Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Gretsch Cowboy Songbook 1945

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Found this wonderful bit of Gretsch ephemera. Part of the "Music is Fun series", but the only other book I've seen is the Gretsch ocarina book from 1940. Harry Volpe wrote many instruction books -- even a few with pics of his Gretsches -- but no others known to be published by Gretsch. His "no-note" system is a form of tablature with a unique Gretsch twist. And check out what our campfire cowpoke is playing: a post-war Synchromatic 100. (Front cover)

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But first, Harry's going to show us how to hold and play the guitar, with pics of the rarely seen Synchro 400 archtop (not flat top!) with the triangle soundhole. If you look carefully, you can see the word "VOLPE" engraved in stacked letters on the headstock. I found a closer shot of the headstock on a Harry Volpe tribute page where you can also see the word "SPECIAL" horizontally engraved just above the nut. (Page 1)

There was another sighting of this model in a Gretsch ad from 1947 with Johnny Smith, probably with a Leutone pickup. Fred and Dinah Gretsch also made a modern version -- a blonde full-body Synchromatic G400 -- which I came across Thanksgiving weekend at the Hollywood GC in 1990; I liked it, but I was cuckoo for catseyes and didn't get it. Silly me.

Check out the drawing of a Synchro 75, aka Sierra, but this one has the Paul Pigat headstock!

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That weird thing next to each top staff line is actually a Gretsch Synchromatic headstock (labelled as such), with the strings going neatly from the white button tuners to the TAB lines. Even a musical doofus like me can follow it. (Page 8)

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And this is the icing on the cake: an ad for the Synchromatic 100 featuring Red River Dave playing his amazing Synchromatic 400F. And check out the massive pickguard: it's so huge that it needs not one, but two side brackets. There is no date in this book but there exists a promotional postcard with all of this ad copy and a cropped pic of Red River Dave postmarked 1945, so I'm assuming that this wonderful book is from around that time. (Back cover)

Recently, a couple of post-war Synchro 100s have surfaced with "Red River Dave" engraved on the Pyralin headstocks. RRD always played blonde Synchromatics, so it's hard to say what these sunburst examples were all about; another Gretsch mystery. Happy Trails!

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I Love stuff like this.

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Cool find! Thanks, lx!

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Great stuff lx! Only 5 pages...is their another at least? I'd say 1945 is about right. The headstocks on the top staffs are the shape of war-time or early post war Synchro 100 models, and that model is advertised as being "at your dealer now" on the RRD ad (back cover?).

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There are 24 pages total including detailed explanations of the "no-note" system, regular music notation, tempo and a few basic chords. The song list includes these copyright-free titles in order of appearance: She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain; The Cowboy at Church; The Texas Cowboy; The Cowboy; Whoo-pee Ti Yi Yo; Jack o' Diamonds; The Dreary, Dreary Life; Utah Carroll; The Old Chisholm Trail; Cowboy's Meditation; Red River Valley; I've Been Working On The Railroad; The Dying Cowboy; The Dying Ranger; Sweet Betsy From Pike. I'll caption the above posts. (Forward, inside front cover)

I'll go ahead and scan all the pages and perhaps when Baxter isn't so busy changing diapers he can post the entire book in the memorabilia section.

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I love this kind of stuff too, lx. It's cool to look back on how things were advertised years ago, and what's not to like about an old cowboy songbook?

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Posting the pages would be great - I'd like to get a higher-res version of a tab page that shows the headstock connecting with the tab lines.

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I seriously love this kind of stuff, thanks for sharing

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Awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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Wow man, that's great. Thanks. Wildeman

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Very nice find! I love this old Gretsch weirdness, which wasn't really weird at the time. It's just stuff that Gretsch doesn't do anymore.

I supposed that if that Gretsch Musical Comb does ever pop up on ebay, it will be you and me in a proxy fight for it.

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Very nice find! I love this old Gretsch weirdness, which wasn't really weird at the time. It's just stuff that Gretsch doesn't do anymore.

I supposed that if that Gretsch Musical Comb does ever pop up on ebay, it will be you and me in a proxy fight for it.

– Tartan Phantom

Maybe we could come to a Country Gentleman's agreement beforehand....

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Posting the pages would be great - I'd like to get a higher-res version of a tab page that shows the headstock connecting with the tab lines.

– nielDa

Here's a close-up of the Gretsch Synchromatic headstock tablature guide. The end of the bar has the strings numbered; I'll do another scan and another close-up of that later. Tablature was not around when I was trying to learn in the '70's; just inaccurate off-key transpositions, e.g. Norwegian Wood in G. Not a big deal for real musicians but quite frustrating for the beginner. If there is an earlier form of printed guitar tablature anywhere, I'd like to see it.

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Here's a close-up of Harry's Synchromatic 400 "Volpe Special". You can just barely make out the "special" below the "Volpe." His tribute page alludes to him having something to do with the design of the 400. This didn't make sense since the 400 came about 1939 when Harry was still playing a Gibson, soon to switch to the regular Synchro 400 Blonde Catseye seen on the Forward page, (probably the one Django played in '47). Perhaps he did have something to do with the triangular (aka "French") soundhole which Fred Gretsch patented in '41.


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