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 Harrison’s Beatle Guitars

George Harrison owned and played many guitars in his career, particularly in his time after The Beatles, when he amassed a sizeable collection. This post simply aims to catalogue the important electric guitars George used during the Beatle days, with a little information about each.

Please note, there are a couple of items missing from the list, because their importance in Beatle history is negligible or debatable, such as the Coral Sitar-Guitar or Gretsch custom 12-string which George owned in the 60’s. Additionally, the guitars are not necessarily presented in the order they found favour with George.

Futurama.

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Bought on hire-purchase beginning November 1959. George’s first Beatle guitar. Eventually, George gave this guitar up as a prize to a Beatle fan competition.

Gretsch Duo Jet.

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George’s “first good guitar”. His Gretsch Duo Jet is a 1957 model, bought in 1961 in Liverpool second-hand.  This was his main guitar through the Hamburg and Cavern Club days, and he took it to America and Europe with him when touring in 1964.

Gretsch Country Gentleman.

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In 1963, George acquired his first Gretsch Country Gentleman, owning a second before the year was through. The two models are almost indistinguishable from each other apart from the different methods of strung muting. His first employed a pair of “screw down” mutes either side of the Bridge, while the second, a newer model, was fitted with “flip up” mutes, which could be activated by switches placed in the same position.

Rickenbacker 425.

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George picked up a Rickenbacker 425 when visiting his sister in the US in 1963. Although he didn’t use it as much as his other Rickenbackers, he liked it enough to have a second pickup installed later.

Maton.

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1963 was a good year for George’s guitar collection. He picked up a Maton while one of his Country Gents was being repaired, and retained it for at least a few shows.

Gretsch Tennessean.

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During their run of Christmas shows in 1963/64, George gained a Gretsch Tennessean. He would use this guitar prominently through 1964/65.

Rickenbacker 12 strings.

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George Playing his Casino. The original Rickenbacker 12 string lies on the table, the newer model is in the foreground.

In 1964/65, George would acquire two Rickenbacker 12 strings. The first with a flat top and front and back binding, and the second with rounded contours and binding on the rear only. It appears (visible in the third image above) that the contoured model had a stereo output, while the earlier one had a regular single output jack.

Fender Stratocaster “Rocky”.

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During the recording of the “Help!” album in 1965, George and John each bought near identical sonic blue Fender Stratocasters (they would later both use them to record the solo on “Nowhere Man” in unison). George’s would later receive a handsome paint job and the name “Rocky”, becoming one of his most famous guitars after it’s appearance in the Magical Mystery Tour film.

Epiphone Casino.

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After admiring the Epiphone Casino Paul bought the previous year, John and George each acquired their own in 1966. All three were easily distinguishable by different bridges or tremolos, and Paul’s had an older-style headstock shape.

Gibson ES-345

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In late 1965, George was reportedly loaned a Gibson ES-345 by one of the Moody Blues, after one of his Country Gentlemen was lost off the back of a car between gigs. Whether the loan is a fiction or not, he certainly used one around this period, but not for long, and although it appears in a surprisingly large number of clips and live performances given it’s time frame, he seems to have either ditched it or given it back. Perhaps consistently with the fact that it wasn’t actually his, It’s also rumoured that he never recorded with it.

Gibson SG.

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George bought a new guitar for the “Revolver” sessions. A humbucker-fitted Gibson SG with a Vibrola tremolo system. Perhaps influenced by Eric Clapton’s use of a similar guitar at the time. This guitar would share the position of George’s favourite guitar with his Stratocaster, until it was replaced by a gift from Clapton himself…

Gibson Les Paul “Lucy”.

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In 1968, Eric Clapton returned from a trip to the US with a gift for George; A Cherry red Gibson Les Paul, which George named “Lucy” after redheaded actress Lucille Ball. This guitar would replace the SG, which became unused and was given by George to Pete Ham of the band Badfinger. “Lucy” would find it’s way back into Clapton’s hands (briefly) when he used it to record the guitar solo on “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” for the White Album sessions. Used heavily for George’s remaining time with the group, it would also later provide the lead sounds (under George’s fingertips) for (amongst others) the song “Something” on Abbey Road.

Fender Rosewood Telecaster.

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Finally, in 1969 Fender gave George a prototype all-rosewood Telecaster. This became his main guitar for the Let it Be sessions (making history as George’s instrument for the infamous rooftop concert at the film’s climax) and likely found it’s way onto Abbey Road as well.