How does the switching work on Gretsch guitars?
Of the approximately 100 Gretsch electric guitar and bass guitar models available today, about half of them have a single switch on the upper bout. The other half have two switches on the upper bout. A dozen or so models even have a switch on the lower bout.
Welcome to the wonderfully idiosyncratic world of Gretsch switch configurations, which can differ quite substantially from other guitars. Once you fully understand what’s going on under your Gretsch guitar’s hood, we think you’ll agree that the switching layouts are really quite sensible. Ingenious, even. Here’s the deal …
Upper Bout, One Switch
If your Gretsch guitar or bass has one switch on the upper bout, it’s the pickup selector switch. With very few exceptions, these instruments have a rotary tone control knob (or knobs) on the lower bout.
Of course, there always is an exception; in this case it’s the single-pickup G6119-1959 Chet Atkins Tennessee Rose, which has a single three-way tone switch on the upper bout.
Examples of current Gretsch instruments with a single upper-bout switch are listed below.
Upper Bout, Two Switches
Two switches on the upper bout means the first one—closest to the upper-bout strap button—is a pickup selector and the second one is a tone-shaping switch. The latter offers three distinct pre-set tones and, consequently, these guitars do not have rotary tone control knobs on their lower bouts.
Interestingly, this arrangement is reversed on Gretsch Brian Setzer guitar models with two upper-bout switches. On these Setzer models, the first switch is the tone switch and the second switch is the pickup selector.
In any case, the tone switch works like this: When it’s in the down position, it basically equates to a rotary tone control set at about “9”—a slight high-frequency roll off, in other words. When the tone control switch is in the middle position, there is no tone circuitry in play and you hear the pure, bright sound of the pickups. And when the switch is in the up position, it basically equates to a rotary tone control set at about “6,” which is a medium-level high-frequency roll off.
All these developments were implemented in the 1950s at the behest of Chet Atkins, who didn’t want to futz around with a lower-bout tone control knob in the middle of a song. He preferred instead to have what he considered a faster and more conveniently placed tone-shaping option in the form of the upper-bout tone switch.
Examples of Gretsch instruments with two upper-bout switches are also listed below.
A dozen or so Gretsch electric instruments have an additional switch located on the lower bout near the volume and tone controls. This is almost always a standby switch—examples include the G6122-1962 and G6122-12 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman® models, the G6120DC Chet Atkins Double Cutaway Hollow Body, the G6119-1962 Chet Atkins Tennessee Rose™ (FT and HT versions) and the G6136DC White Falcon™ Double Cutaway and G6136LSB White Falcon Bass.
There are a small number of exceptions, however. On the G6120-CGP Chet Atkins Stereo Guitar, for example, the lower-bout switch is a mono/stereo switch. If the lower-bout switch is the only switch on the instrument, it’s a pickup selector switch—examples include the G5135 CVT, G5135GL G. Love Signature Electromatic® CVT and G2220 Junior Jet™ Bass II.
Current Gretsch instruments with a single upper-bout switch:
• Eddie Cochran, George Harrison and Duane Eddy tribute and signature models
• G6136CST, G6136DS and G6136TLDS White Falcon™ models; G6136DSBK Black Falcon
• G6122-1959 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman®, G6120DSW Chet Atkins Hollow Body, G6121-1955 Chet Atkins Solid Body with Leather Trim and G6119 Chet Atkins Tennessee Rose™ models
• G6196TSP Country Club™ models
• G6128TCG and G6128T-DSV Duo Jet™ models; G6129T-1957 Silver Jet
• G6134 Penguin™ models (black and white)
• Thunder Jet and Broadkaster® basses
• G6199 Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird guitar and bass models; G6138 and G5810 Bo Diddley models
• G6120KS Keith Scott Nashville®
• Double Jet, Pro Jet, Special Jet, Jet Club, Jet Baritone and Jet Doubleneck models
• Most Electromatic® guitars and basses
• G6136SLBP Brian Setzer Black Phoenix, G6120TV Brian Setzer Hot Rod with TV® Jones pickups (no rotary tone controls on these)
Current Gretsch instruments with two upper-bout switches:
• Brian Setzer Nashville models
• G6122-1958, G6122-1962, G6122II and G6122-12 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman® models
• Most G6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body models and G6121-1959 Chet Atkins Solid Body
• G6119-1962 Chet Atkins Tennessee Rose™ models
• G6136T, G6136TLTV, G6136DC and G7593 White Falcon™ models
• G6136TBK Black Falcon and G6136TSL Silver Falcon models (both with Bigsby®)
• G6196T Country Club™
• G6117 and G6118 Anniversary™ models
• G6136SLB White Falcon and G6073 Electrotone™ basses
• G6128T and G6128T-1962 Duo Jet™ models; G6128TVP and G6128T-TVP Power Jet models
• G6129T Sparkle Jet and G6131T-TVP Power Jet Firebird
• Reverend Horton Heat, Stephen Stills and Malcolm Young II artist models