Vintage Gretsch Guitars

1955 Duo Jet - Vintage vs. Stephen Stern Custom Shop Options

1

Since I played my friend's 1955 Duo Jet pictured here it has made me want one too! I checked Reverb and the price range seems to be between $4,000 - $7,000. The guitar listed for $4,000 had a replacement bridge, tuners and case which I would be fine with. I'm mostly concerned with the construction and the original DeArmond pickups.

I've heard the Stephen Stern Custom Shop Jets come very close to the sound and feel of the vintage Gretsch guitars. If this is the case that may be a better alternative. I know vintage vs. Custom shop has been discussed before but I would like to specifically focus on Jets and hear your feedback regarding the similarities and differences.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to save enough money to ever buy either a vintage Jet or a Custom Shop Jet but having goals is good for the soul.

2

I am curious to hear how it compared to your DSV. I have a DSV myself with 50s DeArmonds so I guess I come close to the sound of the real thing. However our DSVs are not as thick as the vintage jets.

3

That's actually a great idea. I think Stephen and his team, do a great job of replicating what you'd want and it would be very close to vintage specs.

4

Uh oh.

Religious issue!

5

The biggest difference in new vs. old construction was in the body routing. Billy Zoom insisted on vintage routing for his model and there is much less wood in there than on any previous models; the BZ model (2010?) was the first modern Jet to return to original body specs. You can see X-ray pics somewhere on this site. I assume that the Harrison and Gallup production models also share this feature, and of course the Dyna Custom Shop models. The body routing was Gretsch's unique take on the solidbody idea and the first Duo Jets actually cost $10 more than a Les Paul.

6

I am curious to hear how it compared to your DSV. I have a DSV myself with 50s DeArmonds so I guess I come close to the sound of the real thing. However our DSVs are not as thick as the vintage jets.

– Andreas

I love my DSV and if possible would not want to sell it to fund a genuine 1955 or a Custom Shop guitar. I am completely happy with it and hopefully don't sound like a spoiled kid. It's just when I was playing my friend's Duo Jet I didn't want to put it down. It felt very familiar because the neck shape on my DSV and on his are very similar but it also felt and sounded different enough to want some of that too!

7

Fred (Gasmoney) has compared his vintage 6121 with his CS penguin (relic) and my CS BZ jet. He said all are great in their own way, but not identical.

8

Everybody talks about the correct chamber routes but less mentioned is the pressed thin ply top coupling to the back and sides. To my understanding, on vintage 50s Dynasonic models, the arched top is only connected at the top of the arch under the bridge and perhaps between the pickups, ignoring the glued edges of course. I know CS makes Dyna Jets this way, and I confirmed that my VS '53 is made this way as well. My '53 is a zingy, vibrant guitar, and wouldn't want a Jet unless it had the early thin-top construction.

9

I can't help but think about the clear nitron top that my Jet Firebird had being the big differentiating factor.

While the early Jets I've played have been uniformly wonderful (well yeah, as they're the survivors and generally brought back to and kept in competitive trim)...I've always thought that layer of plastic had to inhibit the flex of the wood underneath. I've "seen" (online) at least a couple examples of Jets from the era which were refinished many years ago, dispensing with the Nitron. Their owners say they're fabulous.

My dream Jet would have the chambering and glue points of the early ones, but with a spruce top and no Nitron.

10

I've tried a couple of Custom Shop Jets, and was very impressed. If not 100% accurate on some of the details, they definitely nailed the feel of old Jets. I didn't spend a lot of time with them plugged in and certainly not in a setting where I'd be able to say how they would sound with my gear in a gigging situation, but I wouldn't hesitate to give one a shot. My guess is they'd be great as is, but I'm sure with a little tweaking you could get one even closer to what you're shooting for.

11

I can't help but think about the clear nitron top that my Jet Firebird had being the big differentiating factor.

While the early Jets I've played have been uniformly wonderful (well yeah, as they're the survivors and generally brought back to and kept in competitive trim)...I've always thought that layer of plastic had to inhibit the flex of the wood underneath. I've "seen" (online) at least a couple examples of Jets from the era which were refinished many years ago, dispensing with the Nitron. Their owners say they're fabulous.

My dream Jet would have the chambering and glue points of the early ones, but with a spruce top and no Nitron.

– Proteus

I‘m afraid I‘m lost in translation... Nitron means nitro lacquer? And I don’t understand the plastic film?

12

Nitron is a plastic laminate that is/was used on drums. Gretsch decided it would be a great idea to put it on guitar tops.

13

Not nitro lacquer, no. Nitron is the plastic sheet coating laminated to the tops of the early Jets. The same material that covered drum shells. Something like it is still used on drums (though whether it's exactly the same chemical formulation as used in the 50s, I don't know).

My understanding is that on (at least most, if not all) current solid-color Jets, paint is applied directly to the maple tops. But the sparkly ones have the layer of plastic adhered to the maple. (The metal flakes are embedded in the plastic.)

14

My '57 has only the contact points beneath the bridge that BorderRadio illustrates. This was also the same set-up with the Ramblers. I briefly had a '63 Jet Firebird and that seemed to be more acoustically resonant than my '57. Go figure. That wedge-shaped hunk of wood between the pickups (see above) doesn't connect to the top. Why Gretsch left that is unknown -- but it is historically accurate. There are two pieces glued to the underside of the top (again, see above) that get routed for the pickup openings. This gives the Dynasonic mounting screws something more to bite into.

Maybe Ed can tell us when/how long the Duo Jets/Firebirds used the nitron tops. IIRC there's been at least one sighting of a (laminated) spruce-top Jet.

15

Don’t ask me why but I have a pic of a double cut Jet body with the top off. Think it was a Burns vibrato body.

16

Don’t ask me why but I have a pic of a double cut Jet body with the top off. Think it was a Burns vibrato body.

– JazzBoxJunky

I love these pictures!

17

Fred (Gasmoney) has compared his vintage 6121 with his CS penguin (relic) and my CS BZ jet. He said all are great in their own way, but not identical.

– NJBob

I have been comparing my 55' 6121 back to back with Bobs BZ jet for several weeks.

The BZ jet is built really well. Very much like an old one (Jet). However, for me, the vintage DeArmonds have the edge over these reissue pickups in this guitar.

On the only reissue 6120 I owned I pulled the stock DeArmomd and put in an old one. Again the tone difference was pretty big between modern and real vintage.

I think the Stern relic Gretsches are pretty damn fine. The Penguin I have is beyond good. I am , however, having Curt swap out the filters with some original 50's PAF filters.

So if your a real vintage screw counting tone hound you'll hear a difference between an original 55' Jet and a Stern Jet. The construction on the Stern Jet is beyond compare though. Well worth the money.

I think the Stern guitar is close to what a real 55 is costing these days.....

But its only rock and roll and I like it.

18

I have been comparing my 55' 6121 back to back with Bobs BZ jet for several weeks.

The BZ jet is built really well. Very much like an old one (Jet). However, for me, the vintage DeArmonds have the edge over these reissue pickups in this guitar.

On the only reissue 6120 I owned I pulled the stock DeArmomd and put in an old one. Again the tone difference was pretty big between modern and real vintage.

I think the Stern relic Gretsches are pretty damn fine. The Penguin I have is beyond good. I am , however, having Curt swap out the filters with some original 50's PAF filters.

So if your a real vintage screw counting tone hound you'll hear a difference between an original 55' Jet and a Stern Jet. The construction on the Stern Jet is beyond compare though. Well worth the money.

I think the Stern guitar is close to what a real 55 is costing these days.....

But its only rock and roll and I like it.

– Gasmoney

This was very informative indeed!

20

Everybody talks about the correct chamber routes but less mentioned is the pressed thin ply top coupling to the back and sides. To my understanding, on vintage 50s Dynasonic models, the arched top is only connected at the top of the arch under the bridge and perhaps between the pickups, ignoring the glued edges of course. I know CS makes Dyna Jets this way, and I confirmed that my VS '53 is made this way as well. My '53 is a zingy, vibrant guitar, and wouldn't want a Jet unless it had the early thin-top construction.

– BorderRadio

I just got a new 57 Caddy green Jet last week. I believe it has the same construction as the one pictured here. It is 2” deep and considerably lighter than my Power Jet. I took off the back plate and the top clearly doesn’t touch much wood. It sounds and plays great. I like the TV Jones pickups. It doesn’t sound as deep as my ‘55 reissue 6120, but it sure sounds good to me.

21

I can't help but think about the clear nitron top that my Jet Firebird had being the big differentiating factor.

While the early Jets I've played have been uniformly wonderful (well yeah, as they're the survivors and generally brought back to and kept in competitive trim)...I've always thought that layer of plastic had to inhibit the flex of the wood underneath. I've "seen" (online) at least a couple examples of Jets from the era which were refinished many years ago, dispensing with the Nitron. Their owners say they're fabulous.

My dream Jet would have the chambering and glue points of the early ones, but with a spruce top and no Nitron.

– Proteus

With a bigsby and in a wine red coagulated blood stain.

22

Red sounds (and looks) perfect. Oval-hole Bigsby like on the BZ Jet.

23

I can't help but think about the clear nitron top that my Jet Firebird had being the big differentiating factor.

While the early Jets I've played have been uniformly wonderful (well yeah, as they're the survivors and generally brought back to and kept in competitive trim)...I've always thought that layer of plastic had to inhibit the flex of the wood underneath. I've "seen" (online) at least a couple examples of Jets from the era which were refinished many years ago, dispensing with the Nitron. Their owners say they're fabulous.

My dream Jet would have the chambering and glue points of the early ones, but with a spruce top and no Nitron.

– Proteus

Why the spruce top?

24

A sunburst spruce-top Jet would look very cool indeed, and nothing like the competition.

25

With the old Dyna’s The magnets are a different formula in the old ones vs. new magnets. The old formula Alnico V is a different mix/pour than modern A-V. The Chinese make 95% of modern Alnico magnets. There still are many of the old magnet manufactures here in the States but they only do original formula magnets on a Custom basis like for companies like ThroBak, TV Jones & Klein. The other issue is magnet wire. Old magnet wire from the 50’s & early Sixties wasn’t as pure copper like modern copper wire. The old stuff had impurity’s like silver & lead in the mix. The old wire has a different sound as do the older magnets. There’s companies like Wizz Pickups and OX4 the search for old, period correct wire to make repro PAF’s and TV has had the wire recreated..


Register Sign in to join the conversation