Review Date: Thursday 3rd of January 2013 04:14:08 PM Last Updated: Thursday 1st of January 1970 01:00:00 AM Reviewed By: Huw Price
With smart looks that echo the fabulous single-cut Gretsch Duo Jet of the ’50s, the well-priced Electromatic Pro Jet does that rock’n’roll slapback thing well – and a few other styles besides. Review by Huw Price
Our guitar reviews this month are rockabilly-themed, but it may seem curious that they’re all so very different. We have a contemporary solidbody, a jazzed-up archtop, and a semi-solid in the compact form of this Gretsch Pro Jet – but while they’re so unalike, viewed from a rockabilly perspective that’s hardly incongruous.
After all, one of the most fascinating aspects of rockabilly is that it’s a bona-fide musical melting pot. Back in the day everything was in the mix, from raw blues to sophisticated country picking and even horn-inspired jazz inflections. Over the decades rockabilly has assimilated elements from punk, surf, ska, spaghetti and spy themes… so it’s no wonder that there is no ‘definitive’ rockabilly guitar.
Then again, the black Gretsch Duo Jet has a stronger claim to the title than most because Gene Vincent’s legendary sideman, Cliff Gallup, played one. Despite spending no more than 12 months as a Blue Cap, he remains one of rockabilly’s most influential and respected players (just ask Jeff Beck).
If you want exactly the same guitar as Cliff’s you’ll need a Gretsch G128T-DSV, but that will cost you about four or five times more than this Electromatic G5435T Pro Jet version.
To the uninitiated both may appear much the same, but there are key differences. 1950s Duo Jets were built like mini jazz guitars: although sold as solidbodies, Duo Jets were always semi-solid with a centre block and a glued-on maple cap.
The fingerboard tongue also extended high above the top if the body, which provided space for the tall, surface-mounted DeArmond pickups.
This G5345T Pro Jet is semi-solid too, with a chambered basswood body and an arched maple cap, but in every other respect the construction has more in common with a Far Eastern-made Epiphone Les Paul than a real old Duo Jet.
The hump block markers might recall Gretsch’s mid-1950s styling, but the Black Top Filter’Tron humbucking pickups are more late ’50s in design and appearance.
Although the controls might look complex, they’re pretty easy to figure out. There’s a conventional three-way pickup switch with a Volume control for each pickup located beneath the Bigsby.
A master Tone control is located towards the lower bout, and a master Volume control is mounted on the cutaway horn. Players can also decide which volume controls they prefer using and simply ignore the others.
We particularly like the vintage-style G-brand ‘arrow’ knobs and the chrome switch tip, while the B50 Bigsby adds character and is screwed straight onto the three-ply maple top.
You get vintage-style tuners and Gretsch’s simple but effective strap lock buttons, but the mother of toilet seat pickguard is hardly a triumph.
Given the fairly heavyweight construction and the Filtertron-style pickups, the Pro Jet’s sound comes as a pleasant surprise. DeArmond-equipped Duo Jets are known for their ultra-clear and bell-like sounds, and this guitar shares those qualities.
Unusually, the semi-solid timbre is more apparent plugged in than unplugged, although it has longer sustain and smoother decay than you might expect from a vintage-style Gretsch. In truth the Pro Jet sounds less quirky and genre-specific, but that probably broadens its appeal.
The bridge setting has a throaty quack and plenty of twang. Flick over to the bridge and you get a rounder tone with more body, but no compromise in clarity. The Pro Jet almost cries out to be Travis picked, and the tone control is effective for smoothing the response without resort to a compressor.
You can also swing the sound of the neck pickup into jazz and jump blues territory. While Duo Jets may sound comparatively bright, it’s worth pointing out that many of the original rockabilly players used flatwound strings – so pickups with an extended treble response evened things out rather nicely.
Fast forward 60 years, and these pickups demonstrate their suitability for modern rock sounds. If you aim to retain clarity and definition with high-gain amp settings, they’ll cut though anything, and they’re also adept at driving chains of effects pedals.
Many fiscally-impaired Gretsch enthusiasts regard the import Electromatic models as fair game for modification. Bigsby, pickguard and tuner upgrades are common, and upgraded sets of alnico-loaded Gretsch or TV Jones Filtertrons often, theoretically drop right in. TV Jones offers an adaptor to mount their pickups in rings like these, with two height adjustment screws on each end. However, cynics might conclude that the FMIC has deliberately made the pickup surround rings on the latest Electromatic models over-sized to discourage owners fitting vintage-spec plastic rings.
Even in stock form, the vibe and sound of the Pro Jet is unmistakably Gretsch and this fine guitar plays nicely and stays in tune (then again, the Bigsby doesn’t present that much of a challenge because the range doesn’t extend beyond a half-step down and a quarter-step up). The differences between the Electromatic Pro Jet and the American-made Duo Jet reissues are obvious and manifold, but pick one up and you’ll soon forget that you’re playing a ‘budget’ guitar.
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