The history of Gretsch guitars is a long and convoluted tale. It is safe to say that although having been around since the 1880s, the golden era for the company was the 1950s, when models like the 6120 and Duo Jet found favour with artists as diverse as Chet Atkins and George Harrison. Not really equipped to involve themselves with the heavier guitar sounds that the ‘70s and ‘80s ushered in, the models -mainly hollow body – guitars became unfashionable and by the next decade had all but disappeared. Luckily, 2003 saw the acquisition of the company by Fender, which subsequently overhauled the model range with designs and production methods more in keeping with the classic era, with period correct detailing and improved pickups. Consequently, Gretsch are now firmly established in the guitar market, with an extensive range of not only hollowbodies, but semi-acoustics and solids.
Since the takeover by Fender, production has diversified too. Gretsch guitars are now made in Japan, Korea, and as we discover with our review guitar, a G5435T Pro Jet with Bigsby, in China too as part of the Electromatic series, at what seems a very affordable price indeed.
The guitar is a tad on the heavy side, featuring a Jet-shaped basswood body with an arched maple top, a maple neck with rosewood fingerboard with a flattish 12” radius and Hump-Block inlays, and 22 medium jumbo frets. Plugging in and tuning up reveals that the machine heads are decent quality and that Gretsch has installed some meaty sounding and powerful pickups in the shape of a couple of Black Top Filter-Trons -controlled by two volume and one master tone control- with a 3-way pickup selector and the addition of a master volume knob on the lower bout in the Gretsch tradition.
This reviewer was immediately struck but just how peachy this guitar is. Anyone more used to a Les Paul will take to it immediately as the feel and balance is virtually the same and although the difference in pickups mean it can never sound like a Gibson, the G5435T has enough of its own unmistakable Gretsch identity to ensure that it doesn’t need to. There’s a gnarly bite to the bridge pickup when the guitar is plugged into a slightly overdriven amp that really hits the spot. It is far removed from the smoothness of a normal humbucker and when the amp is cranked up, the pickup sounds like would cut through the densest of mixes. Similarly, neck pickup can provides rich and satisfying rhythm tones when cleaned up or mixed together, there’s a clean Tele-like bite that is perfect for country leads or jangly strumming.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Gretsch has installed a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece which has a very smooth action and is perfect for light vibrato effects. The wide handle is an easy grab and can be pushed out of the way when not required. Some heavier strings would be a good idea to help the Bigsby to return to tune but everything else looks good and works well. The Gretsch G5435T is a little gem of a guitar and at well under £500 a bit of a steal. Made in China? Who cares?