The Gretsch Electromatic G5420T an independant review
I’d set my little heart on looking the part, I had the wrap round shades, the 50s style shirts, now all I needed to complete the look was the right guitar..! Well not quite, even if there are some half-truths in there.
I have a nice 80’s JV series Japanese Telecaster, a 50s repro/re-edition.. whatever, that plays great, but a little too bright and snatchy and without the overtones of a hollow body, no trem, and it’s never going to flat pick or finger pick like an acoustic/6 string.
So I went in search of an affordable, okay build quality, name guitar with the right sound for 40s and 50s R&B and Rock N’ Roll / Rockabilly. On reading a few online reviews (though ones not published by Gretsch are hard to find; actually some of the best are on their own website forum) I came to settle on the G5420T in Aspen Green, a beautiful colour.
next.. price research..
I searched hi and lo in the UK and abroad for the best deal and it became quite obvious early on that Gretsch (owned by Fender) fix their prices fairly hard, and balancing the import tax on buying from the States, or the price from Germany (Thomann) or finding one in the UK, an average lower end price of £632 seemed reasonable if you wanted to find somewhere close enough you could return the guitar or walk in with it unhappy (for what reason I don’t know/yet know) at a later date. I came to rest on my local city Brighton’s GAK centre just off the North Laines. I phoned them to get the one Aspen Green G5420T they had out of the warehouse and to the shop and they were most helpful. And I arrived early on a Saturday morning to check it out.
I wanted to try it out with a heavier gauge string set on it, but they come from the factory with 10s on and they don’t re-string. Quite possibly because stringing it for a floating bridge un-initiate is a pain in the arse, but more of that later. Obligingly they provided a Blues Junior for me to play with (that’s the amp I use at home) and off I went noodling. My friend Des Day of Des Day promotional associated plc ltd. arrived to help me sort out the amp sound and give sage advice and off I went. BUT… it was no good, I just didn’t like the guitar, it felt all yuck.. no good at all. I could have wept,,.. oh well.
Rowan, the very helpful shop assistant with side-show Bob curls and a jaunty salesman’s pitch suggested I tried the Orange version of the model hanging in the store. This was more like it, a joy to play, and someone had done a bit to set it up in store. It needed some work to get it set right but… hmmmm, thinking about it now, starting respond, good, getting in gear.. lovely but… not sure…
Des suggests market research..
With wads of cash burning a hole in my britches Des, and rightly so, decided I needed to try a few alternatives out and we left to check out a couple of second-hand places and other solid bodies. No good, the orange one was a callin’, eventually I went back and purchased.
Returning home, I decided to change the strings for the heavy gauge I had originally wanted to try the guitar out with, and put a set of 11s on it. If you change the strings be careful, this guitar has a floating bridge and if you remove the foam under it and/or change the strings it comes with, you will need to make sure the bridge goes back to the factory tuned position it came in. As the intonation will be out if you do change the bridge position.
I moved mine slightly while changing the strings (more of that in a bit) and so once tuned to concert pitch I gradually adjusted firstly the main bridge and then the individual adjustable bridge pieces for each string, checking note accuracy with a good quality chromatic tuner as I did so. Once I’d done that I marked the bridge position, something which may have invalidated my warranty, but which makes future string replacement a doddle compared to this occasion.
All you need do is compare accuracy on individual strings with your opened but tuned note, then at the 12th fret position (pinging the harmonic helps this too) and then with a chromatic tuner above that if you feel it neccesary. It follows that a higher pitch than is desired requires you to lengthen (though only minimally) the scale length of the string, or in the opposite case, shorten it.
Once the main bridge is as close as possible to the correct position, you can use the fine bridge adjustment to acheive a really accurate result. I worked this out, and it’s logical, but, if you need, there are step by step guides of how to do this online I’ve since discovered. You can also find some set up guides on You Tube, which are handy.
Advice on string change
Don’t take all the strings off at once!!
This will leave the bridge to urrr… fall off. I did not do this, luckily someone in the store said not to, so I changed each string one by one.
String changing on this type of guitar and with this Tremelo design is a pain in the arse. This is mainly because each string loops round a post on the underside of the tremolo and unless tension is maintained … it pings off. It took a short swearing session to bring about a practical solution. USE YOUR CAPO TO HOLD THE STRING on the fretboard once it’s on the post, this will keep it there while you measure out and clip the string to wind on the tuning head. Wind it on, and once there is enough tension in it, take the Capo off and the string won’t come off the post at the bottom behind the bridge. If you don’t do this, find another way, or you will murder your best friend through frustration. It’s a down side to be honest, surely there’s a little practicle and cheap way to overcome this design flaw?
Just as a heads up Stewart McDonald do a piece of kit called a Vibramate Spoiler that can help you re-string easier. Check out the link. I don’t know if this affects the tone, as the strings don’t on use of it wrap round the tremelo fully, but it’s worth a go if you find it hard to re-string. I for one will stick with my own little workround of the problem for the sake of an entirely imagined tonal benefit.
Ideas.. and set-up
…currently to string up with flatwound heavy gauge strings for that mid rangey plunky and smoother sounds for picking and chording respectively, good for that 40s and 50s R&B and the hick-town chunk that is truest rockabilly guitar.. (*see bottom of article for update)
I’ve lowered the action a little more just by lowering the bridge a tickle more and it’s good, rings true and slick, the neck seems to be taking the heavier gauge strings well and there is no need for truss rod shenanigans .. yet.. I’ll keep an eye out to see if there’s any movement over time, but to be honest it shouldn’t move too much as the Rockabilly style of guitar tradition, (as it’s often finger and flat picked in development of a steel strung 6 string acoustic) calls on a heavier gauge and if their axe is designed properly for the purpose it appears to be built for, it shouldn’t ‘mal-function’.
I’ve also raised the front pick up’s ‘pole-pieces’ which sit under the 6th string to hopefully give it some extra ‘twang’ in it’s proximity to the string. As it was slightly lacking in this when playing. I’ve yet to make a decision on shifting any of the other pick up’s set up as the sound so far works well and pleases my ear. I might experiment later.
Strangely I’ve noticed that even with the floating bridge in the correct position the rear pickup does not line up correctly with the strings! This is concerning, but it doesn’t seem to affect the sound of the guitar, so I’m not going to allow myself to fret (gettit!! fret… get it !!??).
Not being used to this sort of guitar the tonal controls were exciting to me. There are independent volume controls for the two pick ups, one master volume control, and one master tone control. There are three pick up positions, back, middle and front, but with the independent volume controls I know I’m going to have fun when I get to find the time to play about with it, and not just play on it.
Simple, so far and considering the overall price, market, build quality, niche, and all that ‘jazz’.. the tremolo is disappointing. Not for the sound it makes (for it is that classic 50s tremmie wang not the ear bending Little Stevie Vai variety, but the mellow vibrato of Cochran, or Eddy), but that the Trem takes the guitar way too far out of pitch if anything but the lightest indulgence in ‘Tremming’ features in your playing.
Oddly, the tremolo takes the guitar UP in pitch, not under, the first guitar I have ever experienced doing so. Now this may be because the bridge needs a little polishing by the strings’ movement before it releases a wound string properly (I’d be interested to know if the flatwounds might fare better in this regard), nevertheless, if you end a live tune with more than the lightest tremolo at its ceasing, be prepared to re-tune while you try to keep the audience engaged, and let’s face it talking, cracking a joke and re-tuning all at once is more than most multi-taskers can take alongside performance anxiety!
If you guitar tuning gets out of shape, and particularly if you notice it’s going up in pitch, then give the offending string a nice mild yank, and this should put it somewhere nearer pitch and in tune with the other strings I have discovered.
The tuning heads/tuners and gearing could be of a better quality overall, but the guitar holds pitch fairly well, though if you’ve left it in case for a couple of days expect to retune. Obviously it’s a less stable guitar overall than a good solid body. The volume knobs/tone controls could be of a better quality, to be fair you’re not sure if they are chromed metal or plastic, I’m still not sure.
The paint finish is good, purfling a little boring but suitable and what grain you can see is also very plain, being ply of some sort no doubt.
The fretboard is well made and adequate and what detailing there is, is simple but neatly done.
I don’t like having a plastic nut, I don’t even know what the material is that they’re using, but it seems less dense than the Ivory or Bone I’m used to, and I can’t help think that it may be dulling the tone somehow, probably not the case at all though, but only Gretsch know.
I also wish that the pick guard / scratch plate was more easily removable so I could adjust the front pick up more easily, though maybe I’ve just missed a trick somewhere..
And that’s about it..
Overall verdict 7.5 out of 10 for impression overall
9 out of 10 for value for money
10 out of 10 for falling in love with my first hollow body
… but watch out for that tremolo, it’s a bit of a problem, though perhaps it’ll settle in.
I finally go round to purchasing that set of flatwounds. These started at a .11 and including a (flat) wound third.
The results are great, easier bass runs and audible results in the ‘sounds like it should’ category. Obviously a lot of those 50s cats were using flatwounds, because it kind of just completes the sound, particularly through a nice valve amp (I set mine literally down the middle on all EQ and don’t put too much gain on the signal either.
p.s. Looks like this has become one of the most popular Gretsch setup and floating bridge set up sites on the web! So please post your cures and headaches here, there are hundreds looking at this page every week.