Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Converting a convertible

1

Would it be blasphemous to convert a Convertible/San Salvador into a two pickup guitar, basically making a 50s country club? That pickguard mounted pickup arrangement is a little funny. I thought with another Dearmond or a Dearmond 2000 (which you could surface mount and spare an extra pickup rout), a bigsby and a conventional pickguard one could have a pretty nice full sized country club type guitar. They are after plywood guitars with a spruce veneer so it's not like you'd be desecrating a solid wood acoustic archtop.

2

I know folks who would string you up for the mere mention of that...and others that would buy you a beer for it.

See you at the bar.

3

Nothing is sacred

4

As I've shown in various threads regarding vintage Gretsch archtops from the '30's - '50's Bernie, I consider many that have the cheapest of hardware and ugly finishes, merely a nice mule to be upgraded as most have a carved top as a valued starting point. To me, the same reasoning applies to some of the more upscale archtops of the '50's that received the laminated top when they became an electric model. Use them as a platform to upgrade to your heart's content! You aren't desecrating a 6120 or Falcon so go for it!

5

Opinions wil vary, but one thing for sure, you will be devaluing the guitar, and a somewhat rare one too. You could sell it for a decent price in its original condition and buy yourself a nice Country Club or other model to suit your needs/taste.

6

Let's see a picture of the Convertible you are thinking of desecrating Toxo, just so I can see what I'm going to prison for ...

7

A Sal Salvador/Convertible is, as far as I know, NOT akin to a Country Club but akin to a Fleetwood (carved top) or Constellation (laminated top) inasmuch as the Convertible is about 3 1/2 inches thick and not 2 3/4 inches as is a Country Club

8

I'm pretty sure the 50s clubs are the same body dimensions, I could be wrong, however they do seem to be laminate tops. From the same year I m betting Gretsch just used the same body templates etc. These are factory made guitars and while they are nice guitars unto themselves,in my opinion, for anything other than sitting down and playing some soft jazz the whole one heavy pickup hanging off a fretboard arrangement seems less than ideal. Also they sell for at least half of what a 50s country club or electro 2 goes for. So you couldn't really just sell one and buy a club with the proceeds. Some of us just don't have the big bucks to spend on what has become a hugely inflated market for lovely older guitars. Personally I'd rather see a guitar modified and played rather than enshrined in a collection.

9

I've always believed in the notion of "Make It Your Own".

Think in terms of the mods Chet made to his D'Angelico acoustic archtop (THE Holy Grail of guitars, IMO).....

10

Your guitar---do with it what you want. Just remember, you probably won't get your money out of the mods in a resale.

11

I've always believed in the notion of "Make It Your Own".

Think in terms of the mods Chet made to his D'Angelico acoustic archtop (THE Holy Grail of guitars, IMO).....

– senojnad

Point, set and match Dan! Far better to have a nice vintage guitar upgraded/modified and then used, than as Bernie says, sit unplayed in a collection.

We should make a differentiation between what's considered modding and upgrading. This isn't going to produce a definitive definition of either term because both terms are a moving target. For instance, replacing a low end tailpiece and bridge on a low end vintage archtop as I often ask about, with a more high end version is to me, an upgrade. Same for swapping out cheap tuners for high end versions vintage or newer....an upgrade. Putting a second pup on a guitar with only one could be considered both an upgrade and/or a mod. Putting permanently affixed pups requiring drilling holes on an archtop that started out as just an acoustic, is to me, more mod than upgrade but a bit of both.

Tastefully done upgrading or modding doesn't to me, necessarily mean that you've lowered the value of a guitar. I believe a great deal of what constitutes lowering a value depends on what vintage model you're dealing with. Well done mods to say a Constellation may not affect the value at all or even increase it slightly whereas altering a CC, 6120, Gent or Falcon will most surely affect the value severely in a negative fashion.

12

I found that with my many experiments that just because I thought something was cool, doesn't mean anyone else will --and certainly not pay for the coolness. If it just your time / labor that's one thing but still you will take a hit for sure if you go to sell it.

13

One of the best acoustic guitars I've ever had the privilege of playing was a '57 Convertible. They come with carved, bookmatched, solid spruce tops and have a depth of 3.25"+/-. Clubs have laminate tops and are 2.75" (except for the pre-CC Electro II's which were thicker.) A Sal rarely ever goes for under $3K -- around the same price as a decent vintage Club. Before you consider chopping it, make sure you want to keep it -- because you will lose money trying to re-sell it. A more interesting mod would be to add a second floating pickup and re- do the pickup mounted controls. You would probably keep a lot of the acoustic properties and have a unique guitar. That Fleetwood is still on the 'verb for a decent price; get that and two Dearmond monkey-on-a-sticks and you'd probably get the same tones.

Okay, I'm biased: a '57 Convertible with a 24.6" scale (unobtanium) is a dream guitar.

14

No Affiliation With Seller.

This just popped up on the 'verb: it's a '56 or '57 judging by the TRC, but they do give an "SR#" of 15840 which is from the first batch of Convertibles. I've never seen one this cheap; the '57 I tried out 15 years ago was selling for $2500. It's not a '65; by then the Sals had a HiLo and were probably mounted directly onto the top. Even with parts swapped out (the Dyna is too shiny), this is a deal.

Edit: Actually, the polepieces look chamferred like vintage Dyna's. All the modern ones aren't. The bridge on this seems to be vintage correct as these didn't come with Melitas. Sigh. I wish my wrists liked 25.5" scales.....

15

No Affiliation With Seller.

This just popped up on the 'verb: it's a '56 or '57 judging by the TRC, but they do give an "SR#" of 15840 which is from the first batch of Convertibles. I've never seen one this cheap; the '57 I tried out 15 years ago was selling for $2500. It's not a '65; by then the Sals had a HiLo and were probably mounted directly onto the top. Even with parts swapped out (the Dyna is too shiny), this is a deal.

Edit: Actually, the polepieces look chamferred like vintage Dyna's. All the modern ones aren't. The bridge on this seems to be vintage correct as these didn't come with Melitas. Sigh. I wish my wrists liked 25.5" scales.....

– lx

That is a lovely example for the price. I thought I got lucky buying mine (first batch) for $2k but this one is shiny. The shiny paint on the neck heel and fresh looking gold plating in places suggest it has been restored at some point - but then why not replace or at least repair the pickguard?

Anyhow, I reckon these guitars have a character of their own. Having tweaked mine so that the pickup doesn't touch the top of the guitar at all, so acoustically it is strong compared with the electric models. Electrically it really bites as the pickup is close to the strings, but still very playable through an amp. Probably needs a slight neck angle adjustment to give a bit more space between the pickup and strings if I were to play jazz. Never will be a high quality guitar but nothing else quite behaves the way this thing does.

Personally I think it would be a shame to do irreversible mods to a 6199, especially a clean original example. Plenty of other guitars out there to modify that are more common. But rarity and cool visuals don't equate to high value in the case of the Convertible, yet!

16

I have mixed feelings here. How many times has someone posted a PSA about a vintage piece and then people lament that it's too bad that it was modified? Better done if you plan on keeping it imo.

18

One of the best acoustic guitars I've ever had the privilege of playing was a '57 Convertible. They come with carved, bookmatched, solid spruce tops and have a depth of 3.25"+/-. Clubs have laminate tops and are 2.75" (except for the pre-CC Electro II's which were thicker.) A Sal rarely ever goes for under $3K -- around the same price as a decent vintage Club. Before you consider chopping it, make sure you want to keep it -- because you will lose money trying to re-sell it. A more interesting mod would be to add a second floating pickup and re- do the pickup mounted controls. You would probably keep a lot of the acoustic properties and have a unique guitar. That Fleetwood is still on the 'verb for a decent price; get that and two Dearmond monkey-on-a-sticks and you'd probably get the same tones.

Okay, I'm biased: a '57 Convertible with a 24.6" scale (unobtanium) is a dream guitar.

– lx

F'in computer shut down in the middle of my reply so I have to start over dammit!!! Don't you just hate that!!!

I just looked at the '55 catalogue and for the Convertible says "Close-grained choice spruce top"......not carved. Elsewhere in the same catalog for their custom only archtops, the Fleetwood and Eldorado, it says "For the thin tops we use choice, close-grained spruce carved from the slab and graduated for tone like a master-made violin." With the clear & specific expanded verbiage for the custom guitars, I conclude that the Convertible isn't a carved top....solid & pressed perhaps but not carved. The CC a model well above this didn't rate a carved top so why would this model be? The Constellation, the mass produced acoustic model below the custom Fleetwood & Eldorado didn't get a carved spruce top either.

Now what's a mystery to me, is the verbiage in Ed's book, pg 77, that says "...in the '59 Gretsch catalog as a sunburst brown finished model with a Filter'Tron pickup, carved spruce top, and.....". I find it very odd that Gretsch would reverse directions, making the '59 model a carved top, which is more costly to manufacture and for a guitar that wasn't considered one of the top-end models, when we know Gretsch was one of the most penny-pinching companies of the day and were looking to find ways to curb costs, not expand them.

I'd like more info on the later '50's Convertibles regarding what the top actually was.

The Convertible is a real enigma, IMO. On one hand they float the pup so as to retain an acoustic flavor but then cut a hole in the top to facilitate the long pole pieces!! The entire point of the floating style pup and the very reason it was invented was to provide the benefits of a pup(s) without having to cut a hole for them and the related screws! Cutting a hole - other than the f-holes of course - in the top of an archtop guitar is universally considered a derogatory practice so adding a second pup to one isn't going to affect the sound IMO.

If there was a Convertible in rough shape and you restored it and added a pup, I myself can't see where you'd lose money.

19

Let's see a pic of what your thinking about modding.

Here's mine #15844 Link

20

It's hard to pin down the features of Gretsch guitars strictly from their catalog descriptions. All I can offer up is my experience actually playing them. Why they don't hype one feature or another is entirely subjective. Example: all Gibson archtops from the '50's feature 20 frets -- the exceptions being the Byrdland and the 300 series. Almost all Gretsch guitars are 22 (or later 21 frets.) Gretsch never hyped this fact but they could have. My only point here is that single pickup Gretsches are unique -- and before you hack them up to make yet another 2-pickup guitar -- think twice.

Conventional thinking is that a single pickup guitar is less than a guitar with two pickups; I challenge that assertion. The extra "air" with a single pickup guitar adds something extra to the tone -- something that can't be compensated with a second pickup. It's as dramatic a shift as the difference between a conventional hollowbody and a Jet.

21

Well I've asked a couple forum members, one who was able to check and include a photo, and I've examined one first hand. Both early models, mid 50s with original DeArmond pickups and both were definitely sprice laminate tops and both had jagged looking rectangular holes to accomodate the DeArmond poles. Hardly something you'd do to a quality carved top acoustic. i'll include photo sent to me by a member. I dpn't see why some would be plywood and others 'bookmatched solid carved spruce tops'. Out of curiousity where did that info come from ? Do you have pictures of the pickup hole on your model? If it's solid spruce I'd love to see it! Worry not, I don't 'hack' into anything, I'm a trained luthier, though I don't do it for a living. Also as I mentioned you can surface mount a DeArmond 2000(the ones they call dyna lites) which at vthe worst would use 2-4 tiny screws and at the best 2 sided foam tape, which works great and can be made to look just like a black shim. To me a plywood acoustic, is an inferior acoustuc instrument but an excellent platform for an electric guitar. When I play guitar i use all the different pickup sounds my guitar can produce regularly and switch between pickups and combinations live within songs, It's part of my palette as a guitar player and as a songwriter and arranger. While I don't know exactly what you mean by 'air' as it is a subjective term, I would happily concede that the plywood top with move easier with less weight mounted on it. probably be a bit louder acoustically. the one I tried while a cool guitar hardly seemed to be a high end acoustic archtop nor did it sound like a purpose built solid wood archtop, Despite it's size it was quieter and less lively. In other words it sounded like the plywood instrument it was.

22

"Out of curiousity where did that info come from ? Do you have pictures of the pickup hole on your model? If it's solid spruce I'd love to see it!"

I'd love to see that too! That would be a decent archtop, superb if it doesn't have that pup hole in it.

Putting another hole in a Convertible's top isn't a big deal in my mind only because there's already a big honkin' hole in it! To say you'd be better off to mod a Fleetwood, a truly rare model with a for-sure carved solid spruce top, than a laminate top, low end model doesn't make any sense to me. And having it called the Sal Salvatore model doesn't carry any sway in today's world. Chet's name still does because he was one-of-a-kind and models he played 60 years ago are highly valued today and his legacy is so strong they're still being made today. Not so with Sal's model, which is just a forgotten memory. To me, one of those would have to be near mint to command $2K. YMMV.

I agree with Bernie, a vintage laminate (plywood) top model makes a very good platform for an electric, not so much for it being deemed a superb acoustic archtop.

23

This is not to say that the convertibles aren't lovely guitars unto themselves and I do appreciate all the insight offered. I will say that though the one I was looking at has quite good paint, all originl hardware, plays well and is mostly functioning electronically (the wiring has deteriorated due to a loose pick guard), it does have one major flaw that would dissuade most collectors and many players despite being a fine playing instrument. It's not like I'd be altering a pristine perfect holy grail of collectors gretsch Convertibles. Admittedly I only appreciate collectors if they are also avid players and the instruments get played. It always saddens me to hear of guitars stored away unused in vaults or similar circumstances. Most Country clubs that I see are upwards of $4000 US. There was a 50s 6192 locally that was selling for $4200 Can and perhaps I should've bought it, but the sunburst models don't turn my crank as much

24

The 1959 catalog refers to them (by that time, the Sal Salvador model) as having carved spruce tops. Take that for whatever it's worth.

25

"Out of curiousity where did that info come from ? Do you have pictures of the pickup hole on your model? If it's solid spruce I'd love to see it!"

I'd love to see that too! That would be a decent archtop, superb if it doesn't have that pup hole in it.

Putting another hole in a Convertible's top isn't a big deal in my mind only because there's already a big honkin' hole in it! To say you'd be better off to mod a Fleetwood, a truly rare model with a for-sure carved solid spruce top, than a laminate top, low end model doesn't make any sense to me. And having it called the Sal Salvatore model doesn't carry any sway in today's world. Chet's name still does because he was one-of-a-kind and models he played 60 years ago are highly valued today and his legacy is so strong they're still being made today. Not so with Sal's model, which is just a forgotten memory. To me, one of those would have to be near mint to command $2K. YMMV.

I agree with Bernie, a vintage laminate (plywood) top model makes a very good platform for an electric, not so much for it being deemed a superb acoustic archtop.

– Windsordave

Thanks Dave However I didn't say it was a "Low end model" Quite the contrary I think it was meant to be one of Gretsch's high end models but with particular features. It certainly had all the same trim and acoutrements of gretsch's other high end models of the time. grover imperials, fancy multibound fretboard, bound F-holes etc.


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