Review: Gretsch Duo Jet

20184092_1255977797858630_8443339013066063872_nGretsch guitars have always occupied a very specific space in my mind. Great for Chet Atkins, good for all that rockabilly jazz. A compromise for anything else.

You may already see where I’m going with this – I was wrong.

Despite placing them in such a small pigeonhole, there’s been an attraction to Gretsches for me which stems from seeing some of my favourite players use them to great effect.

David Gilmour proved the point that, despite my misgivings, they can amply handle a sustained lead tone, Pete Townshend made his entire signature sound with his own Gretsch, even employing both a Duo Jet and a 6120 for live work, and I don’t feel like I even need to mention the Beatles connection! Somehow the cover of George Harrison’s Cloud 9 is hard to shake from memory.

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With all of that, actually buying a Gretsch never entered my head given the lack of examples to play locally and the hefty Australian import fees. But as luck would have it, I sold a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe to my brother on the same night I found a prime example of a Duo Jet on eBay.

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VERY price reduced, due to “scratches, dents, rust and lifting paint” but with images (above) which showed no front-on view and seemed to reflect none of those issues, I was very wary, but reasoning that I wouldn’t have to worry about putting some dings in myself when gigging, I took the chance. I needn’t have worried.

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I’ll save you the time of explaining the condition of my Gretsch, but it’s about fifteen years old, and has the wear you might expect. You can see from the photos that there is no cause for alarm over the condition.

The bridge isn’t pinned, but some double sided tape ($3.45AU) holds it in place with no movement. You can throw this thing around and not move the bridge, and the synchro-sonic has no intonation problems, unlike some of the other Gretsch offerings.

The bigsby is not one of my favourite tremolo systems by design, but the flutter it gives the sound of this guitar is brilliantly subtle. I like to play a lot with the trem arm in my hand, and although it’s a bit more of a stretch to where it sits than a Strat, because the arm doesn’t do a full rotation, it’s an easy adjustment to get used to.

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The pickups are Dynasonics. They are single coils, unlike the more common Filtertron pickups, and the difference in tone is not insignificant. People often refer to the Duo Jet as sounding bitey like a Telecaster, and with Dynasonics, there’s good reason for that comparison. These are very dynamic pickups. If you play aggressive, you can get pretty close to the Tele sound, although these pups are a little fatter. But soften your touch and they sound more like a sweet, articulate Jazzmaster. The bigsby, too, puts me in mind of the more ‘reserved’ travel distance of the Jazzmaster tremolo.

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The Duo Jet body is chambered, but not hollow, so it resists feedback a bit more than fully hollow or semi-hollow guitars with similar specs. Having said that, you wouldn’t want to push it too far, this is still a guitar for subtlety rather than heavy distortion. It’s more well-suited to crunchy Pete Townshend drive, and it’s anywhere between here and it’s beautiful cleans that it excels.

It’s also worth nothing the strangeness of using the master volume which is here located below the neck pickup. It’s a position I’m not used to at all, but it feels very natural. This feeling extends to most aspects of the instrument, it’s extremely well made. It’s my understanding that all Duo Jets are now made in Japan or Korea, and this Japanese model is extremely comfortable. The neck is very similar to a Fender standard ‘C’, not particularly fat, but not uncomfortably thin, and the fit and finish is perfect. There’s no fretting out, no sharp edges on the frets and fretboard, and tuning holds pretty well with the Bigsby, at least as long as you don’t go too mad with it. There’s a little more meat in your hand at the high end, so it’s arguably not so good for quick playing up there as something with a more accessible heel like almost any Fender or Gibson option.

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The only problem I have in dealing with this guitar is the treble loss with the volume roll-off. It makes it hard for me to control the gain with my volume, because you lose clarity as you reach the cleaner sound you want. But if you prefer to change your dirt balance by tweaking or switching your pedals or amp, you won’t have a problem with this. And it’s probably quite easily fixed with a simple mod to the volume control.

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So, to sum up. I’m blown away by this guitar. It handles any sound I’ve heard anyone else get with these pickups easily, and even does a passable imitation of the Filtertrons with the tone rolled off a little. It achieves everything I thought it would, while remaining far more versatile than I gave it credit for in the beginning. As long as you aren’t trying to do heavy distortion, this guitar has a beautiful, eloquent voice. For the foreseeable future, it’s not going anywhere.

(And if you enjoyed the photos in this article, follow my instagram at https://www.instagram.com/thomaswilliamsmusic/ for more of the same, as well as sound and video of this guitar)

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Analysis: Roger Waters’ Black Fender Precision Basses

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Rogers main bass on stage during the recent Wall tour.

On the back of the hugely successful (financially as well as artistically) Wall tour, Roger Waters has introduced thousands of new people to his music, and paved the way for a reissue of his amazing 1992 album Amused to Death in late July, as well as a new project presently titled Is This The Life We Really Want?expected May 19 this year. One hardly needs to mention his work with Pink Floyd at all…

But iconic throughout his entire career since the early 70’s, Roger’s imposing stage presence has been married to a black Fender Precision bass, and for the sake of this post, it is this instrument which we now turn our focus to.

One of Roger’s original black basses. As stock, including pickup cover. Early 70’s.

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According to Phil Taylor, guitar tech for both Roger and David Gilmour during the Pink Floyd days (and still employed in this capacity by David today), following the theft of all of the bands guitars in 1970, Roger owned three black Fender Precisions; One with a rosewood fretboard, two with maple. One of the maple basses seems to evade more mention, but the other two each play a large part in Roger’s recording career.

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Roger’s preferred bass from 1970 to around 1978/9 was a black Precision with a maple neck, large headstock logo, a white pickguard and chrome pickup cover. This bass can be seen on the tours in support of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, and particularly in some parts (notably the studio footage) of the Live in Pompeii film, where it shares the spotlight with a sunburst P-bass with a rosewood fretboard.

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David Gilmour with black strat and Roger Waters with the sunburst ‘Pompeii’ bass.

David Gilmour’s famous Black Strat was decked out in a complimentary manner, but by the time of Wish You Were Here, David had replaced his white pickguard with a black one (he had also switched to a 60’s style rosewood fingerboard neck). Around the time of Animals, Phil Taylor suggested that Roger may like to switch to a black pickguard as well, and the operation was seen through in time for the In the Flesh tour of 1977, where the bass can be seen with a three-ply black/white/black pickguard, still featuring the pickup cover. Snowy White also played bass on some songs on this tour, using a black precision distinguishable from Roger’s by the lack of a very obvious large black dot which can be seen on the ball part of the headstock of Roger’s main bass. (On this note, this marking doesn’t seem to exist on other P basses of the period, so perhaps it is something as simple as a deliberate cigarette tip burn.)

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David’s black strat circa 1977, with black pickguard, rosewood neck and DiMarzio bridge pickup.

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Roger with main bass on the In The Flesh tour, 1977.

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Snowy playing bass with the Floyd, 1977.

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At some point in the early 70’s, the rosewood-fretboard Precision had received an all-maple replacement neck, but for the recording sessions on The Wall in 1978, David Gilmour had Phil Taylor write to Charvel, asking for a custom made heavily flamed maple neck (featuring a Fender logo) to replace the rosewood one on his Strat, the letter itself clearly also specifies a number of other necks, including a new Charvel neck for a Precision bass.

So the (originally) rosewood necked bass received it’s third neck, a Charvel maple neck with a 50’s style Fender logo. It also received a black pickguard, lost it’s bridge and pickup covers and became Roger’s main bass from the 1979 rehearsals to the present day, first seen in this condition on the Wall shows in 1980/81. On this tour, Andy Bown can be seen playing a second bass (likely the same as Snowy played on the previous tour as it seems to be missing the headstock ‘dot’).

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Roger and Andy Bown share bass duties on The Wall tour, 1980/81.

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Following his split from the remaining members of Pink Floyd in the mid 80’s, Roger took only the Charvel necked bass with him (this one can be spotted because the “Fender” logo copy is strangely sized and positioned), and so he had the Fender Custom Shop make him two copies, which he has used as backups since. In 2010, the specs of these two copies were also used as the basis of the Fender Roger Waters signature Precision bass, although this model features significant differences to Rogers own (A properly proportioned Fender headstock logo, a single ply black pickguard and black hardware).

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The ‘Wall’ bass is still Roger’s main instrument, and he continues to use it on every show. Recently, photographer Lisa Johnson featured the instrument in her fantastic book ‘108 Rock Star Guitars in Pictures’, She notes that Roger had the pickups replaced with Seymour Duncans, also revealing that the pickguard is a three ply black/white/black, but he recolours the white pinstripe with marker before every show to make it appear all-black. Some very nice and detailed photos show that the pickguard still retains the holes from the pickup cover and the extra screw hole in the middle of the pickguard which some P-basses of the era featured. (as well as showing Rogers marker work quite clearly).

The back shot also reveals a maple-cap neck (no skunkstripe), an F-stamped neckplate and a heavily worn ‘tummy-cut’.

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This bass remains Roger’s primary live bass as of the “Us and Them” tour, 2017.

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As an interesting footnote, the ‘dot’ headstock bass remains in David Gilmour’s possession, and was used by Guy Pratt on Coming Back to Life and Take it Back  on the Division Bell album, as well as by David on tracks for The Endless River.

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Guitar of the Day 04/04/2013

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David Gilmour’s ‘Black Strat’

A black, late sixties Fender Stratocaster bought by David Gilmour in 1970 and his main guitar for all Pink Floyd albums subsequently recorded until the departure of Songwriter and Bass player Roger Waters after ‘The Final Cut’.

After a period of disuse, the Black Strat once again became Gilmour’s main guitar both for his 2006 album ‘On an Island’ and the tour in support of it.