Hands-On Review:Gretsch CLASSIC ROCKER
Gretsch 6118T-120 120th Anniversary Edition
by Emile Menasché
When vintage-style gear made its big comeback a few years ago, it was like a blast of fresh air in a stuffy room. Guitars, though well designed and engineered, had become sterile and clinical, and lacked heart. Not surprisingly, anything that had a vintage vibe was regarded as if it had "cool" built into its DNA.
Unlike most trends, the vintage revival never went away. In fact, many manufacturers jumped on the retro bandwagon to produce gear that looked the part. Unfortunately, a splash of tweed and an art deco logo are no indication of rock 'n' roll soul.
Gretsch, on the other hand, has the vintage bona fides. The 6118T-120 Anniversary Edition, a Japanese-built recreation of the 1958 model, is the proof.
Body and Soul
The 120-year-old Gretsch company has always marched to its own drummer. Like other Gretsch guitars, the 6118T is imbued with distinctive styling and a sound all its own.
The Anniversary's singlecutaway hollow body is of medium depth. Its back and sides are made of laminated maple and finished in a richly metallic Copper Mist, which beautifully complements the sunny Bamboo Yellow that adorns the arched laminated maple top. Cream body binding highlights the finish.
The three-piece maple neck joins the body at the 15th fret by way of a traditional setneck joint. Access is easy to about the 17th, and you must arch your hand to reach the 21st. The 24.6-inch-scale ebony fretboard sports "thumbnail" position markers, which give it an uncluttered look.
One key feature is the guitar's ducktail-slick Bigsby B6CB vibrato tailpiece, which is mated to a floating Rocking-Bar bridge. The Anniversary's blackfinished headstock boasts chrome-plated Grover V98C Sta-Tite tuning machines that were superb. In fact, the Gretsch I tested was impressively stable, considering it had a floating bridge, nonlocking tuners and a Bigsby tremolo, which received a serious workout during testing.
Gretsch pickups, at their best, have a unique sonic personalityÑwarmer than Fender single-coils and twangier than Gibson humbuckers. The Anniversary carries two TV Jones Classic FilterTron humbuckers, both of which were bright and warm and articulate without sounding strident. (Think of George Harrison's early Beatles sound.)
The Anniversary lets you dial up an impressive array of tones with relatively simple controls. In addition to the three-way selector switch, there are individual volume controls for each pickup, a master volume and a three-way master tone switch.
The last two controls are unusual but useful. The master volume lets you govern the guitar's output without disturbing the balance achieved with the pickups' individual controls. As for the tone switch, it provides quick access to three sounds, and while tone knobs may be more precise, they typically have such abrupt tapers that you rarely get more than one or two good sounds from them. Besides, you can always adjust tone levels further by changing the volume balance between the neck and bridge pickups.
The Anniversary played like a dream, with low action and sweet, natural tone. It had good sustain for a hollow-body guitar with a floating bridge, and the maple-and-ebony combination provides an articulate, natural acoustic tone that forms the backbone of the Anniversary's vibrant electric sound.
Plugged in, the Anniversary's sound is the offspring of a perfect marriage between guitar and electronics. Tested through a tube amp with ample delay and reverb, it erupted with a spray of shimmering reverb-drenched notes, cool as ice. The low action and 24.6-inch scale made it easy to grab chords, and the guitar seemed born to play major sevenths and minor sixths. But when asked to rock out, it was more than compliant, sounding tight and clear through distortion and easily resonating into harmonic feedback.
The Bottom Line
The Gretsch boasts vintage styling, classic sound and easy playability. It's no pretender to the retro throne-it's the real thing.