Gretsch Corvette Affordable American Vintage guitar
Hi Gear Gang! I've been a guitar guy for decades, and I like to think I'm pretty darn well versed in most guitars that could be considered even fairly "main stream" ... but here recently I've happened upon a couple models that were entirely new to me, and entirely COOL! First, I'd like to draw your attention to the stupidly awesome Gretsch Corvette. If, like me, this is a new guitar to you, you are in for a treat! Now first off I will say that a pretty good history of this model has already been written, and so I will not duplicate that, instead, I'll simply point you here: http://gretschpages.com/guitars/corvettes/. So ya all ready to have a discussion about what makes these guitars so darn COOL? Let's go! (WARNING: Guitar Porn ahead :)
Okay, so THIS is a first year Corvette from 1961. Straight-forward, simple. Note the totally unique truss-rod adjustment cover where a neck pickup would typically be. It's easy to see that this was a STARK divergence from what Gretsch had hereto offered. Let's look at what it DID NOT have: 1. A hollow body with f-holes. 2. Binding. 3. A Bigsby or fancy bridge. 4. Two pickups. 5. Humbucking pickups. 6. Complex controls/electronics 7. Enclosed tunners. 8. Bulk. Yep ... this was a real departure for Gretsch. It was clear: this was intended to be the lean mean fighting machine to take on Fender and Gibson. It never actually DID provide much competition for the big two, possibly because it was introduced right as the big assault from Japanese imports arrived. However, as I did my research for this blog, I noticed a fair number of folks describing it as a Gretsch Les Paul Jr.
Humm, that sort of makes sense; All corvettes were set-neck models with mahogany bodies and necks stained cherry-red, most had only a single-coil (HiLo-Tron) bridge pickup and a volume and tone control ... yep, that's kinda a Les Paul Jr! And indeed, many folks have replaced the HiLo-Trons with P-90's to REALLY make them Gibby like.
However, unlike the Juniors ... Gretsch did release a decent variety of Corvette models, including both single and dual pickup models and some in "custom" colors like this metallic green cutie.
First, let's talk about that BRIDGE. A bit strange, yes? The tremolo looks SORTA Bigsby like, but it's made by Burns; it "rolls-over" like a Bigsby, but uses a much larger spring, which is under the triangle shaped bump-out. You'll also notice the totally separate roller that holds the strings firmly down on the bridge. Speaking of the BRIDGE... most vintage Corvette models had this super-simple totally non-compensated bridge, basically no more than a bar with six grooves and thumb-wheels underneath to adjust string height! When I rebuilt MINE ... I considered going with a modern adjustable tune-o-matic style bridge, but decided to keep it vintage style. I'm glad I did; it's intonation is spot-on and it feels wonderful under my palm!
Let's discuss colors a little more. As I said, most were simply cherry-stained mahogany ... ie: BORING ... no wonder they didn't sell like hot cakes! However, there WERE some cool color schemes offered as special runs, and it's no wonder that today these colors demand a far higher price tag than the cherry stain models. There were the top-of-the-line models the "Gold Duke" with gold sparkle paint and gold hardware, including a genuine Gretsch labeled Bigsby vibrato, and the similar "Silver Duke". These guitars were MUCH more "Gretsch-like", with their sparkle finish, dual pickups, and the Bigsby. Precious few were made, probably because Gretsch realized that they were competing with their more expensive models, and today these two are the most sought after of the Corvettes.
Cool guitars ... right??!! Now let's talk about those HEADSTOCKS! For 1961-63 Gretsch stuck with the plain old three-on-a-side configuration. Yep, once again ... boring! But in 1965 they went with what I believe may very well be the worlds first ... and ONLY ... two over four arrangement. Wow! And what is really flat-out amazing is that they actually made it look totally 100% awesome, too. I mean seriously, how many lame, ugly headstocks have we seen when folks try something "different" ... you know exactly what I mean! In my opinion, the 2x4 headstock looks SOOOO much cooler than the 3x3:
But wait ... there's more! Also at that time, they added the little cut-out at the location of the bottom strap-button. Again, a totally cool looking little feature; together with the 2x4 headstock, it really makes the Corvette a one of a kind beauty! Hey ... speaking of beauties, why not get some real life beauties to want to actually PLAY these guitars? That's exactly what the folks at Gretsch got to thinking, and they released a couple of models aimed squarely at the LADIES. First came the "Peppermint Twist" version with it's totally rad red paint and red & white twist pickguard,
And, just in case that wasn't enough incentive ... they next released the "Princess" version in shades of pink and purple, complete with a padded tummy protector on the guitar's back. We certainly wouldn't want the gal's nice dresses and delicate physiques being hit by a plank of hard wood!
Soooo, that brings us to MY Corvette. When I saw this one on a local Craig's-List ad, I had never heard of a Gretsch Corvette, but that cool shape captivated me. The owner had bought it as a project decades earlier and finally admitted he would never get around to finishing it. It came to me as just a body & neck with an aftermarket pick-guard and the one original accessory, the truss-rod cover. It had been hacked-up for mini-humbuckers and finished in a most home-owner like unprofessional manner. It was UGLY, but I could see the hidden beauty!
Since the 1965 vintage guitar was already about as un-original as possible, I felt like I had the green-light to do whatever I wanted. So, y'all think with me now: What image do you get in your mind when someone says the word "Corvette"? Cool-ass hot rod, right? Yes! That's exactly where I went. And so she got metal-flake candy-apple red paint complete with "ghost flames" and all shiny chrome hardware. Yea baby, I made her a HOT ROD!
And hey, when we're talking about a hot rod ... what's under the hood is just as important as how she looks!!! And so, I gave her some serious horse-power in the electronics department. For a second I considered installing a pair of Filtertron style pickups (My V-Trons) ... and that IS a common "upgrade" on these guitars, but, I really wanted to stick with the original concept of the HiLo 'Trons. The problem is that vintage HiLo Trons sound quite weak in the bridge position, and a little fluffy in the neck. And so I made a fully custom set of Hi-Lo Trons in bodies the size of the mini-humbuckers the guitar was already routed for. I wound the Bridge hot, hot, HOT with 44-gauge wire, and she sounds flat-out full, thick, rich, and JUICY! I wound the neck with vintage 42-gauge Formvar and super-charged the Alnico V magnet, and it sounds flat-out PERFECT! And ... wait for it ... I installed series/parallel and phase switches which allow for a plethora of tonal options, all of which border on spiritual experiences! Go HERE to read about these pickups. Final result? Well, this hot-rod is now my absolute favorite number one guitar. Nuff said!
Enjoy a couple more photos of this muscular gal. If that don't get your motor running, maybe the vintage Gretsch Corvette ad will! Next week I'll divulge yet another amazing sleeper guitar y'all need to know about.