7/14/2013

c.1954 Gretsch 6185-6 Electromatic Archtop Electric Guitar



Gah, why is it lately that everything that's coming through the shop is tempting the evil tone-collector inside me?

Here's a gorgeous '54 Gretsch in full, 16" hollowbody jazz-guitar glory. This is basically an acoustic Gretsch body with a hot (10.1k ohms!) DeArmond pickup installed in the neck position. This version of the Electromatic is just before truss rods became standard and it leans more towards the vibe of late '40s Gretsch instruments in styling and flavor. The neck, however, is thin and fast like a '50s Danelectro or '60s Guild (flatter profile on top and modern-feeling C shape behind).

When I got this guitar, the original (Kluson-made) Gretsch tailpiece hanger was broken so I replaced it with a parts-bin find that I recut to fit the Kluson tail. It also had horrible Grover Rotomatics installed at the headstock which I quickly replaced with vintage-looking repro Kluson clones. In addition, the frets needed leveling and dressing and it was time for the wiring harness to be re-done (both pots were iffy and there was no signal beyond the volume pot).

So, all of that was done, and after a cleaning and setup as well, it plays beautifully (1/16" treble and a hair under 3/32" bass at the 12th fret) and sounds amazing. Even with the dinky 10s I've got on this (plus wound G), the acoustic tone is just as good as other full-acoustic Gretschs of similar style I've played. The electric tone is huge and amazingly, beautifully full. It's got clarity and zing enough to do rockabilly but it's also got that hollowbody warmth, breath, and sustain that makes this a superb jazz or swing box.


There are no cracks to the body, but that's hardly a surprise as it's all-laminate (spruce lam on top, maple lam on back and sides). Gretsch laminate guitars, like later Gibson L-48s, though, do the laminate thing justice as they have a big full warm sound (something I can't say about the vast majority of '50s Kay laminate products). Closed 3-note 7ths jazz chords sound great up and down the neck (as does old country-style fingerpicking and flatpicking).

Note that the pickguard on this guy is missing.


Original bone nut, nice headstock veneer!


The medium-size frets still have a ton of life left and feel great. The rosewood board is just lightly, lightly radiused and the dots are faux-pearl (plastic). The neck itself is a good hunk of mahogany with plenty of play-wear on its rear.


This DeArmond is just great. Each of those screws lets you adjust for polepiece height. This is a very hot pickup, running at 10.1k direct and 9.9 at the jack.


This guitar came with a brass adjustable bridge saddle (electric style) as well as this (presumably original) rosewood saddle. It's compensated for a wound G string and the 46w-10 set (with 20w G) on it right now sound great. I think I'd use a set of 11s with a wound G at maximum on this guitar considering the thin, unreinforced neck, though. In addition to reshaping this saddle slightly and recutting the string slots for better spacing, I also fit the bridge base a little better to the top.


The clear knobs and Kluson tailpiece are stylish!

I replaced the original wiring harness (volume, tone, and jack) with essentially identical replacements of the "genuine Fender" and "Switchcraft" variety, including cloth-wrapped leads. I also added a ground to the tailpiece which never seemed to have been done on the original wiring (curiously).


Here's that parts-bin tailpiece hanger I cut a little bit to suit the old tail.


Bound front and back edges.


As you can see, the finish is well-worn, flaked off in patches, but gloriously "real."






Good heel joint! There was a (slightly off-center) strap button hole already drilled in the heel, so I popped a replacement one in there.



When I installed the new jack I used the old jack's hex nut and washer to keep it vintage-looking.


The original (wood) strap button was much deteriorated so I removed it and installed this ebony one in its place.


Here's that label.


This comes with the old wiring harness, aftermarket brass saddle (for use if you absolutely need an unwound G string) and... the unwound G to match it. Beware, the brass saddle significantly mutes acoustic tone (it's heavy) and doesn't keep the guitar in "period stripes."

1 comment:

Bryan Symes said...

I have 6185 Maple S.N.4682 pristine but head stock slight crack along tuner screws.Any way to know year of made?