Although not as recognizable a name as Fender or Gibson, Gretsch guitars are still highly regarded among guitarists. Their guitars are played by the likes of Chet Atkins, George Harrison, and Dave Grohl.
Known for their quality in both build and tone as well as their elegant style, it’s no wonder the Gretsch name is so well respected. But are Gretsch guitars as good as everyone makes them out to be?
Let’s take a look at where Gretsch guitars are made, who makes them, and what they are made of to see if they are really as good as people say.
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The History of Gretsch
Gretsch was started in 1883 in Brooklyn, New York by German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch. The company originally focused on banjos, tambourines, and drums.
In 1916, his son, Fred Gretsch Sr. moved the company’s manufacturing to a larger factory and Gretsch started to produce their first guitars.
By the 1950s, Gretsch had become a prominent instrument brand. In 1954, the company partnered with guitarist Chet Atkins to produce the first electric guitars with humbucker pickups.
In the 1960s, Gretsch guitars saw a major increase in popularity due to George Harrison of the Beatles being a Gretsch player.
The Gretsch company was sold to Baldwin Pianos in 1967 and the company was out of Gretsch family control for nearly 20 years.
Friedrich Gretsch’s great-grandson Fred W. Gretsch became the company president in 1985, putting Gretsch back in the leadership position of the company.
In 2002, Fender and Gretsch reached an agreement to give control of the marketing, manufacturing, and distribution of guitars to Fender, while the Gretsch family would maintain ownership of the company.
Gretsch Guitar Characteristics
Similar to brands like Fender and Gibson, Gretsch guitars have a very iconic look and a signature tone. These make Gretsch guitars very identifiable and capable of standing out among the other big names.
A Vintage Look
These two elements also help to give Gretsch guitars a very vintage look, reminiscent of the 1940s and ‘50s and the early days of rock ‘n roll.
This vintage look is also a good indicator of the type of sound you can expect to hear from a Gretsch guitar.
A Bright Tone
The Gretsch tone is characterized as being open, bright, and chimey. They produce a very rich, smooth, and clean tone. Having such a great clean tone has made Gretsch guitars very popular among jazz, blues, and country guitarists.
That doesn’t mean that Gretsches are incapable of having a bite, as they are also played by big rock guitarists like Malcolm Young of ACDC, and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.
Unlike the more subtle Strat-style bridge tremolo or even Floyd Rose floating tremolo systems, Gretsch guitars use a much more over-the-top looking tremolo system called the Bigsby.
The same tremolo system has been used on Gretsch guitars since the ‘50s and they add to the vintage look of Gretsch guitars.
The Gretsch Collection
As with other guitar brands, Gretsch guitars come in a variety of different ranges, models, body types, etc.
There are four different ranges: Streamliner, Electromatic, Professional, and Custom Shop.
The Streamliner series is the entry-level range, Electromatic the mid-tier range, and finally, Professional and Custom Shop are their high-end ranges.
These ranges come in either hollow body, center block, or solid-body models of guitars. Gretsch guitars are made in Japan, Korea, the US, etc., with certain factories dedicated to certain ranges.
The entry-level Streamliner series are all made in Indonesia. These guitars are excellent for beginners and even intermediates.
They generally cost between $300-$700, making them the least expensive range of all the Gretsch guitars.
The bodies of the center block and hollow body Streamliners are made with laminated maple and the necks are nato. The solid-body Streamliners are nato wood in both the body and the neck.
The Streamliners use Broad’Tron pickups that are similar to traditional humbuckers. These pickups produce powerful mids along with smooth lows and highs.
These guitars might be the cheapest among all the Gretsch guitars, but they are still made to the same high standard and have the same distinct Gretsch tone.
The first electric guitar made by Gretsch, the Electromatic series is the companies mid-tier range. It was made by World Instrument Music Corporation in Korea. Today, solid-body Electromatics made in China.
Ranging from $400-$1400 in price, the Electromatic series is perfect for intermediate and advanced players, or players looking for a tone close to the Professional series at a more affordable price.
Electromatics are mostly made with maple wood, but there are some models that are made with mahogany and even basswood.
This series also features Filter’Tron pickups that give them a much richer and more rounded sound than the Broad’Tron pickups in the Streamliner series.
Made by hand at the Terada factory in Japan, the Professional series is considered the best Gretsch guitars.
These high-end guitars have established the tone of Gretsch guitars which have made them as iconic as their Gibson and Fender counterparts.
It is the preferred series of famous guitarists like Malcolm Young, George Harrison, and Eddie Cochran, to name just a few. These guitarists even have their own signature models of Pro-series guitars as a stamp of approval of the quality.
Made with high-quality maple and your choice of ebony and rosewood fretboards, they share the same Filter’Tron pickups as the Electromatic series.
Due to the higher quality of materials and meticulous craftsmanship, the price of a Pro-series Gretsch is naturally quite high. Expect to pay between $2300-$3900 for a Professional series guitar.
The Custom Shop
Considered by some to be rivaled only by the Professional series, the Custom Shop Gretsch guitars are the highest level of quality produced by the company.
Handmade at the Fender factory in Corona, California, the Custom Shop specializes in limited edition models, vintage recreations and tributes, and of course, custom one-offs.
These guitars are made using only the highest quality materials and electronics, which means that they’ll naturally be the most expensive of all the Gretsch guitars.
First introduced in 2004, the Custom Shop has become the pinnacle of Gretsch craftsmanship and is a way to get your own truly one-of-a-kind instrument.
Acoustics, Ukuleles, and Resonator Guitars
Apart from their extensive range of electric guitars, Gretsch also makes acoustic guitars, ukuleles, and resonator guitars.
These instruments are perfect for getting the same Gretsch quality if you’re more of a folk or acoustic-focused player.
The acoustic guitars are made with the same high-quality materials and care as their electric cousins. With maple bodies, mahogany necks, and rosewood fretboards, they cost between $169-$850.
The resonator guitars are made with either steel bodies and mahogany necks, or a mix of steel and mahogany. The ukuleles are both mahogany bodies and necks.
They’re priced between $119-$249 for the ukuleles and $299-$899 for the resonators.
Gretsch Guitars – Good or Not?
To put it simply, yes, Gretsch guitars are good.
You know how the saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for’. Gretsch guitars are certainly among the more premium brands of guitars, but not without good reason.
They are made from high-grade materials and with a lot of care, meaning that they are built to play and sound good. Because of the high-quality materials used for making the guitars, they will last almost indefinitely if taken care of.
Gretsch guitars are also well known for staying in tune longer, even compared to other high-end brands.
The guitars also look just as good as they sound and feel. I can say with certainty that there are very few Gretsch guitars that look anything short of beautiful.
Even the entry-level Streamliner series is going to be of a higher quality than something like a Squier, Epiphone, or Cort.
Granted, Streamliners are more expensive, but keep in mind that you are paying for quality. And wouldn’t you rather buy one guitar and have no regrets than have to buy two guitars, because the first one wasn’t good?
And you don’t need to take my word for it, there are many guitarists that have given Gretsch their stamp of approval over the decades.
From the company’s first collaboration with Chet Atkins in the ‘50s, followed by a collab with The Beatles, and then with modern guitar icons like Malcolm Young and Dave Grohl, Gretsch’s reputation among big-name guitarists speaks for itself.
When it comes to one of the top brands of guitars, you can’t go wrong with Gretsch if you’re looking for a high-quality instrument.
Whether you’re a professional, or you’re just starting out, the name Gretsch is a guarantee that you’re getting a guitar that looks amazing, sounds great, and plays exceptionally well.