Other Equipment

Gretschland pedals 101?


Hi. I’d like to learn what pedals are part of Gretsch-lore. Can anyone point me towards useful threads?

My love of them hasn’t come via Chet, Setzer, Duffy or rockabilly - it’s more the other way round - so I’m not needing advice on achieving a certain sound, I’m just interested in the culture.

With boosts/OD/dist it’s more practical, as I will be wanting them sooner or later, and I’d like to know what others feel complements the instrument.


I can tell you I build pedals based on Gretsch guitars but what application are you looking for? Not totally sure of the request..


I read about ‘pedals popular with Gretsch players’ without explaining which, or why, but implying that their tone suits the guitar.

Eg. Of the multitude of boosts and ODs I wondered if some types were preferred over others. Obviously it’s whatever sounds good to the player, but it can be useful knowing where to start.


Start with a Brain from Tavo. I am a satisfied customer, so of course I'd say that, but I will not be alone. If you visit his site - Nocturne Pedals, it's linked on the right hand side of this page - you'll find plenty of quality demos to listen to, to help you make up your own mind.


I second the motion on Nocturne Brain pedals. Get with Tavo. He'll get you set up right for the setup you're currently using. The rest is subjective but he also makes a great Tremelo and dirt boxes.


While many Gretsch players will seem to eschew pedals, and many of the rootsier sort will exalt the guitar cord as the only thing that should come between a Gretsch and an amp, Gretsch's history with effects is really pretty varied - not to mention storied.

It could even be argued that Gretsch was one of the first guitars to be enhanced by electronic (or other) wizardry: the Ray Butts Echosonic amp in the early 50s had a built-in (very short) tape delay which created the now-characteristic "rockabilly" slapback. Chet Atkins is sometimes accused of being the King of Mellow Guitar (which he isn't) - but he and his buddy Les Paul were avid effects hounds in their day. They tried everything they could get their hands on, and invented a few they couldn't. Chet was an early adopter of the Butts amp, and made it part of his recordings in the mid-50s.

So if you're looking to get all historical about it, slapback echo might be considered the first essential Gretsch-related effect. (Whether created by tape, analog, or other delay is an endless discussion.)

In the late 50s, our man Duane Eddy and his producer Lee Hazelwood were looking for an effect to set off the melodic low-string twang technique Duane was perfecting - something to give it more body, focus attention on it, let it take up the sonic space it deserved. Their solution was far from a pedal (they couldn't have dreamed of such a device), but it was most certainly an essential Gretsch effect - and an important contribution to the tone with with Duane (and then surfers) took over the airwaves in the late 50s and early 60s. All they wanted was some reverberation. They found it in a huge empty junked water tank (I forget the capacity, someone will chime in with it), which they hauled in a pickup truck to a location outside their studio, where they put a speaker at one end and a mic at the other. What came out on tape was huge reverberant twang, a new thang.

Thus, I'd call that kind of reverb an essential Gretsch effect. Today you can get it (well, pretty much...) from a pedal.

And before either of those (tape echo, empty-tank reverb) was the first commercial effect pedal, DeArmond's electro-mechanical tremolo, introduced in the 40s and certainly sold through the 50s. (I don't know when it faded.) As Gretsch had a close relationship with DeArmond (who designed and made Dynasonic pickups) - and as early Gretsch players were perfectly hip to what was happening in all of electric guitardom - Chet, Duane, and any other Gretsch artists from the era were certainly familiar with it.

Here's a rabbit-hole:

So tremolo absolutely belongs on the critical-Gretsch-effects list. Again, there are probably literally hundreds of trem pedals out there (if you don't have it in your amp), ranging from analog to digital to modeled. Duane has more recently used the big purple Dunlop stereo tremolo, which lets you dial the waveform from a smooth sine to choppier square wave (a sound that didn't happen till electronic tremolos in the 60s). Many current tremolos go far beyond that - and have for years.

So if you wanted to be equipped for classic 50s-60s Gretsch tones, you'd want great reverb, tremolo, and short echo (whether tape or otherwise). Of course none of those sounds are associated only with Gretsch - but Gretsch guitars love them.

In the wake of the Ed Sullivan show, Gretsch became one of the signature guitars of the 60s - and you can be sure that, from the Beatles through all the invasion bands to American garage rock and players like Stephen Stills, Gretschs were plugged into every effect of that decade.

The most critical was not an effect pedal - it was simply the effect of cranking an amp. Most 50s players had tried to avoid what we now call overdrive - and anything like distortion - but of course that sound became part of the guitarist's palette through the 60s. Gretschs were cranked up right along with everything else.

Here's a classic example: .

More classic overdriven Gretsch tone: Pete Townshend on Who's Next, Randy Bachman in most Guess Who and BTO songs. ("Takin' Care of Business" for sure.)

I can't think of a historical example of a Gretsch with an early fuzz pedal at the moment (though I bet someone else comes up with one).

So...you need a way to get what at least sounds like (even if it really isn't) cranked-amp overdrive. A Tim pedal is one way; the Wampler Euphoria is another - but there are, again, literally hundreds of such pedals out there. And if you like fuzz (I like fuzz!), there's nothing like going full-mud on the tone switch of a Gretsch so equipped through a fuzz pedal. You'll recognize the tone as soon as you hear it.

The 70s and 80s brought more classic and characteristic Gretsch tones, from Billy Zoom's über-cranked tube amp grind (if you get it with a pedal, don't tell him) to the very particular tone Brian Setzer built his career on. That particular tone has arguably been the template for many of the roots-n-rockabilly sounds of the last 30 years. Rev Horton Heat and countless others have built on it.

Tavo's your man for that; it was his obsessive dissection of that very particular tone that led to his line of pedals - particularly anything in his "brain" series, which replicates the almost-overdriven kinda-high-mid-trebly-boosty-but-not-quite effect the preamp of Brian's Roland Space Echos brought to his tone. I ain't speakin' for Tavo, but I'm guessing he'd say Brian's tone (given Brian's hands and brain to begin with) results from a 6120 with FilterTrons, a blond Bassman pretty cranked, and the two components of the Space Echo - its preamp and the tape delay itself.

Because vintage Space Echos are getting scarce - and they're a PITA to maintain and gig with - most seekers of that particular tone make do with some variety of tape-delay emulator. The ingredients are the tape delay effect itself (getting thinner and dirtier with each repeat), some sort of modulation to imitate the effect of wobbly motors and other mechanical issues), and multiple taps. My favorite is the Strymon El Capitan, which gets close enough to tape for me (and goes all psychedelic too).

But tape delay emulation doesn't get you the tone-conditioning behavior of the Space Echo's preamp, and that's what Tavo's Brain series provides. To me it's not just an essential part of the Setzer tone, it brings out the best in any Gretsch (and many other guitars I've played through it). For many players, it's an always-on thing.

But, conveniently, Tavo has also packaged the Brain preamp into a tape-echo emulation pedal in his Mystery Brain 301 - making it the modern boutique pedal equivalent of a Space Echo.

And, of course, through the 80s-90s-00s-to the present, Gretschs have been used in virtually all genres of music in which guitars are used, through every kind of pedal. So it's hard to say there's any particular set - and certainly nothing is out of bounds. (I have compression, multiple modulated delays, reverbs, ring modulators, octave boxes, and pedals which do unspeakable things. And it still sounds like a Gretsch when it comes out.)

But for roots to 60s to modern rockabilly, a Gretsch essentials pedalboard would have to have killer tremolo, great reverb, tape echo emulation, more-or-less transparent drive to strong overdrive (heavier and grittier to taste) - and, at least for me, a Brain preamp.

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