Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Jimmy Webster: friend or foe?

1

This is something of a continuation of a different thread I started about a Webster designed guitar that I own (see "64 or 65 Gretsch Viking…I think"). There was a lot of talk there about Jimmy Webster and his design "innovations" for Gretsch during the 1960s. Some think he was a positive and others a negative force in Gretsch history. Thought it might be interesting to open unique thread on the topic though perhaps those who have an opinion on the subject have already said their piece in previous mentioned thread?

I'll put the links here again for reference: Link Link

2

I think he was just trying to be innovative for the time as it was then. Some of the stuff was not suited for The Rockity Roll music, and seems weird now but at least in one respect they were more willing to try stuff than the other companies.

3

He has to be considered a friend, IMO. He made some great things happen -- White Falcons, Chet Atkins sig models, etc. He was a great ambassador (at least based on things I've read over the years).

True -- he did get carried away with gadgets, many of which seemed to "junk up" guitars and many of which failed. But success is often the result of trying new ideas.

5

In regards to challenging the status quo or conventional thinking, I respect someone who asks the question, What if.

Honestly, I'm more familiar with Jimmy's misses than his hits. Do we have a comprehensive list?

6

In regards to challenging the status quo or conventional thinking, I respect someone who asks the question, What if.

Honestly, I'm more familiar with Jimmy's misses than his hits. Do we have a comprehensive list?

– AndyJ

this sums it up pretty well: Link

7

In regards to challenging the status quo or conventional thinking, I respect someone who asks the question, What if.

Honestly, I'm more familiar with Jimmy's misses than his hits. Do we have a comprehensive list?

– AndyJ

Yes... comprehensive list on page 67 of your 6120 book. The entire 9th chapter is dedicated to Jimmie Webster and his contributions to the Gretsch brand. Anyone who views him as anything but the key to their success in the Golden era is just not paying attention!

8

Can't win 'em all. I'd say he was trying to keep up with the times. Look at some old Guitar Player magazines---some of the ideas that people came up with were...interesting. 90% of the so called innovations died within the first year.

9

It was the 1950s... radio was already big, and TV was growing in popularity. Companies exploited these dynamic mediums to reach their buying audience. It was the dawn of the age of consumerism. People were attracted to "new and improved" products, so companies made sure to give them a steady diet of new features, finishes and function.

Jimmie Webster was a student of the automative industry and what they were doing with finish colors, annual model year upgrades, and how they marketed their product to a mostly male consumer.

Much of that translated well to the guitar biz, and Webster leveraged a similar philosophy, keeping the Gretsch product line fresh with new models, new features, and buzz-worthy artist endorsers including his recruitment of Chet Atkins to the effort!

10

Ed, as always your comments are thoughtful, interesting and very knowledgeable. I just realized that you are the author of the Gretsch 6120 book. No wonder you know. I'll pick up a copy of the book when I'm stateside (it would cost me double to ship to Spain from Amazon). Anyway, it's a pleasure to meet you (virtually speaking) and thanks for all the helpful remarks re: my guitar and the Webster story.

Cheers!

11

I was privileged to meet Jimmie Webster back about 1962, and heard him play in person. He was always pushing forward, and his unique style of playing the guitar was mind blowing to hear in person.

12

Yes... comprehensive list on page 67 of your 6120 book. The entire 9th chapter is dedicated to Jimmie Webster and his contributions to the Gretsch brand. Anyone who views him as anything but the key to their success in the Golden era is just not paying attention!

– kc_eddie_b

Silly me! I knew I had seen one before . . .

Thanks, Ed!

13

Jimmy's astute salesmanship, powers of persuasion and persistence paid off in the signing up of one Mister Chet Atkins. Personally, I LOVE Jimmy Gadgets on Gretsch Guitars. Sure, some of them are Popeil-like and downright nutty, but they add a certain cool quirkiness to the brand. If you want a straight-forward, no nonsense guitar, buy a Gibson. Websterized Gretsches are in a class by themselves.

Here's James D. Webster's 3-D business card...a 1969 Gretsch White Falcon Stereo, T-Zone, Floating Sound, Split Stereo Filter'trons, Padded back...as they said in the AAF, "The whole nine yards!"

14

Tone Twisters! The ULTIMATE in Webster-Gretschy goodness!

15

Interesting thread/s - and having occasionally read of Duke Kramer's long career with Gretsch over the decades - I'm curious if anybody knows what Duke's role was in any of this - did he come up with any of the 50s or 60s ideas himself? Paint jobs? Gadgets?

16

Jimmy's astute salesmanship, powers of persuasion and persistence paid off in the signing up of one Mister Chet Atkins. Personally, I LOVE Jimmy Gadgets on Gretsch Guitars. Sure, some of them are Popeil-like and downright nutty, but they add a certain cool quirkiness to the brand. If you want a straight-forward, no nonsense guitar, buy a Gibson. Websterized Gretsches are in a class by themselves.

Here's James D. Webster's 3-D business card...a 1969 Gretsch White Falcon Stereo, T-Zone, Floating Sound, Split Stereo Filter'trons, Padded back...as they said in the AAF, "The whole nine yards!"

– duojet55

What about the telescoping Bigsby arm? Who was behind that ?

17

Tone Twisters! The ULTIMATE in Webster-Gretschy goodness!

– duojet55

what do these things do?

18

what do these things do?

– coldfire

Break strings.

19

Jimmy's astute salesmanship, powers of persuasion and persistence paid off in the signing up of one Mister Chet Atkins. Personally, I LOVE Jimmy Gadgets on Gretsch Guitars. Sure, some of them are Popeil-like and downright nutty, but they add a certain cool quirkiness to the brand. If you want a straight-forward, no nonsense guitar, buy a Gibson. Websterized Gretsches are in a class by themselves.

Here's James D. Webster's 3-D business card...a 1969 Gretsch White Falcon Stereo, T-Zone, Floating Sound, Split Stereo Filter'trons, Padded back...as they said in the AAF, "The whole nine yards!"

– duojet55

A thing of beauty indeed! DuoJ, you've got an amazing collection of guitars. I'm curious as to what you're take on the floating sound devise is. I'm trying to get used to it on my Country Club but I'm still not sure if it's worth the trouble. From what I gather here on the forum most people end up taking it off.

20

I like to think that Jimmy Webster was the perfect guy at the perfect time for Gretsch. But he came to work for a company that had already made a name for itself with an innovative approach to guitar manufacturing. The Gretsch Synchromatics of the late '30's were touting streamlined soundholes, synchrosonic bridges, miracle necks as well as the other "seven points of supremacy." All were technical innovations; the miracle neck was all about ergonomics before anybody had uttered that word. What Webster did was to ride along postwar euphoria and amplify Gretsch's innovative direction, just as Gretsch settled on the D'Armond as it's electric voice of choice. Some of the stuff was odd and quirky but usually worked to some degree, just as a push-button transmission works on a '63 Dodge. Personally, I'd love to try out a tone-twister, even if it ends up being a string-snapper.

21

I think the perfect description of Jimmy Webster regarding the success or not of his ideas is that he was an enigma. History has shown some of his ideas were brilliant and others, no, commercially speaking. That's not to say some folks don't love his quirky ideas, those that didn't pan out.

Undoubtedly his greatest achievement was the combination of convincing Gretsch to allow Chet to design his own guitar and then bringing him into the 'family'. This shaped Gretsch as a company as well as the guitars themselves and this 'shape/look' is going strong today.

His initial design, ie uncluttered of gadgets, of the White Falcon sure turned heads when introduced and put Gretsch at the forefront of guitar design. Very nice.

His automotive background which lead to introduction of to date, unheard of for guitars, bright, solid automotive style colors. This caught the competition off guard, further solidifying Gretsch at the top of world of guitars. Good idea that's become industry standard.

The introduction of Jimmy's double cutaway concept came at a most fortuitous time as shortly thereafter, sales went beserk when George played his new CG on Ed Sullivan's show. As I said on the previous thread, this is where to me, his contributions end. While the double cutaway was innovation that was well received - answering the public's love of new and different at the time - the mute system simultaneously introduced, was not.

Helped Ray Butts develop the humbucker which became the F'tron. Huge success.

Space control bridge. Some like it but generally not a go-to model. Tone twister......not! FSU, generally disliked and short-lived. Like the mute system, an unnecessarily complicated and unnecessary feature period!

Gretsch has beaten the stereo drum several different times now and it's never really been something that's taken off.

Neoclassic inlays and padded back pad were his too but aren't of the significance of the other items.

The litmus test for Jimmy's ideas for me is Chet Atkins. If it was something he liked or thought had value, he would use it and it would have stayed in production. Jimmy's legacy seems more related to ideas considered quirky or strange rather than for the good things associated with Gretsch guitars. An enigma indeed.

22

What an imagination! Definitely in the friend category.

FWIW - duojet55's above Falcon is probably my all time favorite.

23

I own an Astro Jet, four knobs, three switches and the treble booster. It would have been better served to have three knobs and a pickup selector and the guitar sounds better without a battery in it. It's a little over-the-top, but Jimmy was trying to compete with the Stratocaster. The double cutaway (imho) was just trying to mimic the 335 without changing any tooling. It wasn't until the 70s when you got a proper 18 fret neck joint. Sure sold a lot of guitars though.

24

Dave... good recap, but I 'll tweak a couple of things. When they brought Chet in originally they didn't 't allow him to design his own guitar. The 6120 was ready to go, with the western Roundup and Rancher already in production. Chet was pretty critical of many of those 6120 features in later years. Also you lumped the development of the neoclassic inlays in with padded backs. The back pads were never seen as a desireable trait where the neos are considered by many to be one of the iconic design elements that defines the Gretsch aesthetic. Lastly Chet wasn't always consulted on feature changes. For instance the mute system was apparently applied to both the 6120 and 6122 Chet models without his approval.

25

Dave... good recap, but I 'll tweak a couple of things. When they brought Chet in originally they didn't 't allow him to design his own guitar. The 6120 was ready to go, with the western Roundup and Rancher already in production. Chet was pretty critical of many of those 6120 features in later years. Also you lumped the development of the neoclassic inlays in with padded backs. The back pads were never seen as a desireable trait where the neos are considered by many to be one of the iconic design elements that defines the Gretsch aesthetic. Lastly Chet wasn't always consulted on feature changes. For instance the mute system was apparently applied to both the 6120 and 6122 Chet models without his approval.

– kc_eddie_b

Thanks for clarifying my post Ed. With the back pad and Neo's I was kind of saying that for a lot of players they were more of a take it or leave it thing as they weren't a 'functioning' feature like the others I mentioned. The back pad was out of sight but actually the guys playing these Gretsches I ran across in bands in the '60's kind of liked them as they didn't beat up the back like Annies always seemed to be from belt buckles. I didn't mean they came together but I lumped them together because of their non-functioning duties.

I realize Chet's design input came later with the Country Gent - sorry I implied it came with the 6120.


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