c.1958 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Guitar (modified)

I love old Gretsch guitars. This one is simply too cool. Also, now that it's all done, it's simply put a great player with looks to match.

I bought this at a local antique mall for a hefty chunk of change, worried about it all the way home, as I knew it had been refinished, for one, and modified, for another, and was going to be a pile of work. I knew it was a Gretsch 6120, probably around the late 50s (due to the 2 5/8" to 2 3/4" body depth), had either a late 50s or early 60s Gretsch case, and it was filthy and stunk like stale cigars.

Not knowing too much about these old guys offhand, as I work on electrics only when they pique my interest, I set about doing detective work all over the net (and while I worked on it, too).

Here we begin our mystery -- I had to slightly lower the angle of the fretboard extension (neck set was good, though the extension had come unglued and was too "up") to improve action, and while doing so I found my first clue as to the modifications done to this guitar -- note the original black/white "body binding" still present in the dovetail joint, vs. the new natural/red-dyed wood binding found on the body now.

This black/white binding is identical to black/white binding that is found on the fretboard edges as well as the f-holes. This, as well as the fact that the frets look like vintage stock and have nibs that go over the binding's edge to sit flush with the side of the neck, tells me that the rosewood fretboard with the peculiar horseshoe inlay is very, very likely original to the instrument, especially since said binding is found on most old 6120s and the fretboard/neck join looks like it was simply not touched.

Also, ebony replaced the rosewood boards at some point in 1958 as well, so knowing that the rosewood board was probably original meant that this was probably at latest an earlier 1958 model, unless the board was custom (as is probably the case ANYWAY because the horseshoe fretboard markers is simply not a stock option on these guitars but may be some sort of prototype, custom, or transitional feature).

57-58 was a big changing phase for this model as it got less "western" (the western-motif fretboard markers disappeared on the 57s and were replaced with hump-block markers) and more chic (by mid to late 58 at least, the fretboard was turned to ebony with small thumb-print markers on the bass edge of the board).

Here's where the fretboard extension was sitting -- not much glue to hold it on! No wonder it popped up over time. Also note the original reddish finish under the black spray where I began sanding for a good glue join. The various holes you see are from nails that were used when Gretsch put the guitar together, presumably to hold everything in position while glue set.

I've already glued and clamped the extension -- here I'm just making sure the binding doesn't peel off while the superglue gel dots set it in place.

These next photos are after I've done all the major work -- including cleaning, seam repair, resoldering pickup leads, fret dress, etc. Here's an early 60s style pickup ring with an early 60s style Gretsch SuperTron in the neck position. Originally this guitar probably had pre-patent FilterTrons in both positions. To get this pickup ring on (it came with the guitar) I had to drill out 4 new holes for the mounting screws. This is because...

...this guitar is a '58 to begin with, and had the closer-to-the-pickup mounting holes for this older-style simple ring mount (like around this 60s FilterTron at the bridge).

Ok, now we're back to the guitar all finished, and I'll get to the details as we gaze upon this beaut!

The brass nut is totally a 1957 throwback as a zero fret was introduced in 1958. The truss rod cover is not a Gretsch standard shape but this bell shape can be found in just about any repair shop as it's a standard replacement type.

Note that the headstock bears no logo or inlay! When I got the guitar there was a horrible skull decal on it, which I promptly removed.

The tuners are probably late 70s or early 80s replacements.

These little MOP horseshoe markers are totally cool. I've never seen them on a guitar before. They're like miniaturized versions of the classic Gretsch horseshoe that's typically seen inlaid in the headstock. Note that the fret ends extend over the binding -- a sign that this was probably NOT a modified fretboard, as it's quite time consuming to do that kind of detail on a refret or re-boarding.

Like I said, super cool horseshoes. I've given the guitar a fret dress, too, as they were pretty divoted in the first position.

The black is obviously an overspray but it looks pretty sharp. I love the old-style Bigsby (which became a Gretsch-branded Bigsby in 59).

Here you can see that red/natural wood binding that's replaced the original binding on the body for some unknown reason. Also note that that strap button is in a different place than normal and is not the stock Gretsch button.

This SuperTron ordinarily would not be in this guitar, but curiously enough, it is. I'm almost wondering if this guitar went back to Gretsch to be "upgraded" from its 58 model beginnings to be more like an early/mid-60s 6120.

This FilterTron looks more like the real deal, but is also a later 60s model FilterTron as it bears the patent. The ring around it, however, is more than likely original to this guitar.

I think this bridge dates to around 58 as well.

Inside the bass f-hole you can just make out the filthy, tattered remains of the Gretsch label.

And here you can see the trestle bracing system -- two braced on the top, two on the back, running the whole length and connected by two "sound post" dealies in the middle. This cut down on feedback, gave the guitar strength, but also added weight! This design dates this fella directly to early 1958 in itself, as the bracing changed a lot as Gretsch refined it.

Nicely bound f-hole!

Friggin cool Bigsby!

Nice old Gretsch knobs.

This Chet Atkins signature/signpost pickguard disappeared after 1961.

What's cool about the honey/red binding is that it really does look pretty snazzy with the guitar.

Ah, the backside, and a pad like on the 60s version of the guitar (double-cutaway models). I'm guessing that this was added later as it is totally not something standard to a '58 model and has no point on one, either, as there's no access door like on the 60s ones.

Newer tuners.

You can see the filled screw holes and faint outline of the old tuners.

Here's the doweled-in neck joint reinforcement and also a bit of chip to the black finish where you can see the pretty red underneath. This dowel was added in the '58 models to help strengthen the neck joint.

Here's the pad removed.

Looking pretty slick.

The felt pads on the Bigsby were missing so I added a couple new ones. This helps get rid of weird rattles that sometimes occur when the pads are missing.

But, now that we're getting closer to the end of the post, I should probably tell you about the sound, playability, yadda yadda...

...the truth? It's a honey! Plays sweet, sounds huge and just what you want it to be... with all that warmth and the many miles thrown in that you can only get with an older electric. Also, the Bigsby operates perfectly -- easy, smooth, that pretty little warble, and it stays in tune.

This has a non-original strap button down here, too. If you look closely you can see the ground wire protruding from its "exit hole."

Someone crumpled the jack mounting area with a banged-into-the-wall trick, so I installed the jack on this jack plate which fixed the cracking on the side, secured the jack, and reinforced the whole area in general.

12th-fret marker.

Oh, and yeah, that cool old case, too!

Anyhow, if you're interested in the guitar, pop me over some offers to jake [at] thewildwoodflower.com -- I can't afford to keep it, but seriously wish I could! As I'm really not sure what market value such a mod/strange guitar like this would fit in, you may be surprised.

1 comment:

Anthony Morgan said...

That is a thing of beauty. what a special guitar, great thing to find. Alas the chunks of change down here are not substantial.