With a brand-new pickup arrangement, a Bigsby and a calming chunk of pine running down the middle, this semi-acoustic aims to nail the best of the old and the new. Review by Marcus Leadley
Semi-acoustic electric guitar. Made in Korea
Contact: Fender GB&I – 01342 331700 – www.gretsch.com
If any guitar maker succeeded in capturing the essence of the 1950s, it had to be Gretsch. As Gibson delivered conservative brilliance and Fender sketched the future, Gretsch embraced the era of Cadillacs, rockabilly and Nashville-style country music with a vengeance. They might not always have been the best-crafted guitars, but they looked great and came loaded with gadgets and studded with switches and knobs. While the company modified and refined its models in the 1960s, Gretsch styling remained, for the most part, pretty consistent. The less than successful restyled models of the subsequent Baldwin era were largely forgotten when the company started to reinvent itself in the late ’80s. The Gretsch catalogue today is all about classic models for different budgets – from the lower-cost South Korean Electromatics all the way up to US Custom Shop beauties at three times the price.
The G5620T Center-Block is differentiated from regular Gretsches in a number of ways. First there’s the spruce centre block running the whole length of the body – a feedback-busting approach which puts the guitar in the same class of thinline semi-acoustics as the Gibson 335. Traditional Gretsches are fully hollow and feedback can be a problem once you move beyond smaller gigs; Billy Duffy famously had to stuff T-shirts and cotton wool into his White Falcon. Rather than two Filter’Tron humbuckers, this model sports a Filter’Tron in the bridge position and a Super HiLo’Tron at the neck, which is voiced for ‘clean, high-end sparkle with a robust low end’.
It’s a dual coil pickup so it’s low noise, but designed to deliver more of a classic single-coil sound.
The single-cut body is classic Gretsch. With full, rounded curves and a depth of 44.45mm, it feels like there’s plenty of guitar to hold onto. The Georgia green finish is quite a statement, both subtle and OTT at the same time. The catseye soundholes are shared with the three-pickup G5622T-CB, and hark back to models like the 6117 of the mid-’60s.
The body is made from a five-ply maple laminate, and the maple neck is topped with a buffed rosewood fingerboard, nicely bound so the edges feel smooth and comfortable. This is a 22-fret guitar with the neck joining the body under the 14th fret. Upper octave access is therefore somewhat restricted, but you don’t buy a Gretsch to widdle. Nor do you buy one for dive-bombing; the vintage style Bigsby is purely for gentle vibrato – especially as the guitar has a standard tunomatic.
Modern Gretsch guitars are not overloaded with switches but we still have an additional master volume as well as the independent tone and volume controls for each pickup and a three-way selector. To my mind, three volumes is asking for trouble; it’s awfully easy to knock something and find yourself with a reduced output. The only real benefit of a master volume is that you could set an independent blend of bridge and neck pickup and then turn this up and down using the master. That’s a pretty specialised option. It’s certainly convenient having a volume control on the forward lower bout – why not simply do away with the other two?
One of the things that has always defined the Gretsch sound is the company’s own pickups, and I’m glad to say these carry on the tradition. Compared to the Gibson PAF or P90 they are relatively low in output, so to get the same sonic result you do need to turn up a bit. The benefit is quite apparent because there’s a particular form of bright sparkle that’s hard to get from any other guitar.
With a valve amp to add some warmth you arrive in classic pop territory – great for clever, articulate George Harrison chord combinations, country, or folk sounds great. Ragtime-influenced fingerpicking is delivered well, but for that super-smooth ‘60s Chet Atkins tone you’d need a Filter’Tron in the neck position.
The pickups are very complementary. The Filter’Tron is slightly more mid- forward and a little bit more vintage-sounding; the Super HiLo’Tron has an even tonal response with the hint of a mid-scoop and a pianoesque richness. I found myself favouring this over the slightly boxier Filter’Tron for rhythm.
Unfortunately the tone controls are ineffective; nothing happens until you reach 9/10th of the travel, at which point you’re rewarded with an audible click and the guitar equivalent of budget vegetable soup. This could easily be sorted out post purchase (but at this price point you shouldn’t have to), especially because the basic pickup sounds are really good.
As this G5620T-CB is directly marketed as a high-gain-friendly Gretsch, this is the obvious next step – and, yes, you can stomp on that pedal or twiddle the amp’s gain control without fear of feedback (although, to be honest, feedback is unlikely to be a problem even with a fully hollow body, unless you’re playing loud enough for the guitar and the amp to start interacting; if things start to squeal when you hit a pedal, you basically have a problem somewhere). Also, for some Gretsch players, feedback is their secret weapon: run a small amp very hot and then move to, or away from it to control the demon.
Gretsches aren’t naturally big on sustain, but master feedback and you can hang on a note all day. We had great fun with a 15W amp without deafening ourselves, so the design seems well tuned. Neither did the G5620T ‘go off’ if kept a fair distance from a cranked 100W rig, so if you really are living the life and want a semi-acoustic, this is one to check out.
Scaling back to concentrate on the sound, the guitar delivers very well. The driven Filter’Tron voice has a nice bark, great for chords and bluesy/rock leads; the Super HiLo’Tron delivers a surprising amount of bass thud, which is very pleasing. Even at high-gain settings this pickup conveys a generous amount of the guitar’s natural acoustic tone so it feels really three-dimensional and alive.
The G5620T Center-Block is a passport to the Gretsch semi-acoustic sound on a medium budget, and it’s a very likeable guitar. With vintage and Custom Shop models costing way more, this guitar is ideal for someone who wants the cool style but not perhaps to the exclusion of other options. Even in this updated form the old-fashioned design comes with some built-in limitations – such as upper neck access – so unless you are a strictly vintage-genre player it may not meet all your needs
Is it truly a Gretsch for the hi-gain rocker? Well, you can certainly play it loud without feedback, so anyone who wants to take a Gretsch onto a big stage should check it out. However, if you want to explore territory much beyond, say, Dave Grohl’s relationship to gain, a solid body would be the more practical option.