Gretsch Tennessean

1964 Gretsch Tennessean

Although I ended November's Monthly G.A.S. Attack with the thought of a few vintage amps for this month, it was just not meant to be. In typical G.A.S. fashion, and even though several vintage amps have been procured and enjoyed, I just couldn't pass up this beautiful 1964 Gretsch Chet Atkins. With the current downturn in the U.S. economy ("official recession" per our government as of 12/1) the vintage guitar market has seen its lofty prices come back down to earth for at least awhile.

I'll admit it right up front. I've never owned a Gretsch guitar. Hard to believe, huh? I really can't give you a good reason why except that I just never gave them much thought. If anyone brought them to my attention it was Brian Setzer back in his Stray Cats days but of course many notables have slung one over their shoulders. For years my wife has urged me (yes, that is correct...she actually wanted me to buy another guitar!) to purchase one but still I never really gave them a second look.

So what changed? During a discussion with my good buddy Bob he mentioned that his parents had given him a Gretsch guitar back in the early 1960s which he used in his first band. Stored away in its original off white case with piping was his 1962 Gretsch Anniversary in a stunning two-tone "smoke" green. Bob talked about how he would stuff the f-holes with foam to reduce the feedback that they were known for. His cousin, who also played in the band, had a Gretsch White Falcon and boy did they look "groovy" in an old photo he produced. It was time to add a Gretsch to my collection.

Gretsch has a long history starting in 1883 as a tambourine company and family owned until its sale to the Baldwin Company in 1967. Always an innovator in visual appeal, Gretsch used ornamentation and color to separate itself from the competition. The Chet Atkins line was a significant part of the company's success and produced some of the most recognizable models. In 1985 the company returned to the Gretsch family and continues to produce many of their classic models.

I soon found that the more desirable vintage Chet Atkins line was right up there with many of the Gibsons of the era in terms of price. With a 2008 Vintage Price Guide range of $3200-$4400 I felt fortunate to acquire the guitar for about half of book value based on its condition that was soon to be uncovered. The guitar had not been played in years so with noisy switches and pots plus a nice layer of dust/furniture polish I spent an evening cleaning and setting her up. To my delight she came alive both in tone and appearance!

So why the Tennessean model? Well Bob's comment about feedback made me think twice about an open f-hole model so how 'bout fake ones? Now that's not something you see every day and a quick look by the uninformed does not usually produce any questions until they get close. Then, of course, it's "huh"? Then comes the feedback lesson and the, "oh, now I get it"! I find it kinda weird and wonder what the guitar would look like without them. Also this particular year added a white outline around them. Go figure! And finally, we lived inTennessee for 7 years so the model's name was rather fitting.

The guitar's walnut top finish and mahogany back/sides is stunning and mirror like as seen in the photo of its back. Available only for 1964, the deep grain and coloring looks great at a distance or up close. Some light finish checking is present but just adds to its vintage character and vibe. With a 2" body depth it's closer to Gibson's ES series of thinline hollowbodies but without f-holes, a guitar onto itself. Overall, this one is an exceptionally clean example that has been aching to be played.

Of course it sports the classic Gretsch Bigsby tailpiece with adjustable pins that go through the loop end of the strings holding them securely. Obviously not meant for the whammy bar gymnastics that I put my Ibanez JEM through, however it adds a nice touch of vibrato with gentle use. Full compliment of chrome switches and embossed knobs that give the "twang" of two Hi Lo 'tron pickups a nice amount of tonal variations. And a "standby switch" on the lower treble bout? What is that all about? Isn't that a switch on my tube amp? Very interesting.....

The thumbprint fret markers are a nice change and easier to see when playing due to their placement on the bass side of the fretboard. The zero fret was something I recall from an EKO solidbody that I owned for a bit and you'll find every so often. Open back metal buttoned tuners are exceptionally clean and hold tune fortunately. And let me not forget the Chet Atkin's signature raised gray pickguard!

From my reading, it sounds like Gretsch suffered from inconsistent quality just like Gibson and Fender during certain periods. Also that there electronics were not highly regarded and troublesome as they aged. Although not a rare bird considering its long production run from 1958 to 1980 it was an opportunity to check out Gretsch and see what I've missed all of these years. So far I'm impressed but may need to look into their solidbody models since I've decided to include a few in the collection. I doubt she'll become a primary "go to" guitar but definitely has potential for adding some new tones to lead and rhythm tracks.

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