Gretsch Guitars and the Element of Chance

I was 17 years old when I first got the notion that I needed a Gretsch guitar. This would have been 1982, and I had seen a picture of one in a British pop rag about a best-forgotten band called Haircut 100. I also had it in my mind that Gang of Four used hollow body Gretsch’s to get that cool feedback sound that’s all over “Solid Gold”.  What did I know?

With this dubious information, I began calling guitar stores in Stockholm, asking for Gretsch hollow bodies. Bingo! Halkan’s Rockhouse had what was described as a 1964 Gretsch Country Gentleman in near mint condition with original case for 5800.00 Swedish Crowns. ($895.00) Armed with cash from my summer job at the graveyard mowing lawns I got on the train on a Saturday morning. Come Saturday evening, I was on the train back from Stockholm, guitar in hand, happy as can be.
About a year later, I thought that I had exorcised all my feedback demons, and the Country Gent was relegated to photo opportunities only. I had developed a short lived, ill-advised fascination with Fender Jazzmasters, largely because Elvis Costello was wearing one on the cover of his debut album. Ah, youth!

Fast forward to December 1988. I had made the Big Move from Sweden to America three years prior, and I was living in a tiny, drafty apartment in a sketchy neighborhood off of East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. I was about to become a member of “THE GRETSCH CLUB”. To become a member of “THE GRETSCH CLUB”, you don’t need to own a Gretsch. You only need to have SOLD a Gretsch. You also need a sob story about why you no longer HAVE a Gretsch. Yep: I sold my Gretsch Country Gent for rent money: The oldest, most tired of stories, known by many musicians and their suffering significant others. Oh well. Who needs a Gretsch anyway? I was 23 years old and NOSTALGIA had not yet tapped me on the shoulder.  The thing never stayed in tune anyway! Fast forward again, this time to 2001. Hollywood had eaten me up and spat me out. The signed band that I had played with had been met with less than stellar sales. Back in Minneapolis, I was 36 years old, and had started to get misty eyed about the past. What happened to that old Gretsch that I sold? Who owned it now? Certainly somebody far less deserving than me!

And so, the game was back on. I found a dealer in Canada with a 1969 Gretsch Country Gent with water damage and many non-original parts. No matter. All was forgiven. I had a Gretsch again!

It’s 2011 and I have a total of nine Gretsch guitars and basses. They are quirky, beautiful, impractical, old fashioned, mostly large, and pretty much the only guitar I play live. To re-string a Gretsch is kind of like folding a parachute: You probably wanna do it yourself. It is as if it’s saying: “Am I gonna stay in tune? Are you gonna make me?”
PRS makes excellent guitars, made of the finest materials. Stellar workmanship. I will never own one. I have a Gretsch bass where the “G” on the tailpiece in stamped out backwards. The binding on my second 1964 Gent is rotting and crumbling.  They all hate Minnesota winters, act up in the summer and are generally demanding and unpredictable. So why do I keep them? Why do I use them?
 

“THE ELEMENT OF CHANCE”. THAT’S WHY.

I am sitting in my studio. I have a computer and a bunch of software to make just about anything play in time and in tune. Very nice. Very helpful, but…
The best rock and roll is about barely contained chaos. It’s about the notion that the whole thing could fall apart at any moment. It’s about tension. It’s about danger. It’s about an unforgettable Johnny Thunders live in Sundsvall, Sweden in the early 80’s. It’s about old Gretsch guitars.

…These days, Halkan’s Rockhouse is on the web. I just checked out their site and lo and behold; they have a 1964 Gretsch Country Gentleman for sale with no issues and original case! “How much” you ask? 49.000. SKR, or $7,643.00.
Some people say you can’t buy happiness. They clearly don’t know about Gretsch guitars!

 

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