Modern Gretsch Guitars

The Triple Tenny, featuring the sound of Hilotronic Max

1

The Strat, debuting in 1954, wasn't the first 3-pickup electric guitar; Gibson had got there first with the hollow-body ES-5 jazzer in 1949. But, arguably, the Strat (and its zillions of descendants and copycats) is more sonically successful.

Like our buddy Cameron, I've had a life-long fascination with the triple configuration. My admiration for it, though, may be more conflicted than his: I don't think it works equally well on all body types, with all pickups, and I've heard (and seen) many triple-pup experiments which...weren't for me.

My own observations are that the fatter the body (or the more air it contains) and the fatter the pickups, the less distinctive - and even useful - are the pickup positions featuring the middle pickup. I theorize that either the thin body (usually a slab) or the narrow-bobbin pickups are responsible for this.

But in any case, my experience has been that the bigger-bodied, bigger-pickupped triple-pup brethren tend to get woofier and muddier in the neck-middle and middle-bridge positions than the Strattier designs. The distinctive "out-of-phase" quack is still there, but it's neither as evident nor as fascinating - at least to my ear.

(I'm not impugning the ES-5 and its derivatives - that middle pickup certainly brings more guitorchestration possibilities - and I enjoy bigger triples. But they don't seem as perfectly realized as the Strat formula.)

I do have representatives from most branches of the triple-pup family in my stable, from a nice Korean ES-5 sort to numerous Strat and 2-1-2 configs (with bodies varying from solid to centerblock to hollow) to f-hole centerblock 335-sorts.


So when I got a 6119-HT Tennessee Rose in 2006, and gradually got acquainted with it, it didn't take long to observe that the HiLoTrons are the Strattiest of Gretsch's pickups: single coil, lower output, narrower in profile. Why not stick one in the middle of the T Rose and see what happens?

The sealed-body Tenny (mostly hollow inside) seemed promising from an acoustic standpoint: thin enough to keep a focused tone, resonant enough for a woodier/airier tone than the solid Strat.

By early 2008, the deed was done. I didn't cut the hole myself - one of my "guitar guys" did all the work - but I did specify the wiring scheme, which employs no more than the usual count and configuration of knobs and switches, but provides access to all 7 possible pickup configurations. (Details can be seen and tones tested from the pics below.)

I take the experiment as a success; the guitar looks as clean as a factory model might have, the traditional Tenny tone is of course available, and the additional tonal options just provide more range. The 1-2 and 2-3 positions are not quite as distinctive or Stratlike to my ear as they are on a solidbody Strat, but they're not as woolymuddled as on a full hollowbody. I've enjoyed the guitar for nine years (hard to believe it's been so long), and I'm not sorry I did it.

There was a thread devoted to this guitar on the GDP "back in the day," lost in the crash of 2014, so for most of you this will be a re-run. (As I recall, that one was more cleverly written, with the phrase "yearning to be three" in it.)

So this may be a blast from the past - but it might also be a useful sonic resource for HiLoTron questers.


The guitar has D'Addario Chrome flatwounds in the linked sound clips (rounds would make it snappier and bring it closer to Strat territory). I don't recall which amp I used.

In case it isn't obvious, clicking on the images (all but the first) takes you to a sound clip of the configuration highlighted in the pics. (Note shading of controls and pickups, showing switching for all 7 combinations.)


The Triple Tenny

Three "normal" Tenny pickup combinations


Middle pickup deployed

All together now!

2

This is a mod they should incorporate into production.

I've played your triple Tenny, and it's the one that got me turned around on HiLo's.

Since then, I've had two HiLo equipped Gretsches, and, while I like what I'm getting, I liked yours way more.

3

This is a mod they should incorporate into production.

I quite agree! I got a bridge for it, too.

I didn't remember you'd enjoyed this guitar so much. I'll bring it next time.

5

Very, VERY interesting!!

What configuration/functions did you assign for the three knobs?

6

Certainly the master volume remained master volume. I don't remember about the other two, and I'm away from the guitar.

I'll find out when I get my hands on it, though.

7

It's an interesting thread, my opinions change weekly on this topic.

I like the idea of three pickup combos put there's signal loss and phase weirdness (sometimes). The only guitar that's really nailed it is the Start and Leo's wiring design. An old 50's LP Jr. with only a bridge pickup got me thinking about the only child vs. the family of three and all the inner battles. I think there's something to be said about a short signal trail. That solo P90 in the bridge could make you believe that it had a neck pickup installed with a little tone action.

Then our friend Jody and I came up with a three 'bucker and it changed my mind again.

8

And I know I posted this years ago and will reluctantly post it again.

Evan was opening the tour with his solo act and borrowed Jody's guitar. My point in posting this has to do with clarity on the edge of crunch with 3 pickups. Hum's with Marshall's always seems to work but you don't see it much in a solo situation. The three pickups seem to balance out okay.

Sorry for the duplicity...

9

I didn't remember you'd enjoyed this guitar so much. I'll bring it next time.

I was cautious, but became smitten with it.

Please do bring it again.

10

The ES-5 had something Leo Fender missed though : an out of phase option. (while most people refer to the 2 and 4 positions on a strat five-way as "out of phase", they are in fact squarley IN phase with eachother - you're hearing phase cancellation between two identical coils not unlike on a Filtertron pickup) Two out of phase vintage style strat pickups produce a sound that makes a hilotron seem like a fat steel guitar pickup.

ES-5 wiring scheme doesn't seem too consistent though, some of them have an out of phase lead pickup, others an out of phase middle pickup. The original no-switch three volume, one master tone control scheme might not be the most intuitive or practical on stage, but it does allow you to blend that out of phase pickup in : very useful to get that hollow quacky sound without losing too much bass and/or output.

Another three pickup guitar that makes very clever use of out of phase pickup options is Brian May's homemade "red special". I'm not much of a Queen/May fan, but a luthier friend of mine is, and he built a close to exact, very nerdy copy of May's guitar. I have to admit playing it through an amp blew my mind. you can turn every pickup on or off, have them in series, and have them out of phase with each other. Sounds complicated and is to an extent, but the way it's implemented on May's guitar takes less getting used to than you'd think.

And while, again, a triple pickup guitar with a bunch of switches is somewhat of a nightmare for me, the number of truly useful and great sounds on that thing were staggering, you could get very convincing strat, tele, Les Paul, even hollowbody imitations out of it, a lot more recognisable and classic than I had expected.

11

And I know I posted this years ago and will reluctantly post it again.

Evan was opening the tour with his solo act and borrowed Jody's guitar. My point in posting this has to do with clarity on the edge of crunch with 3 pickups. Hum's with Marshall's always seems to work but you don't see it much in a solo situation. The three pickups seem to balance out okay.

Sorry for the duplicity...

– Curt Wilson

That guitar sounds so full and clear! I wonder which pickup or combination he was using?

12

I need a 3 Hi Lo Tenny in my life.

I have never been down on the triple pickup scene

Strat dudes are always braggin on how great 3 pickups are but if that is true why don't we see more 3 pickup SGs Les Pauls, Firebirds, etc.

I always thought for all Strat pickup worship that goes on, they're much like Duo Sonic or Mustang pickups... which no one remarks on.

13

That is a beautiful sounding Tenny!! Thank you for reposting. I have often thought about that guitar, even though I haven't seen it in many years.

14

I need a 3 Hi Lo Tenny in my life.

I have never been down on the triple pickup scene

Strat dudes are always braggin on how great 3 pickups are but if that is true why don't we see more 3 pickup SGs Les Pauls, Firebirds, etc.

I always thought for all Strat pickup worship that goes on, they're much like Duo Sonic or Mustang pickups... which no one remarks on.

– DCBirdMan

Why don't you see more of them? They were the most expensive. Usually $100 or more higher than the next highest model. That was when $100 was a lot of money.

I saw the Rolling Stones when Keith and Brian were both playing Firebird VIIs. Uber cool!!!

15

Re: triple-buckers. I don't have anything with that config, though my instinct is it would work much better on a harder, solider body than anything else. With that much coil-power, you don't want much bloom from the body.

I do have one 1-2-1 config, with a bucker in the middle, so I have that particular tone. It's an interesting tone I can sink into and make use of both for a certain rhythm vibe and for a fat soaring lead tone. But I don't seem to need it often.


I am a Brian May fan, as much of the man himself as of his playing. (Which I always enjoy, but don't listen to all that often as the admitted wonders of Queen wear me out with over-exposure.)

I just completely love the guitar, though. Or, rather, the design, appearance, history, and presence of the guitar. It's a consummate body shape with a completely harmonious headstock, which is notoriously unusual among self-designed, "home-made" guitars. It practically moves me that he and his dad built it from a mantelpiece when he was a teenager, and it's been his voice for nearly 50 years since. That's a man and a guitar as one piece.

I like the color. I like the switching. There's nothing about it I don't like. I should have one.

Actually, I did have one. I agree with Walter, the switching is so straightforward that it's easy to get on with: many options, but getting to any of them is logical. Mine (the later and better Burns version) played nicely and was beautifully built. I just didn't find any sounds in it that were either A) immediately recognizable as Brian May, or 2) anything I didn't have elsewhere.

I guess I didn't expect A, as to a large extent we carry our tones with us - but I wasn't going to mind cranking it to bejesus and getting that nasal, honking, soaring lead tone.

I should have kept it, though, just for the design and to honor the man.

16

My first electric guitar was a Fender Strat and I used it for many, many years as my primary instrument. I still enjoy it to this day. So, I have no bias against three-pickup'd guitars.

However, when I listen to this set up, I lose a lot of the characteristic HiLo highs when all three pickups are engaged (as compared to the neck/bridge configuration alone). When I just listen to the middle pickup, I find that much more pleasing. There is something about adding in the other two pickups that robs much of the pleasantness of the configuration. As I recall, the Strat also does not have a standard pickup selection which employs all three pickups -- was there possibly a similar reason that Fender omitted that?

Thanks for re-posting this information and the clips, Proteus. I remember the original thread and found the photos linking to the sound clips to be very useful. (By the way, how does one create a link from clicking on a photograph to another file?)

17

For a solid body triple pickup solution (with Mega'Trons, not HiLoTrons), I'm seriously considering hunting down one of these:

A CVT solid body with triple HiLoTrons would be an interesting experiment...

18

Should be called the Tennnessseee Rose.

19

Snorre,

The Stump-o-matics are beasts the way they come.

Seriously, my buddy, and multiple Gretsch owner, Pat Miraflor has one and it's a rocker, through and through.

I've had a couple triple pickup guitars in the past with hums. The first being a 73 SG custom. Beautifly checked and yellowed over time, with gold hardware, the other was a Gibson Victory. The great thing about the Victory was that it had not only a coil tap switch, but an out of phase switch as well...the tones just kept coming out if that guitar.

Outside of my strat, the only other current one that I'm giving a whole lot of attention to is my '53 Guild Stratford, with it's 6 push button tone button array. All in all, I'm a huge fan of triple pickup guitars, not matter what the design or configuration.

20

Nice! I couldn't find a white one on Reverb or eBay and I'm not interested in the silver or black (although, if it had gold hardware, I'd go for the black one).

21

I'd love one of those Stump-O-Matics. Not really particular about the color because I would send it straight away to Curt to get refinished anyway. Maybe Shell Pink or Burgandy Mist, what say ya?

22

Nice, Bob - definitely Shell Pink for me, although Burgandy Mist is growing on me. I might get a stock CVT, pop in some Dynasonics (or T-Armonds) and get it re-finished in Surf Green for another Gretsch surf machine.

Sorry to de-rail this wonderful thread even further, Tim!

23

I could complain about derails?

I hadn't intended it as a symposium on triple-pup lectrics, but I did lead off with a little history lesson, and obviously that opened it up.

I still have sound-clickable pics in the first post. Carry on.

24

One issue Cameron would run into was getting them wired the way he wanted. Had Switchcraft made Gretsch looking 5 way switches he'd been thrilled.

Sorry for the turn above but you said three pickups and I went a little nuts.

25

I thought that the Three Pickup Tenny was a mythical wishlist creature. This guitar is fantastic! I’ve thought of getting a three pickup guitar for a while and suspect everybody should own one. A one pickup guitar would be after that.


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