Vintage Gretsch Guitars

I just inherited an old Gretsch, can anyone tell me about it?

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Cool a Tal Farlow pickguard! Besides being shapely and relatively rare, that's got to be worth something by itself. Maybe your grandfather configured it that way because he liked it, if you plan to keep it in the family it's more of a family piece as is (but maybe with some basic maintenance). I always like to see a unique personalized instrument, especially if it's done tastefully like yours.

Though I can understand the motivation to bring everything back to stock, I always feel sad when instruments which in their day were meant to be played, become more curated museum pieces rather than loved and well played instruments.

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The one common theme here on the advice being offered isn't what to replace or leave alone but rather that this valuable guitar you've inherited really needs to be looked over by a top luthier who not only has vast experience with vintage archtops but must be thoroughly familiar with vintage Gretsch archtops in particular. Knowing all the nuances of the features is very important in deciding what's not original that may need addressing and what could be left alone, at least for now. Pickguards etc aside, the neck being solid is critical.

You don't live terribly far from Curt and if I were in your shoes, I'd take the guitar to him for a thorough examination and evaluation. He's the best luthier for this, hands down. He's to Gretsch guitar repair/restoration work what Ed is to knowledge on Gretsches!

My own nickel's worth - hey it's Canada and we don't have pennies anymore - is to leave the tuners and Bigsby alone as they appear period correct, even if not found on a '57 6120. I'd change the pickguard and the bridge. If you want it to play better than the original, regarding the bridge, most here will recommend a Serpentune from Tru Arc. Proteus (above) owns the company and can supply the bridge and correct base for it. Even if you find an original guard and bridge, if the headstock has extra holes for the Imperials, that's considered an irreversible modification or change and does affect value, albeit not a tremendous amount, especially if they're from the same era.

I too look forward to more pics!

Edit: Sorry but I forgot to welcome you to the website for all things Gretsch! Particularly for such a valuable iconic guitar, the symbol of Gretsch, you came to the right place for info!

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Thanks again everyone for all this information, it's a lot for a guitar newbie to take in. I don't play yet myself, but am starting to learn a little bit, using a video game called rocksmith. It's like guitar hero but you plug an actual guitar into your xbox, and it has lessons and tons of music you can download and learn at your own pace.

This guitar does work, and it works with the game, but due to that string guide missing, there's a lot of buzz and it won't stay tuned. So I bought a mexican fender strat just for playing around and learning. To my untrained eye, the neck, fretboard, and binding all look solid. Here are some more pics:

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some discoloration on the back of the neck, and on the bottom.

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and the cutaway side. Oh yeah, you guys figured it out already but I measured it and it is 16". The model number is faded and unreadable, but I'll get a better picture later

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last pic for now, I'll do the string height and fretboard that was suggested earlier next. Thanks again everyone!

I do want to learn to play this guitar, but I mostly want to pass it on in the family, I'm sure at least one of my kids will have the music gift inherited through their maternal grandfather and paternal great-grandfather. I had no idea of its value, other than sentimental. I'll be calling USAA tomorrow!

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Good man. Just go slow and get lots of advice, and it will all come right. That pickguard would be worth a few hundred bucks to a Gibson collector should you decide to put it back to stock - a an early 60's Tal Farlow model is worth 15k+ and only made for five years. Similarly, the tuners and Bigsby have a fair bit of value. You could prolly get back close to the cost of finding original parts if you choose to go that route. Terrific guitar, btw.

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yes thats a classic 57' 6120. A few mods for sure. Looks great otherwise.

youve come to the right place for all things gretsch.

I live near Curt and can give a once over if you have any interest. These 6120's are my thing.

Enjoy it.

Fred

36

Yes, the guitar looks way better than it should for a random guitar you inherited from a family member.

This was a family member who knew exactly what he was doing with his well-considered modifications, and he clearly took care of the guitar. If the pictures are doing it justice, its condition puts it easily in the upper echelons of surviving 1957 6120s. Importantly, it doesn't appear it's compromised structurally, or had bad repairs done in the past.

If you were to sell it, I don't think any collector would care about the pickguard, bridge, Bigsby, and tuners; I don't know if you'd get any more out of it with the "right" parts on it.

But since it came this way from the family, and you intend to keep it in the family, my thinking is that the "mods" done by the original owner over the years are as much a part of the history of this instrument as its original specification. You may want to preserve them for that reason.

Subject, of course, to the First Commandment (which I just made up): Thy guitars shall be playable. You've mentioned a missing "string guide;" as there's no such part, so-named, on the 6120, we're left to guess what you mean. The obvious places a guitar newbie might identify such a thing, functionally, are at the nut or the bridge. Either of those parts can be replaced without impact on the value of the guitar - and, of all the parts on this particular guitar, the bridge is actually the easiest to replace.

When the strings are loosened, it will be normal for the metal bridge and its wood base just to fall off. (Unless an additional mod has been done to the guitar, called "pinning" the bridge, they're just held on by string tension.) This is scary to beginners, but is just the way these guitars work. If you decide to change the strings, just be aware - and don't let the pieces bang around on the lovely top of that guitar.

Anyway, a new bridge (and base, if needed) will just sit on the guitar in place of that one - no screws, no holes, no tools. (Unless, again, that base - the wood part holding the actual bridge - has been fastened down somehow.)

I mention the nut and bridge because their good health will be crucial to fulfilling the first commandment. A good Gretsch tech will be able to figure out what, if anything, the guitar needs in order to play well - literally in minutes. If the guitar is in the condition it appears, addressing the bridge and nut (if needed) will be fairly trivial for the experienced tech.

Again - it if were mine, coming down from my family, I'd do the minimum necessary to make it well playable. And I'd leave Grandpa's well-considered vintage modifications alone. They made the guitar his own.

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Okay I have a few more pictures that people had asked for... they may actually show the condition of the wood a little better too. First, a better shot of the label inside. Sorry I couldn't fit my phone in the hole to take a pic of the wiring.

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Next, a better shot of the missing piece on the bridge that I was calling a string guide. It's a little wedge held in place by a brass screw. You can see the other five in place. I think someone mentioned it being called a 'saddle'?

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I tried to get a decent shot of the string height from the neck. It looks pretty even the whole way.

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a closeup of the Bigsby, which appears to be a later Bigsby than what would've come new, due to the missing screw and the patent number not being indented. (see, I'm learning!)

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That previous pic turned out nice... I think I'll make it my profile pic. Anyhow, here's the lower neck. working our way up.

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And the upper neck

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And finally, the back of the head. The tuners look to be a brand called 'Grover', and it appears the lower 2 were installed upside down compared to the other 4 for some reason.

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I'll look into the luthier you guys suggested. I live in the Washington, DC area, but I actually go up to visit friends in NJ once a year, and may be going in a month or two. Maybe I'll have time to stop there. I will definitely look into the bridge replacement you all have suggested. I think I'll need to scrape together some bucks before I can afford to get it all done though.

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Welcome. You have a beauty there and have come to the right place. You will get plenty of good advice. Don’t forget to add it to the data base.

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Yes, that's a saddle missing from the Tune-o-matic bridge - which isn't worthy of that guitar anyway.

The upside-down tuners are odd.

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Which are the upside down ones? The two or the four?

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Yes, that's a saddle missing from the Tune-o-matic bridge - which isn't worthy of that guitar anyway.

The upside-down tuners are odd.

– Proteus

Good eye! The bottom two (both E strings) I think someone was balancing out the look one gets where the tuners all look like they're on the top side of the headstock due to teh posts being offset. I think it's Hilarious It doesn't effect function but to 'fix' it you would simply swap the two Es tuners.

By the way, for now, for playing fun, most guitar stores with a repair shop would sell you one of those saddles for a few bucks. (or a whole new bridge top for a few more) They're easy to install yourself. Just don't let them talk you into anything regarding the guitar. You could even just take in the top of the bridge, very easy to remove with the strings slacked off. It's a pretty generic piece. If you're worried about the bridge moving around mark the base's location lightly with a pencil(it comes off easy)

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That is a beautiful guitar. Welcome here. You'll like it, as you already are learning. Olivia Anne

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Welcome to the GDP. Boy, when you make an entrance, you really know how to do it!

You aren't going to need much money to deal with that guitar. Just get it set up well and replace the bridge with a rocking bar bridge. The preferred RBB around these parts is the Tru-Arc bridge, and the Serpen-tune model is a great one for proper intonation. But, a Gretsch RBB will be even better than that tune-o-matic bridge on there. A replacement bridge is less than $100. It is likely that anything at the nut would be fixable and would not require a new nut. But, even if it did, that again is not a very expensive bit of work.

Please do make sure that you enter the guitar into the GDP's guitar database. If you need help answering any of the questions, Tartan Phantom will help you complete the process.

Again, welcome.


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