Gretsch Guitars

Atkins in the ‘70s: Axes and Chets

The Atkins Axe was a Baldwin-era offering aimed at the rock market. Despite the name, Chet Atkins had relatively little involvement in its development.

Atkins Axes featured distinctive dice-like fret markers on a neck that was only very slightly radiused, as Atkins preferred. The 7685 variant was gray.

Atkins had wanted to name them “High Roller”, with dice engraving on the distinctive square block markers, but Baldwin management squelched that plan.

Like the Super Axe (which Atkins was much more involved in developing) the Atkins Axe used two DiMarzio pickups. On the other hand, the Atkins Axe was a much simpler guitar.

Not surprisingly, the Atkins Axe went out of production in 1980, but was resurrected in spirit — for a time — as the modern-day Gretsch Axe.

Like the Atkins Axe, the Super Axe was released in 1977 and was supposed to offer a completely modern instrument for the rock guitarist.

The Super Axe also shared its basic body shape with the Atkins Axe, but it benefitted from much more involvement from Chet Atkins, and a bevy of built-in effects.

A football-shaped pickguard held controls for an onboard compressor, phaser and sustain electronics, all powered by a nine-volt battery. Unfortunately, the electronics have failed with age on many of the Supers Axes, and schematics are extremely difficult to find.

The solid mahogany body is wide but thin, and it tapers toward the edges, making it both lighter and more comfortable to play than it might appear.

Beyond that, the general construction and hardware of the Super Axe show how Gretsch was aiming for a different sound and market, particularly the DiMarzio humbuckers and BadAss wraparound stop bridge. The more traditional buyer could order an optional Adjustamatic bridge/B-5 “Horseshoe” Bigsby combination.

For those willing to take the plunge on this unusual and rewarding Gretsch, three variations were offered: the dark red 7680 Super Axe, dark gray 7681 Super Axe and sunburst 7682 Super Axe.

Note that the Super Axe should not be confused with the much more ornate and altogether different Super Chet.

10 different models and 21 examples are in the Gretsch-GEAR database, including Atkins Axe, Deluxe Chet, Super Axe, Super Chet and Super Gretsch models.
7680 Deluxe Chet
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
Offered for awhile in the early-to-mid-70s, the 7680 Deluxe Chet was sort of a simple version of the 7690 Super Chet. The "Autumn Red"-finished 7680 featured a more ...
7680 Super Axe
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
Red.
7681 Deluxe Chet
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
Replaced the ebony-finished 7681 Super Chet.
7681 Super Chet
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
Ebony. Became the walnut Deluxe Chet from 72-75.
7682 Super Axe
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
7685 Atkins Axe
  • The rebirth years: 1988-2002
  • The Fender years: 2003-present
The 7685 version of the Atkins Axe was offered in a Gray finish. The model number was revived for a brief time in the late 90s/early 2000s. Of ...
7686 Atkins Axe
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
  • The rebirth years: 1988-2002
The 7686 version of the Atkins Axe had a Deep Red finish. Like the 7685, the 7686 was reissued for a brief time in the late 90s/early 2000s. ...
7690 Super Chet
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
The 7690 Super Chet came in an Autumn Red stain.
7690 Super Gretsch
  • The rebirth years: 1988-2002
A modern day reissue of the 70s Super Chet offered in the late 90s and very early 2000s.
7691 Super Chet
  • The Baldwin years: 1968-1987
Walnut-finished