When you think of Gretsch guitars, you think of the 50’s and 60’s – the golden era for Gretsch. During this time period arose the legendary Electromatic, Country Club, Jet, Chet Atkins 6120, and the White Falcon. These guitars usually featured Dearmond pickups and flashy designs, which made them a great alternative to Fender and Gibson offerings. They were originally geared toward country players but they also found a home with rock and rollers and rockabilly players.
In 1970 though, Gretsch started a bit of a downward spiral. Fred Gretsch could not find a suitable heir for the company, so he sold it to Baldwin Pianos, who moved production to Bonneville, Arkansas. During this time period, Strats and Les Pauls were all the rage and all the kids and established musicians alike wanted similar styled guitars. Baldwin tried their best to provide these kinds of guitars, but failed quite miserably.
Many Gretsch purists are disgusted by this era of Gretsch Guitars, and rightfully so. Quality control suffered, and classic designed were ruined. Even Chet Atkins withdrew his endorsements in 1979.
But the Baldwin era did produce some interesting guitars of note, in my opinion, in the form of a few solid body models that were so different from the classic Gretsch style that it is unfair to judge them based on what a classic Gretsch guitar is supposed to be, they need to be looked at in their own right. The three I will focus on are the TK-300, the BST Series, and the Committee.
The TK-300 is probably one of the weirdest looking guitars every created. It featured a solid maple body and bolt on neck, with a hockey stick style headstock, and “offset” (yep its an offset!) horns and bridge pickup. (very Fender right?) It was available in natural or a nice “autumn red” translucent color. The pickups are quite mysterious but were Japanese import PAF clones although a bit hotter than a normal PAF. The pickups get mixed reviews but had good output and helped to balance out the maple body, which generally leads to a bright and nearly unpleasant sound. The TK300 is one of those uncommon combinations of a maple body and humbucking pickups – this is a underrated and often overlooked combination, most just think “oh maple body? way too bright!” This is not always the case!
The TK-300 was a slightly smaller scale than a Gibson, at 24.5″. It also featured a Leo Quan “bad ass” style, or as Gretsch terms it, “Terminator” wrap around bridge and tailpiece. Many Les Paul Junior enthusiasts will tell you these are the best bridges as there is little hardware to disturb the string to body vibrations that provide sustain and overall fuller and thicker tones. It even had 70s style jumbo frets!
While not a popular guitar, it deserves some attention – a great unique alternative to say, an SG. Usually they go for around $750, which is a great price point for a vintage, USA made guitar.
The BST Series
The BST, or often termed “Beast” series Gretsch guitars were also solid body designs that seem to have been geared to compete with Gibson, however unsuccessfully. Most featured mahogany bodies with bolt on necks and relatively high output humbuckers. Certain models had Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups.
There were a few incarnations of these guitars, the BST-1000, 1500, 2000, and 5000. The BST 5000 is the most worthy of discussion. This beauty was your typical late 70s/early 80s maple and walnut neck through guitar. A very solid guitar with some high end features such as a nice german carve around the top. It was loaded with Super Distortion pickups, magical pickups really, high output but excellent clarity and touch responsiveness, for a humbucker.
These guitars were an interesting combination of Gibson sounds and aesthetics with a bit more of a Fender feel to them, from the bolt on necks to the slightly radiused fretboards. Definitely a guitar worth checking out – you can pick up most of them for under $500!
The Committee instruments were similar to the higher end BST models, and they even made a bass! Both are not too common but again feature walnut and maple neck through construction and hot pickups. The Committee had a couple different pickguard styles, one model year featured a clear pickguard, and other model years featured a translucent “smoke” colored pickguard. They can also be picked up for as low as $400, although their value continues to rise as consumers are beginning to discover the quality in these guitars!