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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George’s Bangladesh Stratocaster (Update)

I recently saw this video of John Lennon and George Harrison recording John’s ‘How Do You Sleep’, and noticed an interesting footnote to my earlier post about the Bangladesh Concert Strat.

It seems George’s Strat of choice for the sessions was very likely the Bangladesh Strat before it was sanded to it’s natural finish.

Let’s take a look at the info we have.

  • The Bangladesh Concert took place in August of 1971, recording on Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ (on which ‘How do You Sleep’ appears) finished by early July of the same year. Consistent with George having time to strip the finish between the two.
  • The sonic blue Strat in the video has a maple neck, and a mint green 3 ply pickguard, an uncommon combination indicating it comes from the crossover period between Fenders white single ply, maple neck combination and the rosewood boards which were to become standard later. The Bangladesh Strat shares these features.
  • The Strat isn’t set up for slide at the CFB as this one is here, but it would be when George taped his Dick Cavett Show performance on Nov 23 with the sanded Bangladesh Strat, so George was known to use it for slide, and seems to have favoured the instrument during this period.
  • The spacing of the 12th fret markers on the fretboard is consistent between both.
  • This Strat has the same strap as the Bangladesh Strat.

So, if my suspicions are accurate. Not only have we identified that the CFB Strat was originally sonic blue, we’ve determined that the finish was stripped between George’s recording sessions for ‘Imagine’ (probably ending early July) and the final CFB rehearsal on July 31!

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Review: Fender Japan Rosewood Telecaster

I’ve got kind of a thing for Rosewood. Personally, I think the most beautiful guitars in the world are the all-rosewood Fenders, and it seems like of the various models, the most famous has to be George Harrison’s Rosewood Telecaster.

Of course, it’s not cheap to get your hands on one of the original 60’s production run, and still almost prohibitively expensive to pick from the present day Custom shop offerings. But the Japanese Rosewood telecasters are pretty plentiful, and very reasonably priced in comparison to other Japanese Fenders.

Naturally, there are some ‘interesting’ design features which separate these models from the more upmarket models (and their pricepoints).

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Firstly and most obviously, these guitars could never be produced at this cost with full rosewood bodies. So while the headstock face, fretboard and front and back of the body are covered with a rosewood veneer, the bulk of the neck and body wood is basswood.

The veneer seems to be bookmatched, and looks absolutely amazing. Ever since seeing George play his in the Let it Be movie, I’ve thought of these models as one of my dream guitars, and I lost my breath a little when I opened the gigbag on this one.

The model in the pictures is gloss finished, but they are also readily available in a matte finish (more like George’s) if the buyer is more that way inclined. The gloss finish also covers the fretboard, so if you like the feel of a vintage MAPLE fretboard (although this is clearly a VERY contentious issue), you’ll love this.

The full black paint on the rear of the neck and the body sides is also going to be a sore point for some people, but even if you hate it, it’s never going to be that noticeable in the dim lights of an ordinary stage setting.Picture1

So cosmetically, this is a fantastic guitar. But how does it hold up as a players instrument? Well to be honest, the answer IMHO is a resounding “Okay, I guess”.

Let me start by saying that on stage or on record, you’d be hard pressed to hear a difference between this or any other vintage Tele, and after all, these claim to come fitted with USA vintage Tele pickups. So sound wise, there’s no problem at all. But like a stereotypical starlet, gorgeous and seductive-sounding as she might be, a guitar is only capable of saying what you ask it to, and this is not the kind of guitar that makes that operation feel inspiring.

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The tuners are the vintage-style Fender ‘F’ stamped tuners, and (although I can’t speak as to whether this is the case for all ‘F’ tuners, or just these Japanese reproductions) they don’t hold tune particularly well. I’ve gigged a few times with this guitar and I find it holds tune less well than any of my Strats, and I’m a heavy trem user.

But machine heads are easy to replace. Not so simple to remedy is the fact that while the basswood may sound great, it doesn’t feel good. This again may be a matter of personal taste, because the result of this is that the whole guitar is extremely lightweight (There is almost as much difference between my Rosewood Tele and any of my Strats as there is between those same Strats and my Les Paul). But to me, that makes the whole thing feel a little too cheap and lacking in resonance.

Try as I might to get over this issue, this guitar never inspires me to play it particularly. Despite the fact that it sits in pride of place in my music room, I almost always find myself walking past it to reach for something else.

And yet…

Personally, I kind of regret selling my Squier Classic Vibe Tele to pay for the Rosewood, but I rarely play a Tele anyway owing to the fact that I miss having a trem arm, so the kind of “players inspiration” I am talking about isn’t necessarily the requirement it seems like it should be. If I ever have a part I want to play on a Telecaster, this one will deliver the sound in spades, and I have to admit that every time I pick it up, I smile a little at the fact that I’m holding one of my dream guitars.

You can make your own call on what that says about me, but I won’t be getting rid of this guitar any time soon. And I don’t think anything else is going to replace it on the wall. Just make sure you have your priorities in order before you buy one 😛

 

(Apologies for the high contrast on some of these pictures. It’s a 42 degree day in Adelaide and my phone isn’t the best camera in the world.)

 

Guitar of the Day 27/11/2015

George Harrison’s Bangladesh Stratocaster

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In the prevailing mood of my week, I’m going to continue with another George-related post.

Not much information is available on this Strat as George, to my knowledge, was only once seen publicly with it outside the Bangladesh concert and rehearsals. This was when he played slide on it during the performance of the song “Two-Faced Man” by Gary Wright and the Wonder Wheel on Dick Cavett’s show, before giving a lengthy interview.

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The guitar appears to be a late-fifties to early sixties model Fender Strat, as it has a transitional combination of a maple neck and a 3-ply pickguard.

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Since George rarely talks about acquiring new Stratocasters, it’s possible (but by no means confirmed) that this guitar was the one gifted to him by Clapton when the latter was in the process of building “Blackie”. Clapton brought back six Strats from a US tour and gave one each to George, Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood, taking the best parts of the remaining three and putting them together to make “Blackie”.

According to George, he personally stripped the finish from this Strat accounting for it’s bare wood appearance. He later claims to have given the stripped Bangladesh Strat to Spike Milligan, who identified a sunburst Fender as the bangladesh Strat during a later interview , suggesting a refinish.

This post has an interesting part 2 HERE.

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Guitar of the Day 7/4/2013

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George Harrison’s Rosewood telecaster.

This guitar is built entirely from rosewood except for a thin maple ‘sandwich’ piece in the middle of the body.

Made specifically for George by Fender, this guitar was used extensively on the ‘Let it Be’ album and and film. George would later give it to Delaney Bramlett of ‘Bonnie and Delaney’ after touring with them.