Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Jimmy Webster: friend or foe?

26

Coldfire, the Floating Sound unit actually works well, sustain-wise, but it does take a little bit of the chutzpah from the over-all tone. I like it on the White Falcon because it's a part of the guitar.

As for the padded back, it's real function was to hide the string mute's access plate. It was marketed as being a deluxe feature for player's comfort, but that is mainly sales BS. It would really only benefit someone who holds his guitar in the classic style. For the rest of us, it's in the wrong place to prevent belt buckle rash (my stomach actually performs THAT function!) but it kind of is a cool Gretschy feature. Apparently, some players bought the sales blurb because there are quite a few Gretsches out there with padded backs, but no mutes.

Re: the Tone Twister, they are probably the least functional of any of Jimmy's ideas. A Gretsch enthusiast doesn't buy one of these for it's utility value as a vibrato, they get it for it's curiousity value as a cool Gretsch accessory. One benefit it DOES have is as a mute to prevent wolf tones from the strings between bridge and tailpiece. I have three different Twisters, a PAF, a Pat. App. no. and a gold Patent one.

27

Coldfire, the Floating Sound unit actually works well, sustain-wise, but it does take a little bit of the chutzpah from the over-all tone. I like it on the White Falcon because it's a part of the guitar.

As for the padded back, it's real function was to hide the string mute's access plate. It was marketed as being a deluxe feature for player's comfort, but that is mainly sales BS. It would really only benefit someone who holds his guitar in the classic style. For the rest of us, it's in the wrong place to prevent belt buckle rash (my stomach actually performs THAT function!) but it kind of is a cool Gretschy feature. Apparently, some players bought the sales blurb because there are quite a few Gretsches out there with padded backs, but no mutes.

Re: the Tone Twister, they are probably the least functional of any of Jimmy's ideas. A Gretsch enthusiast doesn't buy one of these for it's utility value as a vibrato, they get it for it's curiousity value as a cool Gretsch accessory. One benefit it DOES have is as a mute to prevent wolf tones from the strings between bridge and tailpiece. I have three different Twisters, a PAF, a Pat. App. no. and a gold Patent one.

– duojet55

Tone is in the PAF Tone Twister.

28

i still don't know how a tone twister works. are they visible on certain models? where were they placed? are they essentially like whammy bars? i saw a picture of them someone posted but not in place. from looking at them i couldn't even imagine...

29

As I remembered I've read somewhere that Jimmy Webster was a guitarist performing a lot on TV, I think it's strange that I've never seen a video of him playing. Are there any video recordings of him available ? Not on youtube so it seems. There are a few sound samples on https://sites.google.com/si...

30

Here's a Tone Twister mounted on my 6124 Anniversary. It basically wiggled the strings between the bridge and tailpiece, causing an ersatz vibrato effect. The original instructions for the Tone Twister called it's handle a "Slurring Arm".

31

Friend or foe? He was a businessman. He was also a keyboard guy...tuned pianos... got his start in the guitar business working for Harry DeArmond selling those pickups. Webster's iconic "touch system" was developed to demonstrate the effectiveness of those pickups. He got to be very good at this but it didn't set the woods on fire. Guitarists were amazed but the buying public just heard another guitar player playing old standards after the novelty of his approach wore off. Kinda like Thumbs Carlile. Awe inspiring to watch if you're a guitar player but on the radio he just sounded like another good guitarist and TV producers knew non-playing viewers got easily bored watching guitarists hands on the tube.

I don't think he was a competitive guitarist, meaning I don't think he ever played guitar for his core living. As I said, he was a businessman and looked at guitar designing the same way auto makers of his era looked at car design.... chrome and gimmicks were selling points. He, along with others in the business, were always on the lookout for the magic gadget (like Bigsby's vibrato) that could be exclusively patented and licensed for a steady income.

32

He does get huge credit for convincing the brass they ought to have Chet endorse their guitars but that was inspired by Gibson's stroke of hiring Les Paul to endorse theirs. There really wasn't anyone else out there playing pop music on guitar as an instrumentalist besides those two guys. And Les had Mary Ford

33

Hey Norm... so do we give credit to JW for the signing of Burl Ives as a Gretsch guitar endorser as well? Poor Burl, always the forgotten man!

34

Burl Ives? Hahaha...I had no idea. Is there a Gretsch "Ives Deluxe" model? The "Wayfaring Stranger" perhaps? Wasn't Ives a folk singer? I don't think of Gretsch as very folkie. I'm learning something new every day on these Gretsch pages. Much better than reading the newspaper online.

35

The little creatures of nature, they don't know that they're ugly!

36

In addition to breaking strings, Tone Twisters also were good at knocking a guitar out of tune in short order.

One patent that I don't think was ever infringed.

37

I hope nobody here is talking down about Big Daddy.

39

I hope nobody here is talking down about Big Daddy.

– Afire

Certainly not! I liked him in a short-lived TV sitcom from the '60's called O.K. Crackerby. He was the richest man in the world. Fun show. .....no Gretsch content or singing though.

40

I loved him as Captain Morton in "Ensign Pulver" (1964). "GIMMIE S'MORE OF THAT FROG JUICE!!!"

41

Burl Ives...

What a career. Billed as a folk singer when I doubt anyone even had an idea what a folk song was. A folk singer who was easily eclipsed by others during the folk music boom of the sixties.

Sure. Let's name our stepchild mediocre acoustic after him for a while. We can always change the name yet still have an acoustic for market share

42

Tone Twisters! The ULTIMATE in Webster-Gretschy goodness!

– duojet55

Jimmy was clipping his nails one night, thinking about guitars...

43

Maybe this idea could be adapted to modern times with Wifi enabled Tone Twitters! Want to share with the world that new riff you just came up with? Tweet it now with your Gretsch Tone Twitter!

44

Burl Ives...

What a career. Billed as a folk singer when I doubt anyone even had an idea what a folk song was. A folk singer who was easily eclipsed by others during the folk music boom of the sixties.

Sure. Let's name our stepchild mediocre acoustic after him for a while. We can always change the name yet still have an acoustic for market share

– norm van maastricht

As someone who grew up in the 60's & 70's, the mention of Burl Ives will ALWAYS trigger this image first--

45

Jimmie’s one of my heros. Guy had a lot on the ball: real musical talent, great skill as a player, salesmanship extraordinaire, both design and mechanical imagination - and the skill and chutzpah to implement it - and boundless creativity that bridged art and commerce.

Of course he swung for the fences every time, and hit a few wildly entertaining fouls along the way. He also made a lot of solid base hits, drove more than a few runs home, stole a few bases - and homered way more often than a more timid player who never took a chance.

Jimmie operated by the seat of his pants on intuition and inspired borrowings from other industries and disciplines. You can be sure he wasn’t consulting focus groups or committees along the way.

He also knew you can’t go broke underestimating the taste of the public. He raised gaudy and gadgetry to new levels. If Liberace had played a guitar, it would have been the Project-o-Sonic Stereo Falcon.

But there was real merit in that Peak Jimmie project. Stereo may still not have caught on as he imagined it (it’s just too complicated to implement and too few players have the patience for it) - but listen to his album with phones on and hear a sonic future no one else was dreaming of in 1958. He and Joe Meek should have worked together with Juan Esquivel - that could have changed music in the early 60s.

We owe JW for many of the signature design elements and technical features of classic-era Gretschs; without him, the guitars would not have the character and functionality we know them for. It's not too much to wonder if Gretsch guitars would be a footnote to the history of the instrument without his design hand, feature innovation, and promotional acumen. Even his unsuccessful ideas have the virtue of great entertainment value. (In that way, he’s much like Harley Earl, who told his designers to go too far, and then back off a little - though they didn’t always. He wanted consumers to walk around a car and be entertained the whole way.)

Gretsch was already innovative; he solidified and amplified that tendency, and turned it into a company culture.

God bless him. He done good.

46

Jimmie’s one of my heros. Guy had a lot on the ball: real musical talent, great skill as a player, salesmanship extraordinaire, both design and mechanical imagination - and the skill and chutzpah to implement it - and boundless creativity that bridged art and commerce.

Of course he swung for the fences every time, and hit a few wildly entertaining fouls along the way. He also made a lot of solid base hits, drove more than a few runs home, stole a few bases - and homered way more often than a more timid player who never took a chance.

Jimmie operated by the seat of his pants on intuition and inspired borrowings from other industries and disciplines. You can be sure he wasn’t consulting focus groups or committees along the way.

He also knew you can’t go broke underestimating the taste of the public. He raised gaudy and gadgetry to new levels. If Liberace had played a guitar, it would have been the Project-o-Sonic Stereo Falcon.

But there was real merit in that Peak Jimmie project. Stereo may still not have caught on as he imagined it (it’s just too complicated to implement and too few players have the patience for it) - but listen to his album with phones on and hear a sonic future no one else was dreaming of in 1958. He and Joe Meek should have worked together with Juan Esquivel - that could have changed music in the early 60s.

We owe JW for many of the signature design elements and technical features of classic-era Gretschs; without him, the guitars would not have the character and functionality we know them for. It's not too much to wonder if Gretsch guitars would be a footnote to the history of the instrument without his design hand, feature innovation, and promotional acumen. Even his unsuccessful ideas have the virtue of great entertainment value. (In that way, he’s much like Harley Earl, who told his designers to go too far, and then back off a little - though they didn’t always. He wanted consumers to walk around a car and be entertained the whole way.)

Gretsch was already innovative; he solidified and amplified that tendency, and turned it into a company culture.

God bless him. He done good.

– Proteus

As always, a delightful read on multiple levels, Sir Timothy.

47

I love all is goodies and finishes. I think they pretty well define Gretschs, otherwise they'd be just another plywood archtop, albeit with a nice body shape. Even the gadgets that don't work so hot usually look cool. I'd've kept my Viking if it wasn't a tobacco sunburst.

48

If all he ever did was introduce the White Falcon, then I say kudos!

49

Amazing read, thanks to all.

50

JW's employment wasn't all glitz and glamour, it was everyday work as well. My Dad met him while working in a music store in the 50s. He spent 2 or 3 days in town trying to get one of the 2 music stores in town to carry his product. He put on a couple of exhibitions with his "touch" system. I'm not sure any real musician was impressed. Like someone else said, it was kind of a novelty. Bottom line was that this was the 50s and there wasn't a whole lot of extra cash flowing around. Music stores biggest sellers were pianos and band instruments. The owner of the store probably ordered a couple of Anniversarys or an equivalent to see if they would sell. No way he was going to invest more than that. High dollar guitars didn't sell in the economy of this town. I remember the Gibson dealer had a Dove in the showroom window for about 20 years. The sun eventually faded the finish. He sold plenty of J-45s though. That was just reality. Whenever you find a high dollar guitar today that sold new in the 50s, I bet there's a great story behind the original owner. Most likely, he was a pro and paid his way playing music full time. When the White Falcon was introduced, the market for that guitar was really small. By the time the Beatles came on the scene it was a different economy altogether.


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