October 18, 2012
By Morgan Brunner
Gretsch guitars and basses are loaded with distinctively stylish features that all contribute greatly to their very “Gretsch-iness.” From pickups to bridges, trem arms to tailpieces, and control knobs to switching layouts, few instruments are the sums of their parts – and much more – quite like a Gretsch.
This is especially evident right at your fingertips, because Gretsch instruments have a fingerboard inlay tradition all their own. Several of the styles adopted in the 1950s are still in use today and have long since become distinct Gretsch traditions. Here’s a look at what you’ll find on Gretsch fingerboards today:
Of the roughly 100 Gretsch electric guitars available today, only about a dozen feature block markers. This wasn’t always so.
Blocks go way back. Like many of their pre-World-War II acoustic predecessors, most early Gretsch electrics had block inlays, with dot inlays reserved for entry-level models. Early block markers sometimes featured intricate engraving or in more rare instances were split by a diagonal line, but most were plain block inlays.
The early 1954 introduction of Gretsch’s “solid-body” Round Up model marked the first appearance of western-themed block inlays, engraved with cactus and steer head designs (fences also appeared on later versions). That same year, to the chagrin of Chet Atkins himself, western inlays also appeared on the first 6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body guitars, although they were gradually removed over the next couple years and were gone by 1957. Western block inlays have proven much more popular in Gretsch’s modern era—of the dozen or so models in the current Gretsch guitar lineup that have block inlays, five of them feature the western style (both Eddie Cochran 6120 models, the Rev. Horton Heat signature 6120, the G6120DSW Chet Atkins Hollow Body and the G6121-1955 Chet Atkins Solid Body with Leather Trim).
Plain block inlays on a G6128T-DSV Duo Jet (left), and western-style block inlays on a G6120DSW Chet Atkins Hollow Body (right).
With the 1955 introduction of the White Falcon and White Penguin, Gretsch put elegant new emphasis on a feature seen on only a handful of its earlier high-end guitars – so-called “Hump-Block” inlays. These were block inlays with an added arched section protruding from the top; early versions were sometimes split by a diagonal line. The original White Falcon and White Penguin models had Hump-Block inlays bearing various stylized bird-wing engravings.
Gretsch switched almost entirely to plain Hump-Block inlays for a year or so around 1957, and they also found their way onto some 1958 models.
Hump-Block inlays are very Gretsch-y, and today they appear on about a quarter of the electric guitars in the current lineup. These include several (but not all) Falcon models, both Penguin models, several Jet models, some Country Club models, the G6120DE Duane Eddy Signature Hollow Body, the G6120KS Keith Scott Nashville and several Electromatic guitar and bass models. The Synchromatic Archtop, Synchromatic Cutaway Archtop and Jimmie Vaughan Synchromatic models feature split Hump-Block inlays.
Plain Hump-Block inlay on a G6196TSP-2G Country Club (left), and stylized bird-wing Hump Block inlay on a G6136TLDS White Falcon (right).
Gretsch almost universally adopted “Neo-Classic” inlays – also called “thumbnail” or “half-moon” inlays – in 1958. They are indeed half-moon shaped and are placed along the bass-string side of the fingerboard. Neo-Classic inlays became and remained the most commonly used fingerboard markers on Gretsch guitars through the 1960s and 1970s.
There were some short-lived variations. A very few Gretsch guitars, such as the mid-1960s Monkees Model and a very few Country Club and Duo Jet models, had double Neo-Classic inlays, running along both sides of the fingerboard. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gretsch guitars with the “T-Zone Tempered Treble System” had dot inlays offset on the treble side of the highest frets and Neo-Classic inlays along the bass side of most of the fingerboard.
Today, Neo-Classic inlays are by far the most prevalent Gretsch fingerboard inlay style, appearing on nearly half the guitars and basses in the current lineup.
Neo-Classic inlays along the bass-side edge of the fingerboard on a G6122-1958 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.
From Gretsch’s earliest days to the present, many of its entry-level instruments have simple dot fingerboard inlays. About a dozen electric instruments in the current Gretsch lineup use dots, including the rectangular G6138 and G5810 Bo Diddley guitars, the G5415 Special Jet, the G5566 Jet Double Neck, the G5265 Jet Baritone, the CVT III and G5135 CVT, the G5135GL G. Love Signature Electromatic CVT, the G5135CVT-PS Patrick Vaughn Stump signature model, and the G2220 and G2210 Junior Jet basses. Further, most current Gretsch acoustic instruments have dot inlays.
Dot markers along the fingerboard of a G5135 Electromatic CVT.