Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Brooklyn vs. Booneville

1

With Fender, the conventional theory is even though CBS acquired the company at the start of 1965, things were done the same way for at least six months before management and cost cutters etc came in and started making changes. So pre CBS spec really until mid 1965.

With Gretsch, the conventional theory is (is?) even tho Baldwin acquired them in 1967, with a few exceptions (aluminum knobs, etc) things were pretty much the same up to 1970 when they moved to Booneville.. One other change may have been binding -- just my theory - since late 60s binding rot seems to be worse than earlier years, maybe Baldwin bought cheaper binding material.

Still, isn't it thought that the main change was the builders since the old school Brooklyn staff didn't make the move -- it was a new staff -- is that really the difference, if 1970s quality was more uneven than 1960s?

2

I don't think 70s quality could have possibly been any more uneven than the 60s. The thing was that they made some unpopular design choise. Like body shape changes, burns truss rod thingy, and a few other changes. Not necessarily bad changes or worse quality but perhaps not the direction most Gretsch enthusiasts would agree with. 60s Gretsch quality control is hilarious, 50s wasn't that much better. 70s gretschs don't tend to have binding rot, at least from what I've seen.

3

With Fender, the conventional theory is even though CBS acquired the company at the start of 1965, things were done the same way for at least six months before management and cost cutters etc came in and started making changes. So pre CBS spec really until mid 1965.

With Gretsch, the conventional theory is (is?) even tho Baldwin acquired them in 1967, with a few exceptions (aluminum knobs, etc) things were pretty much the same up to 1970 when they moved to Booneville.. One other change may have been binding -- just my theory - since late 60s binding rot seems to be worse than earlier years, maybe Baldwin bought cheaper binding material.

Still, isn't it thought that the main change was the builders since the old school Brooklyn staff didn't make the move -- it was a new staff -- is that really the difference, if 1970s quality was more uneven than 1960s?

– DCBirdMan

After the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, the factory was overwhelmed with orders. Guitars built after that were very hit and miss in those years. I'm not sure anyone was even in control about what was happening in that factory. Some were great, some had real problems. I forget how long the wait was if you ordered a 6122 like George's. I think one year? It might have been two. The Monkees probably made it even worse. It was a crazy time for a guitar factory that never expected anything like that to happen. I had a '66 6119 with the plaque on the headstock. I took it off one day just out of curiosity. It had a pearl horse shoe underneath it that had been painted black like the rest of the headstock. So what guitar was that meant for initially? I had an early '67 6122 that was pre-Baldwin because of no "Made in USA" and no aluminum knobs. It had a 3 digit serial number. Think about that one. There came a time in the 70s when it was pretty amazing if any good guitars were produced, but evidently they were. Gretsch wasn't alone. Late 60's and early 70s Gibson acoustics were terrible in general. Les Pauls weighed about 14 pounds! The vintage guitar market began because of the terrible guitars that were being produced by pretty much by all of the manufacturers in the 70's. I was a good friend of Danny Thorpe who helped put on the first Texas vintage guitar show in 1978. The big guitar shows of today had a very humble beginning.

4

Edit for spelling, duh! Do you have from Danny, or could get, some prices from those early shows of his, particularly Gretsches?

5

Edit for spelling, duh! Do you have from Danny, or could get, some prices from those early shows of his, particularly Gretsches?

– Windsordave

The first show in 1978 was a strange affair. It was in a small convention room of a mid-priced hotel. There were some dealers or folks who would become dealers there but also just some collectors with odd or rare pieces. Very few were displayed. You just went to each booth and ask the guy what was in the case. I didn't think of buying any, but I guess for a price they were for sale. Some became very valuable- I remember a Byrdland. Danny became a real expert on Gretsch and Fender. He found a lot of Gretsch guitars in pawn shops in those days. He knew how to set them up to be playable. Later he would be paid to authenticate old Fenders before someone put down a bundle on an old Strat. He did that at the peak of the vintage shows. I know he sold a White Falcon to David Gilmour. I think even George called him once asking advice about Gretsch. When the market skyrocketed on vintage guitars, there was also a lot of deception and parts swapping going on. I bought a couple of nice vintage Gretsch guitars from Guitar Resurrection when they first moved from California to Austin in the mid 70s. Their shop was all vintage then.

6

I have a different take on Gretsch quality than the others who have commented thus far. From my personal experience I have found that Gretsch guitars made in the very early 1950's were of excellent quality. There is in the database a 1952 Constellation of mine which is in near mint condition and I can tell you that the workmanship is every bit as good as that same era's Gibsons and Epiphones. As to Baldwin guitars, Bill Hagner told me that after the move to Booneville, it took a number of months to teach the new guitar builders craftsmanship, but, once learned, he thought their work was much better than what had been done in Brooklyn. Gretsch brought down Dean Porter who made sure that every guitar that left the factory (beginning in 1972?) was as perfect as possible. While Gretsch built a few shitty models at Baldwin's insistence (the TK 300 and the solid body Broadcaster -- both with bolt-on necks) because Baldwin's marketing people told them they needed low-priced models, the rest of the Gretsch line after 1972 was substantially better built than any of the Brooklyn guitars. I own a Super Chet, 2 Super Axes, a Sun Valley flat top and 2 Committees from the Baldwin era, all of which show craftsmanship and workmanship light years better than anything coming out of Brooklyn after 1954. Anyway, that's my take on their quality.

7

Fred indicates the move was mid-1969.

https://www.gretsch.com/201...

In addition, I seem to remember from Dan Duffy's book that workforce morale was pretty bad after the sale in 1967. I don't remember how soon after the sale Baldwin announced the move but I think it was pretty soon after.

8

Well I have 2 Baldwin era - post '71 - when features changed. I have a '72 Super Chet and 'Chet's prototype '76 Super Axe. The SC came with it's unique to all models in the company's history, that being the wheeled controls in place of the standard knobs and pots. They tended to be very finicky, in my case working when they felt like it. I changed everything to the standard control layout and then further had this refined by Toxo to make it perfect! His replacing the wiring discovered another issue but I consider it a minor one.

The 5 1/8" x 1 3/4" x 3/4" block that's suppose to join the top and back of the guitar was cut 1/8" short and only [barely] held in place by virtue of a couple drops of glue! Toxo just tapped it out of the way when we found there was a gap beneath it. These issues aside, the overall fit/finish is exceptionally good.

The SA has had who knows how many previous owners and the only issue is the common one, the onboard electronics. The fellow I bought this great guitar from said it was previously owned by an LA fellow who he implied his cheese fell off the cracker awhile ago. In any event, someone tried messing with them and cross-wired two connections, which were repaired. Otherwise, no issues with fit/finish

9

I kid you not. Best playing and feeling Gretsch I have ever owned. No binding issues, no tuning issues with a super RIZLA low action, burns gearbox truss rod works a treat and a perfect straight, fast neck, lovely tone and the Thinline body enables me to play it so much easier. Lots of old mods but who cares! Pretty worthless but again who cares. Made in Booneville. Probably one of the least desirable Gretsch guitars ever made......but a highly well made guitar.

10

Clippers never get enough respect.

11

I have a different take on Gretsch quality than the others who have commented thus far. From my personal experience I have found that Gretsch guitars made in the very early 1950's were of excellent quality.

Here's the inspection tag from my old '53 Duo Jet.

Makes you wonder if perhaps J.B. was a little more demanding of his colleagues than D.D.

Of course, the real problems wouldn't likely have been apparent to Dan at inspection time. Binding rot isn't a QC issue and I don't know that there's any way they could have known that it would be such an issue decades later.

And the other major problem was sloppy dovetail joints. Again, that's not something Dan could detect if it was holding together when the guitar passed through his hands. Other than those things and the occasional misaligned tailpiece, I honestly have never really noticed anything about vintage Gretsches that's inferior to other brands of guitars I've owned or played of comparable age.

But it is pretty shameful that Gretsch didn't make more of an effort to get the dovetails right. With all the renecks we see, they were obviously aware of the problem. And driving a big sheet metal screw through the heel is a pretty lazy and ineffective solution, not to mention all it really accomplished was adding a significant step to resetting the neck.

12

Clippers never get enough respect.

– lx

Right? Loved mine.

13

I like what Ewkewk said ... right on the money. I worked there (covered eastern half of the US, with offices in Cincinnati, Nashville & Philly). I didn't have anything to do with manufacturing or QC, but as a Sales Mgr I had to deal directly with the customers regarding manufacturing and QC flaws (and our customer was the music store, not the player). I worked there from '74 - '77, so I can't compare my experiences to what happened during the Brooklyn era, but I had a blast for 3 years meeting the "who's who" in the music industry during that era. I had helped MIke Jones write an "e-book" called Gretsch Long Weekend: The Baldwin Years" and recanted alot of stories about my experiences back then, but ... something happened to the e-book and it vanished from the interwebs. I have 4 Baldwin guitars, a bicentennial banjo, and 2 Sho-Bud steels and consider them all prized possessions.

14

Clippers never get enough respect.

– lx

Played an early '60's one 'bout a year ago at a nice guitar shop in North Vancouver. It was a sunburst with a single [bridge] HiLo and had a lot of battle scars but no damage. Played very well and would be a nice git for jazz work. Wasn't looking for one but in any event it was priced well north of its value.

15

I had a 75 Country Gentleman for a while. It was an excellent guitar, but I can't live with the mudswitch, so it was sold. The workmanship was topnotch, much better than the trestle-braced double Annie that couldn't keep it's neck on...

16

Very happy with these two. Better craftmanship, playability and tone than the ’64 6117, ’64 6119, and ’67 6119 I have for comparsion. The Country roc is just stunning.> >

17

For me, the big difference is in the acoustic tone of the hollowbodies. The post-72 Boonvilles were made with 7 ply sides and 3 ply tops; these just don't resonate as well as the '50's (and most of) the '60's Gretsches. What this does is make for a less acoustic response (which probably makes for somewhat less feedback) and it greatly simplifies manufacturing.

Instead of installing the unkerffed lining needed for the traditional 3 ply sides, you just slapped the arched top and bottom onto the thick sides(rims). This was standard construction for the Electrotone bodies and Gretsch was fooling around with this approach on a few of their standard models in the early '60's; I've run across a couple of early '60's Annies built like this and they are quieter.

I'm really curious if the single-cut Gents used this approach or if they started out as being sealed top 3-ply bodies which eventually morphed into the 7 ply and 3 ply bodies. Maybe the next time you guys with single-cut Gents are changing strings, you can pop a Filtertron out and see what kind sides and neck joint you have.

18

Every roc jet I've played or owned has played really well with no work needing doing. Almost every vintage Brooklyn jet I've owned or played needed a neck reset. If we forget the romanticism of the Brooklyn era, the collecting value and the fact the designs were better and Brooklyn guitars are obviously older I'd choose a Booneville to pick up and play every time.

19

For me, the big difference is in the acoustic tone of the hollowbodies. The post-72 Boonvilles were made with 7 ply sides and 3 ply tops; these just don't resonate as well as the '50's (and most of) the '60's Gretsches. What this does is make for a less acoustic response (which probably makes for somewhat less feedback) and it greatly simplifies manufacturing.

Instead of installing the unkerffed lining needed for the traditional 3 ply sides, you just slapped the arched top and bottom onto the thick sides(rims). This was standard construction for the Electrotone bodies and Gretsch was fooling around with this approach on a few of their standard models in the early '60's; I've run across a couple of early '60's Annies built like this and they are quieter.

I'm really curious if the single-cut Gents used this approach or if they started out as being sealed top 3-ply bodies which eventually morphed into the 7 ply and 3 ply bodies. Maybe the next time you guys with single-cut Gents are changing strings, you can pop a Filtertron out and see what kind sides and neck joint you have.

– lx

My 72 deluxe Chet has a very very thin top and has giant fat square braces on the top and the back, I think a thinner top than my 50 and 60s models. It was also intended to be joined top and back under the bridge with a big block, They failed on mine as the block wasn't big enough to meet the back braces so I removed it...by hand, it was so strongly affixed! In general I would say 'less acoustic' sound would have as much to do with huge top braces as it would with top/side material.

It's pretty well like trestle bracing used in late 50s Gretschs, basically intended to kill archtop acoustic resonance and provide more sustain.

My 64 thinline club has no kerfiing and is just a top and back attached to thick sides.

Many of the 70s Gretschs are excellent instruments, just different.

20

Admittedly still on the honeymoon with my recently acquired ‘77 Super Chet, I think at least this one is a good guitar. The neck is straight, binding is good, and the block issue mentioned by WindsorDave and Toxophilte does not exist on mine. It fits well. I have no other Baldwin model to reference but am thus far happy.

21

My Super Chet's S/N is very close to Toxo's Deluxe Chet and as you'd expect, shares the same build manifest. That block he mentions came out very easily on mine and now is just an ornament on my bookshelf. No kerfing in this guitar and using its weight as something of a guideline, I'd say it has heavy back and sides.....the top I forgot to notice when the pups where removed when Toxo rewired it.

22

I guess the 70s guitars had thick sides, buthen so would my 64 club and it's not that heavy. I think the 70s guitars were heavy due to extra bracing heavy big square braces top AND back and likely because of the burns truss rod unit.

23

Some of you guys must have lousy luck. I think I've had about 25-30 early '50s to mid '60s Gretsches. Two needed neck resets, but other than that, I've never really encountered any serious issues. My luck with vintage Rickenbackers has been enormously worse.

24

Agreed, I’ve had zero neck resets with all my 50’s Gretsch’s. I’ll admit I’m good at spotting issues and have passed on a few I knew were trouble.

25

Agreed, I’ve had zero neck resets with all my 50’s Gretsch’s. I’ll admit I’m good at spotting issues and have passed on a few I knew were trouble.

– JazzBoxJunky

Same here. One thing I've never owned and seem to have the most problems are mid/late '60s full depth archtops. About the only vintage Gretsches I ever seemed to run into in person in shops (back when there were shops in medium sized cities like Madison) were mid/late '60s Anniversaries or Tennesseans. I would say that probably half of the handful of the Anniversaries I encountered over the years needed a neck reset. I don't recall ever coming across any Electrotone body that didn't have a decent neck set. Obviously they exist, but they seem pretty rare in my experience. It seems that the extra gluing surface of the mortise and tenon was a mostly successful fix for the sloppy joint fitting.


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