys and other bits are not made by the same company as bigsby.

Tuning keys I touch all the time, never clean and no sign of corrosion. The bigsby on the other hand went south in the first 2 months with some care.

The gold coating and process with bigsby is clearly poor as I see it.

One day I may have it re-plated, in the meantime I just love the guitar and how it sounds and enjoy the fact it already looks well used.


I think Bigsby coats their gold plating with something and always has. I suppose the logic is that unlike tuners, pickups, etc., a Bigsby handle it made to be, uh, handled. If they didn't coat it, I'm sure the gold would wear off very quickly. Personally, I'd rather have plain gold wear off quickly and naturally that get splotchy due to the coating wearing away.


Hard-tail and Robot-tune. Problem solved.


On my '57 6120, I buffed off the remaining gold and nickel, polished the brass, and covered with clear lacquer. I also couldn't afford new frets, so I sanded the fingerboard lower. I was poor then.


I've told the story here before about my Dad and his gold-plated presentation model trumpet, given to him in the early 50's by a grateful bandleader.

He was so proud of it- he polished it every night. Every engraving, every filigree, inside the bell as far as he could reach....

When I sold his silver presentation trumpet after he died, the only trace of gold was some minute flecks still clinging to the edges of some of the engraving.

(For most of my life, I actually thought it was a silver-plated trumpet and wondered why everyone else's was brass!)


On my '57 6120, I buffed off the remaining gold and nickel, polished the brass, and covered with clear lacquer. I also couldn't afford new frets, so I sanded the fingerboard lower. I was poor then.

– Billy Zoom

This one about lowering the fretboard brought me a belly laugh, BZ. No insult intended about your then-austere approach, but that right there was doggone funny.


Nothing you can do. Light a cig, drink a beer and move on.


I can't wait for the shine to come off so the guitar looks lived in and not so glaringly bright! Im tempted hasten the process somewhat on some of the gold parts i have


I feel for ya. My chemical makeup is such that I can destroy gold plating by being in the same room. I'm on my third gold plated guitar, a Joe Pass Epi. Swore never again, but this one called out to me. Since I'm modding it I decided to go chrome. So the pickups and bigsby are chrome, tuners are gold. One day I'll swap those out, but I kinda like it for now.


I've noticed that Bigsby gold plating seems to be more apt to tarnish that pickups, knobs, etc. I wonder if that's because there's a larger surface area, and once air penetrates underneath the plating in one spot, it causes pitting/tarnishing to occur over the entire surface? Pure conjecture warning for the previous sentence.


I'm having flashbacks to the scene in Spinal Tap where he is showing off his guitar collection and screaming "NO! DON'T TOUCH IT!"


Not to be a thorn, but it's all taste. I hate gold hardware. The couple guitars that have it, I still like, a lot, but when the gold fades, I'm good.



I think gold Bigsbys are the villain of this piece. I accept that guitars age and tarnish over years, but I have seen the gold on Bigsbys get spotted within months. The guitar I referenced earlier had little Bigsby use and it was not even two years old before the arm was tarnished with brown spots.

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