Miscellaneous Rumbles

why weren’t Gretsches more popular for heavy music?

1

i was looking at the Electromatic Double Jet that just came in this week with TVJ FilterTrons and thinking "those pickups look metal af," and the tones are certainly there, so why didn't more players take a balls-to-the-wall approach to Gretchifying?

i can think of reasons. obviously a big archtop box might be untenable with multi-Marshall stacks (though Malcolm Young and Billy Duffy indicate otherwise, not to mention Ted Nugent). there's also the less-than-sturdy aspects of the smaller guitars; Chris Cornell played Duo Jets with Soundgarden and was known to cuss them out on-mic and occasionally throw one across the stage because they wouldn't stay in tune, assumedly because the bridge shifted.

what else? scarcity in the early days of hard rock/heavy metal? lack of Kool Kidz factor in the days the Les Paul/Strat aesthetic was king? or what?

3

Well Gretsch was the hottest lick in the 1964-66 Brit Invasion scene and remained popular thru the 60s. . But as heavy rock really took off in 1967... just solidbodies had the vibe... Cream, Hendrix, and Who all were on solid bodies (except for Townsend around 1971 had a Gretsch).

The dude in Blue Cheer had an SG Custom, I think. There really weren't that many Les Pauls around yet in 1968/69 since they had only been reissued in mid-1968 pretty sure. It was sort of a forgotten instrument having not been made in 7 years. Of course Gretsch made a play a decade late for that scene with the TK-300 and BST, etc.

Gretsch = wonderful, capable of many things, but just didn't quite catch the bus for hard rock. May have been internal resistance... these were old school companies that just thought The Blight of Distorted Guitar would wilt pretty quickly. Even in late 1960 Fender catalogs they don't show much in the way of rock endorsers...maybe the Beach Boys etc.

In the amp world, when Ampeg decided in 1968 they had to compete and put out big powerful amps, founder Everett Hull quit.

Anyway, went off topic but with few exceptions like Malcom Young, Gretsch was just pretty much absent from the 1st wave of hard rock.

Gretsch had the 1950s Chet era, the 1960s Harrison/Brit Invasion era, and then the 1970s CSNY scene and 80s X and Stray Cats scene

4

The early days of hard-rock came immediately after the British Invasion. Gretsch sold a zillion Gent's, Tennesseans, et cetera in that time,but clean-shaven Fab Lads wearing Buddy Holly glasses,white shirts and ties,collarless jackets, and singing sweet harmonized chord progressions a la Gerry & The Pacemakers and Herman's Hermits while playing big hollowbodies were as passe as the Beach Boys' Kingston Trio shirts and white Fender Jaguars. Even George had grown a beard and was playing a Strat! So all those Gretsches unfortunately got painted with that same brush, and it didn't help things at all when The Pre-Fab Four started miming to the Wrecking Crew, Baldwin Gretsches in hand....

5

i have to think that scarcity was a major culprit...when i started playing in 1970 you never saw Gretsches in the new or used market, so how would you know if it worked for you if you'd never even seen one? between then and the Gretsch resurgence i only ever played two Gretsches in my entire life.

6

the passé factor also probably applies to some extent. a lot of great guitars got totally ignored in the 70s...as late as the mid-80s 1960s Telecasters were going for $200 and only saw a resurgence with punk. and don't even get me started on the various Gibson/Guild/Fender models that go for elephant dollars now that you sometimes literally couldn't give away. i knew a guy in the 70s who fancied himself a luthier and had a half-dozen unloved and abandoned Guild Starfire single-cuts hanging on the wall over his workbench in various stripped/unfinished states which he probably got for $100 each.

7

there's also that with the move to massive amplification precise intonation became crucial and bar bridges and Bigsbys, much as i love them, aren't exactly known for precision. it's no accident that the Strat tremolo with its relative stability and longer range of saddle adjustment ruled the heavy roost until the invention of the Floyd Rose trem which was specifically designed to stay in tune.

8

Timing, I think, and victims of their own success. Seems pop/rock evolution churned out new species about every 3 years from the 50s well into the 70s. (Maybe 80s, I stopped keeping track.)

Thanks to some rockabilly and fangerpackin'/twang/country success, by 1964 Gretsch was associated with a bygone era and/or unhip genres. The brand got incredibly lucky in George Harrison's choice of guitar hero, leading to his buying that used Jet - and then very very fortunate to put a Gent in his hands for the Sullivan Show. In one stroke the brand transcended its past: the thinline models, at least, became one of the instrumental icons of the Brit Invasion, and either provided or set the standard of its characteristic jangle.

And while Gretsch was busier than they'd ever imagined, cranking out Gents and Tennies, pop evolution churned on.

By 1967, jangle-chime was waning. When Hendrix intoned "never hear of ... SURF music ... again" during the trancey droney feedbacky floating freakout of "Third Stone from the Sun," he could just as easily have said "jingle-jangle." The generation of players coming on in the late 60s and early 70s didn't want to sound like their predecessors - or to be seen with Those Guitars.

The exception was the Strat, I suppose, which is accepted in every genre and every era, the universal guitar. But we sometimes forget, in the ubiquity it's enjoyed since Hendrix, that Strats were hardly dominant through the 50s and 60s. The exceptions which spring vividly to mind - Buddy Holly, Hank Marvin, Ventures, Beach Boys, a few blues guys - rather prove than disprove the observation. In any case, Hendrix absolutely made the world safe for Strat domination.

You probably have something in your dissection of technical and structural details which contributed to Gretsch's non-adoption as an insrument of the evolving heavier rock. But it could have made to work, and, I think, would have - had old Les Pauls and SGs not been available, cheap, on the used market. And those guitars weren't in the familiar shape of the moptop mold the budding proggers and metalists were trying to break.

By 1968-69, I certainly didn't want a hollowbody guitar, or anything that remotely looked like one.

As observed above, if the Monkees were playing it, it was the wrong guitar to outrage grownups and freak the kids out. The world changed around Gretsch between 1966 and 1969. Baldwin tried to catch up with solidbody rockers, but the image war had already been lost.

9

not just available, but easily available compared to Gretsches which were never built in mass-market quantities until Fred got together with Joe and Mike.

though i've never played one, the Committee seems like a good idea that wasn't taken quite far enough. i suspect that a Committee with Filters would kill.

10

And yeah, comparative scarcity on the ground, at least in my neck of the proverbial woods - especially by the time my buddies and I were getting equipped in the very late 60s and early 70s.

11

and i was in Chicago, which at that time was still the second-largest city in the US! a place where you could walk into Guitar Gallery and they'd have 4 or 5 Lo Prinzi acoustics (you might recall Larry Coryell playing them) hanging on the wall.

12

Coupla Fenders that I wanted/had in the 69-72 era were the 2nd gen Coronados. They looked cool (to me) and sounded great. The 12str could jangle like a Rick and the bridge pup on the 6 was as fat as the Les Paul if you knew how to set it right....

But Fender dropped the entire line and people who had 'em had trouble unloading them.

Now try finding one.... and when you do latch onto a good one, be prepared to part with some fairly serious coin.

For instance...

https://reverb.com/ca/p/fen... (wow- that got ugly looking)

13

back when, it didn't get much heavier than the velvet underground

lou reed with his gretsch...(one of)

cheers

14

Neil Innes got some amazingly heavy sounds on the track Mr Apollo, with its loud quiet sections I'd venture to say a proto grunge track.

15

Mark Arm played a silver jet in Mudhoney a fair bit. I think actually Chris Cornell gave it to him originally.

16

I started playing in 1979 (I don't count 1969, when grandpa [a luthier] made me my first guitar [a classical guitar], since I was only 6 years old at the time, and nobody ever taught me how to play anything [grandpa died of cancer, my Uncle Joe went into the Air Force, and my parents were very unmusical, and had no money for guitar lessons]), and I didn't really hear about Gretsches until I heard "Stray Cat Strut" by Mr. Setzer & Co. From 1979, until I bought my first Gretsch in 2002 (a cheapo Synchromatic Jet Club) I only saw one Gretsch (a 60s 6120, in 1983, at the now defunct Henri's Music, in Green Bay, WI, that I briefly tried out [it was going for about $450, and was in rough shape, with a twisted neck, and looked banged up to boot - I didn't even bother plugging it in]), so Gretsches were thin on the ground to say the least.

There is also the factor that I have mentioned in the past - image. For those of us who are Gen X or younger, Gretsches until recent times have had an image as being twang banging rockabilly machines. I know I certainly thought of them as that. I never would have played, let alone bought that cheapo Synchromatic Jet in 2002, if I hadn't been sort of tricked into playing it, by a friend of mine (who was also a guitar player), who who came along with me, when I went guitar shopping to replace an Epiphone Slasher I had grown to detest. When she showed the Synchro Jet to me, I immediately shook my head no (after all, to me Gretsches were rockabilly machines), and went back to looking at some Squiers that were on the wall. If I hadn't heard this nice sounding guitar (despite it being played through some cheapo 15 watt Crate amp), and realized that it was my friend playing the Synchro Jet, gone over to take a look at the guitar, had my friend hand it to me, played it myself (liking how it played and sounded), and saw that it was being sold at an affordable price (the price lists I'd seen for new Gretsches up to that time, showed them as being way outside what I could afford, and I was the next best thing to being broke at the time), I never would have bought my first Gretsch, and been introduced to them.

I doubt Gretsches will ever be considered metal guitars (unless we have another Hendrix-like player who rewrites the guitar paradigm like Jimi did [before he became well known for playing Strats, they were known mainly as guitars for surf and country music], by playing Gretsches), but I have been seeing a surprising number of hard edged rock players slinging a Gretsch, and making them grind. As you've heard me say in the past, the feedback can be controlled (during my main gigging days in the 90s, I used to play a Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion, that due to its body size, leaned more towards the hollow side of the semi-hollow guitar class, and I got very good at controlling feedback from the guitar, that I jokingly called The Feedback Machine), as long as you stay aware on-stage. Besides hollowbodies and semi-hollowbodies have this nice, throaty sound at high gain, that you just don't get from a solidbody.

There are also amp setup considerations. I hate to say this, but most guitar players are kind of unschooled when it comes to guitar amps (though I'm surprised at the number of forum members here, above and beyond Mr. Zoom, who seem to know a fair amount about guitar amps), having very much a plug and play attitude. As a result, they don't understand amps very well, and what they are capable of. So what do they typically do? crank the treble, and dump the bass when they dish out the high gain tones. Sorry, this doesn't gel for walloping tones out of a Gretsch. Turn down the treble (say to 5 or so), the mids below 7 or 8, and watch your Gretsch start to get mean sounding!! Unfortunately Joe and Jane guitar player have an aversion to doing this (after all, to them, it seems you need lots 'o treble for decent grind tones) relegating Gretsches terminally into the twang zone.

IMO, due to the above things, that's why guitar players don't metal out on Gretsches very often.

17

I think Proteus and Ellen have hit on most of those reasons adroitly, and they are numerous.

In hindsight it was a broader wave moving away from the traditional hollow body, both the style and tone, but often those reasons were practical as well.

We are talking about a period when sound systems were still adapting to larger, louder shows than we had seen. Feedback has always been something to contend with in these situations, and I've no doubt that a lot of players found it easier to play a solid body, mitigating those issues ahead of time.

It was why Frank Zappa ultimately dropped his Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster for solid bodies, also why Mark Farner plugged up the f holes on his Messenger.
.. Not saying hollow-body feedback was an insurmountable problem. Some players obviously learn to control it and even use it to great effect. For all his nuttery, Ted Nugent can be credited for popularizing some of that. Few others thought to plug a Byrdland into a stack of Marshalls, thinking it was a great idea.

On that note, one of the videos that sold me on Gretsch when I was still looking into them was this one;

Not that I'm an aspiring shredder, but really how misunderstood and underestimated Gretsch guitars can be.

If Eddie Van Halen or Slash trotted out a Tenny, for even one show or music video, it would arguably shatter a lot of preconceptions.

18

the passé factor also probably applies to some extent. a lot of great guitars got totally ignored in the 70s...as late as the mid-80s 1960s Telecasters were going for $200 and only saw a resurgence with punk. and don't even get me started on the various Gibson/Guild/Fender models that go for elephant dollars now that you sometimes literally couldn't give away. i knew a guy in the 70s who fancied himself a luthier and had a half-dozen unloved and abandoned Guild Starfire single-cuts hanging on the wall over his workbench in various stripped/unfinished states which he probably got for $100 each.

– macphisto

Back in the day, at least in my area, the lucky kids had a Guild Starfire and Vox Buckingham and the less lucky kids had and Esquire and Princeton. Just the way it was back then.

19

Quote Prote:

"The exception was the Strat, I suppose, which is accepted in every genre and every era, the universal guitar. But we sometimes forget, in the ubiquity it's enjoyed since Hendrix, that Strats were hardly dominant through the 50s and 60s. The exceptions which spring vividly to mind - Buddy Holly, Hank Marvin, Ventures, Beach Boys, a few blues guys - rather prove than disprove the observation. In any case, Hendrix absolutely made the world safe for Strat domination." People just forget that those S-word guitars were just no big deal back then., If you wanted a Fender you wanted a Mustang or Jaguar. We thought of Telecasters as one step up from Danelectros -- cheap, plain and uninteresting. This is mostly forgotten all this time later.

Actually if you can state that George started the Gretsch & Gent scene fo a new group of players, he had moved on my 1966 and used a Strat when they were weren't any big deal. He had the middle/bridge sound by 1966 before it was a Familiar Sound and Scene

Also I agree with those who say the George used the Tennessean on Sgt. Pepper on that neat little guitar tansition between lead title cut and With a Little Help From My Friends.

20

Back in the day, at least in my area, the lucky kids had a Guild Starfire and Vox Buckingham and the less lucky kids had and Esquire and Princeton. Just the way it was back then.

On that note, though it seems unbelievable to me now, among my cohort going through school from 1966 to 1972, I knew of exactly two other people with electric guitars.

I think now there had to be more of whom I was not aware - this period does overlap the great 60s guitar boom. Maybe they never played in public, or didn’t travel in the same circle. But it was a small and culturally homogenous school, and from 1964 on I was fanatically - if not neurotically - obsessed with pop/rock and particularly electric guitar (looking back, I guess more than anyone I knew personally). Seems like I would have become aware of other kids similarly smitten.

There had been exactly one local rock band, comprised of people well ahead of me (in high school while I was in 6th-7th grade), called The Shags, who had gained some area notoriety in the mid-60s. I didn’t know any of them personally, nor what gear they had.

So three electric guitarists (including me) among my graduating class of 92, and the couple of classes on either side of that. Hardly a big enough sample to generalize about relative gear prevalence.

But my closest electric comrade had a white Kalamazoo SG-alike and a Standell Super Artist (actually his mother’s, who used it several times a year as a PA system at student dance recitals). Another fellow young rocker (killed in a car wreck during our sophomore year) had a red Supro and small salt-n-pepper Supro amp.

I first had a Japanese Crestwood (Fujigen-made, though i didn’t know that then), then a Wurlitzer Cougar, and a Silvertone 1484 Twin Twelve.

No Fenders, Gibsons, Gretschs, or Rics. No Fender, Vox, or Marshall amps. I dreamed wildly - with zero notion of fulfillment - of Jaguars, Coronados, and SGs...and tuck-n-roll Kustom amps.

21

I think Proteus and Ellen have hit on most of those reasons adroitly, and they are numerous.

In hindsight it was a broader wave moving away from the traditional hollow body, both the style and tone, but often those reasons were practical as well.

We are talking about a period when sound systems were still adapting to larger, louder shows than we had seen. Feedback has always been something to contend with in these situations, and I've no doubt that a lot of players found it easier to play a solid body, mitigating those issues ahead of time.

It was why Frank Zappa ultimately dropped his Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster for solid bodies, also why Mark Farner plugged up the f holes on his Messenger.
.. Not saying hollow-body feedback was an insurmountable problem. Some players obviously learn to control it and even use it to great effect. For all his nuttery, Ted Nugent can be credited for popularizing some of that. Few others thought to plug a Byrdland into a stack of Marshalls, thinking it was a great idea.

On that note, one of the videos that sold me on Gretsch when I was still looking into them was this one;

Not that I'm an aspiring shredder, but really how misunderstood and underestimated Gretsch guitars can be.

If Eddie Van Halen or Slash trotted out a Tenny, for even one show or music video, it would arguably shatter a lot of preconceptions.

– Edison

Oooh!!! Noice sounding tones!

22

Gretsch is now marketing (and building guitars) specifically to gainier forms of rock, and I doubt the current cohort of new Gretsch players even thinks there's anything unusual or verbøten about crunching and shredding as hard as possible on their guitars. Which is all as it should be.

In my previous posts, I haven't been referring to the last decade or so whatsoever. I took from mac's use of the past tense in the title, and the very reference to "heavy" music itself (not to mention that I know mac and I are about the same age) that we were talking about Gretsch use in past decades - 70s, 80s, maybe 90s in particular.

23

yeah, exactly, 70s/80s in particular.

24

Want some rocking tones out of a Gretsch? It doesn't get better than this IMHO:

25

I'd consider Duane heavy, for his time. Link Wray was heavy as was a lot of stuff Randy Bachman did.


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