Gretsch Guitar Pickups
From about 1949 to 1957 Harry DeArmond’s “Dynasonic” pickups were standard on almost all electric Gretsch guitars, with the exception of the Convertible model.
DeArmond Dynasonics – at least in their Gretsch iteration – use black-faced single coils, with poles adjustable by a separate set of screws. Because they have a row of screws and a parallel row of poles, they are sometimes mistaken for humbuckers.
The earliest examples were called “Fidelatone” rather than “Dynasonic”.
Dynasonics are the pickups used by many famous Gretsch players, including early Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Billy Zoom. George Harrison’s Duo-Jet also had Dynasonics.
In the modern era, the DeArmond name has been dropped, for obvious reasons, and Dynasonics (aka “Dynas”) are offered in many professional line models.
Aftermarket replacements are made by TV Jones, who offers the “T-Armond”, and Seymour Duncan.
Typically found on Electromatic models, the DeArmond 2000 is a lower-cost variation on the classic Dynasonic.
Early "smooth" FilterTrons
FilterTrons are dual-coil “humbucking” pickups, developed by Ray Butts at the request of Chet Atkins, who was not particularly fond of Dynasonics. Historical accounts indicate that the Gretsch humbucker design actually predates Gibson’s better known humbuckers, but Gibson filed for — and received — a patent first.
Filter’Trons typically have less twang than a Dynasonic. Brian Setzer usually plays with Filter’Trons (also called “Filters”), and George Harrison’s Country Gentleman was equipped with FilterTrons. Chet Atkins was the first FilterTron user, since Butts developed them for him, and he continued to use variations throughout his tenure as a Gretsch player.
The earliest FilterTrons were used from very late 1957 for the ‘58 model year and have no markings on their covers and a smooth plastic frame. These were only used in 1958, from approximately serial number 265xx until about 285xx.
'58-60 "Patent Applied For" FilterTron
Beginning in 1958 and through about 1960 FilterTrons had “Pat. Applied For” stamped on the metal pickup cover, but the smooth plastic frame remained.
These began around serial number 285xx and were used until about 367xx.
Vintage "Patent Number" FilterTron
Sometime in 1960, around serial number 376xx, the FilterTron patent number appeared. That’s US Pat. No. 2892371, for you trivia buffs, and it was stamped on right on the pickup cover of all FilterTrons from that point on, except for when plain-topped HiLoTron style covers were used.
Ridged plastic pickup surrounds were introduced at the same time as the patent-number covers.
In the modern era, Gretsch has offered re-issue FilterTrons with both ceramic (most 90s guitars) and alnico (HS) magnets.
The SuperTron was a variation on the FilterTron used from 1964-1980. It had a blade spanning its full width instead of individual polepieces, and it was usually used on higher-end models such as the Viking and Country Gentleman, although it also turned up on the Monkees model.
The SuperTron was designed to be a bit hotter than a FilterTron and to retain volume when strings were bent, but it never really caught on.
The modern-era 6122-1959 features a TV Jones SuperTron Classic neck pickup. It is the only modern Gretsch fitted with a SuperTron. TV will be happy to sell you one, though.
Like the SuperTron, only with thin multiple blades making up the polepiece bars.
From 1970 through 1981 Baldwin shaved a few pennies by putting FilterTrons in the same open-top metal frames as HiLoTrons. Polepieces were hidden under a black plastic cover, making these FilterTrons a bit sleeker looking, and much more difficult to adjust.
FilterTrons from this period were often fitted with cheaper ceramic magnets rather than Alnico, and tend to have a higher output than their ‘50s and ‘60s counterparts.
In 2010, Gretsch began re-issuing blacktop FilterTrons for use on Electromatics. They were first seen on the Tim Armstrong model, then later on the new line of Electromatic Jets introduced in 2011.
Modern Ceramic FilterTron
Gretsch used ceramic magnets in FilterTrons through the 90s rather than the Alnico magnets used through the vintage years. To most ears, the ceramic magnets give a harsher, edgier sound.
After Fender began managing operations, Alnico magnets returned as “High Sensitive” (HS) FilterTrons.
Modern High Sensitive (HS) Filtertron
Gretsch HS FilterTrons use Alnico magnets rather than ceramic, as most modern FilterTrons did, at least in the pre-Fender era. Alnico magnets are generally considered to give them a better, more vintage sound.
Single-coil HiLoTron pickups were introduced in mid-1960 and used on various Gretsch models — usually cheaper, entry-level guitars — through about 1980.
Essentially a single-coil version of the FilterTron, HiLoTrons have a reputation for being weak. The reputation is largely undeserved, although HiLoTrons can definitely be finicky to work with.
George Harrison was easily the best-known HiLoTron player, and they played a prominent role in his Tennessean sound in the mid-‘60s.
In 2001, TV Jones began working on re-issue HiLoTrons, and Gretsch finally released new HiLoTrons on reissue Tennesseans in 2002 and has since carried them over to other models, notably Anniversaries.
Modern HiLoTron-equipped guitars all carry an “HT” model designation.
DiMarzio or generic humbucker
From 1976-1981 DiMarzio or generic Japanese humbuckers were fitted to many models. Guitars fitted with these pickups just aren’t very Gretsch-like, generally speaking, and have been mostly overlooked by both players and collectors.
The good news is any Gibson-type humbucker drops right in, including some FilterTron soundalikes made by TV Jones.
Used on modern Electromatic models.
Used on some modern Electromatic models, notably the modern Corvette/CVT.
Gretsch used a floating single-coil on some archtops, including the 100-CE and CEBK, as well as some of the Historic series.
White Clipper Transitional
One of the rarest Gretsch pickups is this unit, used on very early Clippers in part of 1959 and 1960. They were only use for a few batches.
Gretsch had stopped buying DeArmond pickups, and the HiLoTrons Clippers are usually known for weren’t ready yet, so n the interim Gretsch used these soapbar-like single-coils.
Dan Duffy, who supervised quality control at Gretsch for years, says pickups like these were kept on hand for special runs.
“There were quite a few different pickups like this back then. A store probably ordered 12 or 24 pieces made up on special order. Pickups like these were available from Fred’s wholesale musical instrument and music accessory business located down on the 7th floor. They also came in black and some even had small pole pieces. They were a install-yourself item or the store tech would do it for you. Orders with a different pickup setup were honored back then.”
The Clipper was the only Gretsch to use them as a standard, from-the-factory fitting, and is the only guitar they’re seen on today.
Used on many modern Gretsch acousics, often with a Fishman pre-amp.
Gretsch lap steels use a single-coil pickup found on no other models.
Found on Eddie Cochran and similar models.
TV Jones "Dual FilterTron"
Used on the 6114 New Jet, these pickups were an effort at making a hotter, more modern FilterTron Early examples can be spotted by their flat black tops, without polepieces. Later examples had polepieces but still differ visually from normal FilterTrons.
The MagnaTron was an attempt to build a Dynasonic style pickup in a FilterTron type shell. From TV Jones: “The MagnaTron’s special tone is the result of staggered cylinder magnets, using a blend of alnico grades. With the magnets so close to the strings, note attack is extremely quick. The tone is quite aggressive, with exceptional pop and clarity on single-notes. This is perfectly balanced by the full tone inherent in its dual-coil design, which provides hum-cancelling operation as well.”
TV Jones Classic
TV Jones, who gained early fame as the guru who worked on Brian Setzer’s guitars, is an independent manufacturer of pickups, many of which are targeted for the Gretsch user. His “Classic” pickups are widely thought to be closer in their sound and specs to original FilterTrons. They were first seen on the 120th Anniversary model.
Used on the 6128B bass.
TV Jones PowerTron
Hotter than normal FilterTrons.