Vintage Gretsch Guitars

Vintage guitar repair and tweaking (the Golden Road to Unlimited De…

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This is a story about a 1959 Double Annie that I purchased in 2009...

It's also a thread about the journey — a (sometimes very long) road we go down, in order to bring a vintage Gretsch back to life. It's a journey that starts with making the guitar playable and reliable… then enjoyable… and eventually (if we're lucky) incredible. The end goal is a really refined instrument that plays like butter and sound outrageous.

Disclaimers and other stuff:

  • I realize this is a hell of a laundry list, so if I'm batshit crazy for posting this, I apologize

  • Many here know I'm not super-handy... I am OK with the little stuff — basic setups and various adjustments — but fretwork, electronics and advanced stuff I leave to the pros.

  • I tend to go for high-level players, with the aim of getting them as right as possible. However I’m not obsessed with precise period-correctness.

  • Today, the journey seems to be finally completed. So I thought this might make a fun read, and a place to tell similar stories.

I know I speak for many here when I say there is a rare kind joy in it. Maybe it’s more than a hobby, I dunno. Anyway thanks to everyone who helped this one get there, the advice and wisdom and generosity here are incredible. And so it is that after 8 years (nearly as long as I've been a member here), I finally feel this great Brooklyn guitar really is all that... truly right.

The journey begins the summer of '09, when I buy a 1959 Sunburst Double Anniversary on eBay. Because it’s a local auction, I am able to go see and briefly play the guitar. I decide to go for it, and I make a winning bid...

  1. I get it home, and discover after closer inspection it has some issues, but generally I’m very happy (no buyers remorse).
  2. Quickly discover when playing at volume that the guitar feeds back excessively. Curt determines the trestle bracing has come unglued.
  3. Trestle bracing shimmed (by Curt) - feedback problem 100% corrected √
  4. Worn frets 1-7, replaced with matching vintage frets... local luthier does fantastic job, i'm again very happy. √
  5. Same luthier tries to correct moderate to heavy fret buzzing on frets 11-15... luthier has less success. Problem 40% corrected.
  6. First love, then gradually end up hating the Space Control bridge. Great for bridge spacing, but agree with many here that it is the Ultimate Tone Suck.
  7. Based on prior experience with the amazing magic of Tru Arc bridges, I decide it would be fantastic idea to install a TA. This requires removing the original bridge base, since the 1959 Space Control bridge pole distance is 1/32” off.
  8. Install newer bridge base and TA bridge (Stainless Steel). It beats the hell out of the Space Control bridge, by a mile. But... the action is now much higher because the newer bridge base is thicker; requires lowering thumbscrews to maximum depth (not quite low enough)
  9. Some time later, eagle-eyed friend and Gretsch expert Fred Stucky notices the non-vintage base and advises going back to 1959 base; he throws in a 60s bar bridge as a gift (thanks Fred!).
  10. Swap Tru-Arc for the thinner’59 base and the bar bridge. Experience immediate happiness…. action is amazing. Thumbscrews have tons of room to spare. √
  11. Decide it is high time for a Bigsby. Do research. Stumble on GDP member Danman’s custom-fabricated Bigsby tailpiece option — a hand cast blank tail (no holes), which eliminates any need for drilling more holes in the guitar body.
  12. Decide I am totally obsessed with this option and vow never to drill new holes… in short I must do this even if it means it will take months (it does).
  13. Begin long-ensuing heavy email contact with Danman, who is coincidentally placing a last order of Bigsby tailpiece blanks. Take very scientific measurements using a micrometer, and place a serious order that is so detailed the only thing lacking is a CAD diagram (fringe benefit, we become good friends in the process)
  14. Custom tailpiece arrives, so I have it drilled to match original holes and installed with a new B6 assembly. It is done to a tee - a smashing success! √
  15. Same repair person also does more fret dressing to minimize the buzzing… a good bit better, but it is still not right.
  16. Deciding a Duane Eddy arm is a good upgrade, I order-and-add it to the B6 myself and again experience much happiness. √
  17. Order replacement gold pick guard from Paul Setzer (old pick guard too cracked).
  18. Install it, then decide I don’t really go for the gold, so I eventually replace it with a black guard (white Gretsch lettering)
  19. Decide what would really look cool is a black guard with the white Chet Atkins signature signpost and white Gretsch lettering. Get one via Joe Carducci (thanks Joe), and install it. It looks amazing! √
  20. Raise neck pickup 1/8” for improved tone √
  21. Replace faulty neck pickup pot. √
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Sounds normal to me.

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Dammit, I knew I was batshit crazy.

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Was a real treat to play that Anni today Paul. Its a goodun. I have never played a anni as good as yours.

But----Look forward to the 299XX orange one guitar thread. and we need need to have batch mate photos for that thread.

And yeah how about photo ?

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You are one finicky motha smurfer.

Haha!

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You are one finicky motha smurfer.

Haha!

– crowbone

I had to twist his arm off to allow me to adjust the truss rod on his 6120.

the result was good--

We are all old finicky dudes at this stage of our pickin careers. I was just being an enabler....

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I had to twist his arm off to allow me to adjust the truss rod on his 6120.

the result was good--

We are all old finicky dudes at this stage of our pickin careers. I was just being an enabler....

– Gasmoney

The result was better than good Fred. Many thanks. I need to listen to my wiser elders more (not that you're older than me).

Finicky as a damn cat, that's me.

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I just have a few more grestch dog years than you--

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Great account Red and a fine looking guitar.

Danman is a saint and has helped me enormously with my 1960 Anniversary restoration/conversion. Really couldn't have done it without him.

I love how you have personalised and sympathetically tweaked your guitar to get it it to do what you need it to do.

Hoping to finish up mine this week.

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All sounds fairly normal and familiar to me Redrocker, if you want a vintage guitar as a player, and you want it just right, it takes some eh...finicking! (or is that finickying?) Been through a very similar process a number of times, and worse too.

Shuggie, wow! Very promising looking!

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Thankfully, it was a guitar and not a house...

That being said, "Good for you!"!

What about this other orange one?

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What a beautiful story. It couldn't happen to a more worthy picker. I am inspired.

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Great story Paul! I agree with the finicky part. It's a process to get old guitars to do exactly what you want but it's worth it! They are meant to be played and you can only do that well if you get everything the way you want it to be.
And the pleasure was all mine (as in the case with Shuggie). I love talking about and tinkering with vintage guitars and love it if I can be of help, however small the amount! And in the process we became good friends! What more could anyone wish!

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Thankfully, it was a guitar and not a house...

That being said, "Good for you!"!

What about this other orange one?

– Twangmeisternyc

It's a '59 6120 for sale on eBay last April... Ed Ball posted it and the price was low enough I couldn't resist. Another player with a good pedigree.

That thread here: Link

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Great story and guitar.

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Totally normal, Paul!! And enjoyable to read, also!!


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