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This article was originally published in issue #33
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I'm a sucker for a cool retro-looking Gretsch, but don't actually own any, so it's always a pleasure to scratch my Rockabilly itch when a guitar like this comes up for me to try. This is the Brian Setzer Hot Rod, equipped with TV Jones pick ups. The guitar is built to Brian's specs and has a single volume pot and three-way pick up selector, so it's a very functional stripped down spec for a Gretsch. The volume is on the lower horn and the pick up selector is on the top of the guitar in a mirror image. These are comfortable positions and quick adjustments to volume or pick up selection become very easy and intuitive very quickly.
This is a single cutaway, bound hollow body with an arched top, F holes and 1959 style 'Trestle' bracing. There is a good story behind the bracing. In an attempt to replicate the mojo of Brian's vintage '50's Gretsches, they had them CAT scanned to see what was going on internally, and it was found (stumbled upon) that there seemed to be 'Trestle' style bracing inside the body. So in an effort for extra authenticity this was employed for these guitars. It's interesting to think how old traditional styles of construction can be easily lost as guitars get modernised and 'improved' for bigger profit and I am surprised that someone at Gretsch didn't know that this type bracing was used. The guys that hand built those original guitars are all long since departed, though, so it's great that Gretsch are being careful to inject the right DNA into this signature version!
The authenticity carries through to the dual TV Jones designed Hot Rod Filtertron pick ups that this guitar comes equipped with. TV Jones pick ups are to Gretsch what the PAF humbuckers are to Gibson and what the pre-CBS single coil is to Fender. It's the perfect pick up for this sort of guitar, and because it is a signature guitar, you get a Brian Setzer autograph etched into the pickup cover too, just to show that these pick ups have been voiced and wound just how Brian likes them. They are instantly Gretsch in character, with an organic fat twang to the sound that is very musical and addictive!
A couple of big improvements to a traditional style Gretsch are the Sperzel locking machine heads, which are a good upgrade for most guitars, especially ones equipped with a Bigsby, and the pinned adjustomatic bridge for accurate intonation and tuning stability. Old Gretsches used to have a moveable bridge, which was never going to be a good idea for playing in perfect tune. The Bigsby is very vibey and great for some old school trem work.
The neck is two-piece maple with an ebony board and our sample guitar was set up great with a very comfortable low action with heavy-ish strings, perfect for your best Bran Setzer/Scotty Moore licks and runs (of which I wish I knew more!). The fret markers are called neo-classical thumb nail style, and suit the guitar well. The body top, back and sides are flamed laminated maple and stained a very nice translucent grey. If you get one of these in a solid finish, then you know it will still be maple, but a piece of wood with no figuring to the grain. The Brian Setzer Hot Rod G6120TV comes in some very cool finishes, like purple, blue, red, gold and tangerine.
This is a quality product that does cost a lot of money, so it's going to be certain kind of player, musician, collector, fan, that buys one of these guitars. There is no denying that it is a cracking guitar and if you need that Brian Setzer sound then this is as close as you'll get, because this is what the man himself is using. But be aware that Brian Setzer could pick up any half decent guitar and sound like himself. Like all signature guitars, it's the player, not the guitar that makes the sound. But I would still love to own one of these, to have for 'that' Gretsch sound.