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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Pete Townshend’s Guitars at Desert Trip

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I’ve talked about Pete’s Lace Sensor Stratocasters before, but this year has marked a more substantial change up in his guitars than we’ve seen for about twenty five years!

Gibson recently reissued a Pete Townshend signature Les Paul deluxe, and Pete has been playing one of these onstage, fitted with two Gibson mini-humbuckers and a piezo acoustic pickup.

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Even more interesting however, according to the official tour blog, in early September, Pete received some new Strats!

“Pete now has a pair of new Fender Stratocasters made with Gibson “mini-humbucker” pickups, the pickups he used throughout the 1970s. This gives his modern Stratocaster style has a bit more of that old WHO sound. In the olden days, Gibsons were naturally heavier and nastier than Fender guitars, but modern electronics have made Pete’s current Fenders superstrong, and wide-ranging beasts. He has a dozen sounds he gets from just working the guitar itself. He’s also been a proponent of an “acoustic” sound from the guitar; his electric guitars have a special pickup that simulates the strummy sound of an acoustic guitar. He likes to mix the two quite often, and has had this setup for many years now. It’s a unique thing that almost no one else is doing consistently.”*

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*You can read the blog at https://www.thewho.com/september-11-2016-oberhausen-arena-hall-oberhausen-germany/

Andy Fairweather Low’s Stratocasters

401px-Andy_Fairweather-LowIn his career as one of the most reputable session guitarists in the world*, Andy Fairweather Low has used many different guitars. From the late eighties/early nineties, as a part of Eric Clapton’s (and in 1991, George Harrison’s) band, he used Eric Clapton signature guitars with Lace Sensors almost exclusively, but he has since stated in interviews

“I never got on with the lace sensor pickups. I found some old humbuckers and actually, some new P90s. I like the sound they make.”

I have yet to see any evidence of his P90 guitars, but for a long period beginning in the late nineties, he was often seen with some Eric Clapton Strat’s, heavily modified with these Humbuckers.

There is little more to be said about these guitars, except that he appears to have had at least five different versions, two each in Black and Olympic White, fitted with either one or two Humbuckers, and a red version with three, as seen at the ‘Concert for George’ .

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For anyone interested in seeing and hearing his Black Strat in action, check out his amazing solo in ‘Money’ from Roger Waters’ ‘In the Flesh – Live’ DVD.

 

*Andy has played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby, The Band, Richard and Linda Thompson, Dave Gilmour, The Who and Pete Townshend, BB King, Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Jimmy Page, Ronnie Lane, Linda Ronstadt, Roddy Frame, Emmylou Harris, Joe Satriani, the Bee Gees, Jeff Beck, The Impressions, Lonnie Donegan, Ringo Starr, Steve Gadd, David Sanborn, Benmont Tench, Warren Zevon, Charlie Watts, Mary J. Blige, Dave Edmunds, Georgie Fame, Bonnie Raitt, Otis Rush, Phil Collins, Van Morrison, Gerry Rafferty, Chris Rea, Buddy Guy, Chris Barber, Jackson Browne, Bill Wyman and Sheryl Crow, amongst others.

Guitar of the Day 5/04/2013

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Pete Townshend’s White Stratocaster.

Used extensively on “The Who” tours from 2006 onwards. Like most of Pete’s guitars on the late 2000’s tours, it is a Lace Sensor-equipped Eric Clapton signature stratocaster fitted with Sperzel locking tuners, a Fishman powerbridge tremolo with bridge saddle piezo pickup and an EMG preamp to facilitate playing Electric and acoustic parts at the same time.