Modern Gretsch Guitars

What is a Falcon?

1

With all the colors, sizes, configurations, permutations, variations and variegations available today, what does "Falcon" mean now?

Related: Has anyone noticed we've largely dropped "White" from what was once always "White Falcon", now that the color choices have spread across the rainbow?

2

The Les Paul didn't remain a goldtop, the strat didn't remain sunburst, the tele didn't remain butterscotch blonde. Sorry not following why the Falcon should have remained only white.

3

I know it's all about marketing so 'Falcons' now come in a rainbow of colors instead of being just the White Falcon most of us grew up with. Taking the need to sell as many guitars as possible, if I was in charge, I would "put the genie back in the bottle" and only have the White Falcon, white. I'd have it as a reissue of some of it's various iterations down through the years but the gold sparkle binding would be reserved for just this model and it would be the only model in the entire lineup that would be white. Come up with a different model to perhaps come close to the WF but give it the top of the pedestal once again. Since the proliferation of all these sundry colors, the bloom that once was the proud WF has wilted, for me.

4

I think it reliably means forkéd headstock, glittery binding, bejeweled knobs - and a bird on the pickguard. Those are the visual markers. If it has those and isn't Jet-sized, it's a Falcon.

'twere always a cosmetic distinction from Country Clubs (and/or Gents), no? No purely functional differences, more an array of deluxe appointments.

So OK. It's the prestige model, and it makes marketing sense to spread the prestige over as wide a product range as possible.

5

The Les Paul didn't remain a goldtop, the strat didn't remain sunburst, the tele didn't remain butterscotch blonde. Sorry not following why the Falcon should have remained only white.

– RichB555

For 50+ years, the White Falcon was a 17" hollow body, with white paint and gold sparkle binding that sat at the top of the line-up.

Today, none of those things is necessarily true.

So it's not just about the white paint, although that is certainly one factor.

6

They do all remain 17", don't they, other than the centerblockers at 16?

Really, scanning through the catalog, there are two black options, one green, and one blue. Everything else is some shade of white. There are Dynasonic and Filtertron options, deep-body and thinline, plus basses and specific sig models, and a lone left-hander. That doesn't really seem too diluted to me.

Surely we can't complain about Custom Shop models, where sky's the limit anyway.

Maybe the 16" centerblockers stretch the concept a bit - but really, not much. That just puts a Falcon in all the full-size body types.

The acoustics might be a bird too far - but, you know. Why not? Jimmie would certainly approve.

7

It's a lot like what Cadillac and Lincoln have done- adulterated their brands to try and grow their market share. Yeah, they may sell more cars, but the cost is Caddy's and Linc's are now hollow shells of the Coupe de Villes and Connies of our youthful aspirations.

Those cars, like the White Falcon, used to be something to aspire to. Something to tell the world you'd arrived, as it were.

Last night I saw a Lincoln commercial touting the newest SUV (!!!) for a monthly cost about the same as a Camry! Nothing against Camrys, but how does that say "I have arrived"?

Same for the Falcons. White Falcons were the top of the heap when I was a kid. They were relatively rare, pricey and meant something to those who worked their way up to them.

Now....

8

Ironic. I just saw this FB post regarding a Custom Shop non-cutaway Falcon . . .

9

What is a Falcon?

It's about a thousand dollars more than a Country Club.

The extra money buys you some white paint and silly sparkle binding with impossible-to-see side-marker dots...

10

Yeah, AndyJ, If you read on down in the FB post you can see that's what got Bax scratching his head. The above post is a Custom Shop so, they are allowed to break the rules a bit, aren't they? BTW, I think that Silver CS is gorgeous.

11

Forked headstock and glitter binding seem to be the only absolutes. Even the jeweled knobs aren't used on all models.

12

Kevin, I get all that - and I surely feel the pain for Cadillac and Lincoln.

But to dissect it a little further than is perhaps necessary, Lincoln has never quite been a stable and successful brand for Ford - at least not consistently. There have been classic years for sure - most of the 30s, the Zephyr and first-gen war-bracketing Continentals. Then the early-mid 50s models won some road races, but didn't quite rise to icons of aspiration. They were apparently great cars - they just didn't look it.

For me the high-water point was the Continental MKII of '56 and '57 - America's most expensive production car ever by some measure when introduced, and with the classiest of classy design. They're still cherished, but they bombed in the market and were replaced by those gawd-awful hideous slant-headlighted double-finned behemoths of '58 - '60. Some people love'm, and I like some people who love'm (I'm sure some will come out of the woodwork here just to debate it) - but I sure don't love'm.

It was the 61-68 series that really cemented Lincoln as Classic with my generation. Those were truly none-better cars. Tasteful and understated to Cadillac's gaudy overstatement in those years, with design that just can't be faulted. And well made. Every inch what Ford must have wanted Lincoln to mean. Edsel would have been proud. But truly, all the Marks that followed through the 70s and 80s were, indeed, kinda sickly descendants of a proud line. They still had the glitz and gingerbread (too much), and they held onto the spare tire mold till it became a joke - but the cars were more like overplushed sybaritic mini-van conversions than real bespoke luxury cars.

That's a particular kind of brand dilution - but it was about cheaping out a once-proud concept. Which is not what Gretsch has done with the Falcon. If it says Falcon on it, it's still deluxe - and expensive! - and no one suggests quality has slipped.

Back to Lincoln: I liked the MKviii series of the 90s; distinctive in design and made well, but (take it from an owner) not quite with the bank-vault stability and integrity of the golden years. I would agree that what Ford has done since the 90s with Lincoln has done little to preserve the intermittent glory they'd achieved in the past. Models and designs have wandered aimlessly, and they don't know if they're making cars, sport utes, or pickup trucks. A heritage squandered - but, again, Lincoln was always a few years of glory, then years lost in the wilderness.

I don't think that's what's happening with Falcons. They're perhaps less aspirational now for us - for the severely and serially Gretsch-besotted - because most of us have had the discretionary income to own one (at whatever cost) if we really wanted one. I'd argue that most of the guys here have Falcons if they want them. What you can already attain is no longer an object of aspiration.

Also - are there still new players out there making Falcons seem impossible dreams to young players? Role models? (There may be. I'm just asking.)

In a way, the Custom Shop has done more to "devalue" Falcons than the proliferation of pro-line models: the Falcon used to be the most expensive guitar you could get from Gretsch. Now any Custom Shop model of anything costs more than any standard-production Falcon. That shouldn't reduce the cachet of the Top Pro-Line Model - but I guess it kinda does. For a long time the owners of custom-bodied Lincolns and Cadillacs could look down their patrician noses at those who bought off the production line.

I'm not sure that Custom Shop Falcons are even more expensive than Custom Shop Anything Elses - since the cost there is determined more by factors like construction, features, finish, and exactly how much your dream guitar differs from the factory model - and not so much by what model it's based on.

Also...to dissect the Cadillac part of the comparison a little. Both Cadillac and Lincoln produced a significant number of chassis through the 30s to be bodied by the custom-builders, and those were always the cream of the crop. Through that era - up to the late 30s anyway, Cadillac and Lincoln were truly supreme luxury cars, competitive with the best any American builder offered. Cadillac's early 30s V16 is a work of art. By the late 30s, it could be said standards were slipping: by comparison to the early V16, the late 30s version looks positively agricultural.

After the war, Cadillac did a much better job than either Lincoln or Packard of transitioning the American luxury car to a production-line context. The cars were still the top of the GM heap, and they remained a separate breed - but they no longer looked or were built like true customs. Design ruled, however, and the brand had a magnificent run of general excellence (or at least uncontested market dominance) from 1947 or so up to, for my taste, about 1968. They simply cleaned the clocks of any American luxury competitors, selling something like 10 times the number of cars - and those are the years when Cadillac meant "the best" to those of our generations.

I'd agree that Cadillac slipped badly from the 70s through the next 30-odd years. And yeah, they did it by cheapening the build, neglecting technological innovation, design stagnation (with the exception of the handsome bustle-backs of the early 80s), and really unfortunate models - and even platforms.

But. The last couple generations of Cadillacs are, I think, back to what we all thought the brand stood for: world-competitive quality, distinctive and handsome design, technical excellence, functional luxury. Still quite expensive - but there are more people now who can afford them.

It's not GM's fault (or maybe it is) that there are so many other aspirational car brands now - cars that are, if anything, more beautiful than Cadillac, and more inventive. If I could have a dream car now, it would be a Tesla.


But Gretsch can't radically redesign the Falcon or make it a different instrument. It has to be what it was - and I think a careful study of the Falcon line will reveal that it very largely remains so. It's not Gretsch's fault that too many of us already have everything we ever wanted, so that it's hard to get our desire juices flowing like they did when we were younger, and poorer, and had less access to everything than we have now.

I don't think Falcons are cheapened. I think we're a little jaded.

13

And I love that silver color. A one-pickup non-cutaway makes no sense for me, but that's a lovely guitar!

14

I grew up revering the White Falcon as the absolute pinnacle of fine guitars. My dad would take us to the music store and the White Falcon was the one under glass, beautifully lit and proudly displayed as the Rolls Royce of guitars. I lost any genuflecting reverence for the name “Falcon” when they came out with a black one and named it “Silver Falcon”. It’s black. Look at it. It’s not silver.

15

And I love that silver color. A one-pickup non-cutaway makes no sense for me, but that's a lovely guitar!

– Proteus

It is lovely, but it's not a Falcon. If "a Falcon" is still a thing. Which I'm not sure it is.

I agree with you that the CS has done more to devalue the Falcon name than the proliferation of pro-lines, but not for the same reason. They'll make you any sort of Falcon you want. Want a corvette-bodied falcon? No problem. A ukulele Falcon? Just sign here.

And if I expand to include Penguins, also once the ne plus ultra of the lineup, the situation is even more dire.

For me, if one wants a Falcon, one wants a 17" hollow body. In white. With sparkles.

But if one wants a semi-hollow, one really wants a Panther, a Blackhawk, a Streamliner or one of the many other fine semi-hollows Gretsch has made.

And if one wants something else, that's awesome too, but not a Falcon.

I really like that non-cutaway up there. If they had called it a "Corsair Unlimited" or something, I'd be applauding. It's beautiful. Very tastefully done. But not a Falcon.

16

It's a bird of prey...

The Penguin is the " fierce Artic predator."

Or the "flightless bird of prey" According to Greg Koch

17

Ah, so the fear is that Gretsch is just selling headstocks and glitter binding, and trading on a grand old name.

I mean, I get that - and I remember when, in my own internal universe, the three-word formulas "Gretsch Country Gentleman" and "Gretsch White Falcon" were like magic incantations, to be uttered in portentous tones and sure to elicit almost religious reactions. But that, I now realize, was kind of an outsider's reaction, a reaction growing more from a kind of multi-decade viral marketing phenomenon than real understanding of the model itself.

We're asking to have the same emotional frisson and wide-eyed wonder we had for the Great and Mighty Oz - after we've seen the bird behind the curtain. Once you know that a Falcon was "just" a fancy suit on another guitar (originally the Country Club, then with the advent of the doublecut Falcon in the early 60s, the Gent), can you look at it quite the same way again? If you do - if that headstock, wingéd logo and binding still mean that much - haven't you been dazzled by superficial externalities, rather than the core value of the instrument?

If it was always a suit of fancy duds on what was already a durn fine guitar, then why do we care what other durn fine guitars wear them?

This sounds more like our old-guy nostalgia for the value we put in things when we were younger and the world was fresh and new. Plenty of people must still hear the call of the majestic bird, or they wouldn't be ponying up for them, both across the pro line and from the Custom Shop.

Or are we really saying that the Falcon name doesn't seem special anymore, because too many people have them and the exclusivity has been diluted?

18

Well that's definitely some solid food for thought I'll be chewing on for awhile.

Nevertheless, couldn't they re-use some other great name or 'nother?

19

To me a Falcon is what Neil and Stephen played.

20

I'd be bothered if there was an Electromatic White Falcon. Just like I was bothered by the use of "Synchromatic" on the low end line whenever those were introduced. Having those and the upper range Synchromatics marketed at the same time was just making for massive brand-name confusion. It gets down to market demand: there are a lot of people that want colors that aren't white and can afford them. Gretsch now has the (car) classic three tier line-up: Custom Shop, Pro-line and Electromatic.

21

To me a Falcon is what Neil and Stephen played.

– Caliban335

When? The Stephen Stills White Falcon has been in production for some time now. Having said that, I hear you; Buffalo Springfield is what got me into Gretsches. It was a sad day when I had to sell my '56 6120 in '89; I never ever thought I'd be able to have one again. But I didn't know what Fred and Dinah were up to and I'm just grateful they read the market correctly.

22

After reading this, I'm just about to ditch my black CB fake Falcon!

24

Falcon means mostly hollow with a big headstock.

Just like Penguin means solidbodyesque with a big headstock.

Big headstocks are ugly. Just sayin'.

I don't like LPC's either.

I'd probably bend the rules for a John D'Angelico.

25

When you see a guitar player on stage playing a Gretsch, they stand out. The orange 6120 screams, “look at me”, the Gents and Country Clubs are subdued but ooze class to the discerning eye, but when someone steps on stage with a Falcon, you know it’s a Falcon.

Check out 17:15 in this vid. The rhythm player’s green anni has nothing in the Falcon:


Register Sign in to join the conversation