Gretsch 6120 book

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Gretsch 6120 book

Postby guitarchuck » Sat Dec 11, 2010 1:11 pm

I just got the Gretsch 6120 book for my birthday. It's a wonderful book! I was wondering about the black sealed top guitar that Chet is playing on the back cover of the book. The story inside the book claims it is the same black 6120 that we have discussed here before, the guitar Chet used on the "Dark Eyes" video with the sealed top & gold sparkle f holes. The sides are a different color. Was this guitar refinished at some point?
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby thenorm » Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:55 pm

I doubt it
I think it was a screwy looking guitar to begin with. Gold sparkle f-holes? Transparent pickguard... swivel handle on the Bigsby. Possibly just trying a new color on the top.

Gretsch had some strange ideas about color but that;s part of what made them special

That was a very transitional period. Filter tron pickups getting invented, Chet pushing for more sustain and a sealed top. That guitar could have been put together by what happened to be handy at the factory at the time experimenting with solid tops
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby thenorm » Sat Dec 11, 2010 10:08 pm

I think the guy is wrong about the guitar on the back cover. I think the 'dark eyes' guitar is a whole 'nother animal because of what I already pointed out, the Bigsby and pickguard (as well as the finish) are different.

Just because someone writes a book doesn't mean they got all the details right.

I have the book Chuck is talking about but I haven't read it that closely yet. That, and Gretsch guitars were very inconsistant. I think Paul said the 'dark eyes' guitar got given to Bill Porter (after having DeArmond pickups put back on it) and it was just like the video...dark top and back.

Source:The Gretsch Book by bacon and day.
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby thenorm » Sat Dec 11, 2010 10:30 pm

The Dark Eyes guitar has a signature pickguard and the prototype filter trons. It also has a toggle switch in one of the knob holes in the lower bout. It does not appear to have an extra ouput jack on it. Of course Chet could swap out a harness in a gretsch in about an hour no doubt.

Bill Porter's guitar has the signature pickguard but DeArmond pickups and four knobs (two vlume, one tone and master volume) and you can clearly see the work Ray did for the "invisible bass man" at the high end of the fingerboard. Looks like six or seven small disks or magnets in between the frets on the high end.

This is not all that evident on the Dark Eyes guitar and not at all on the back cover of the 6120 book and as I already pointed out the one on the back cover seems to have a clear pickguard or one someone sanded the paint off of,

Gretsch gave Chet a lot of guitars and he gave most of them away... We'll never know for sure...
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby guitarchuck » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:08 am

Hi Norm,
I agree, they are not the same guitars. I do belive the one on the back cover has a gold colored pickguard, not clear, you can't see through it. It's just a standard Gretsch pickguard without the Chet Atkins signpost. Also It looks to me like the f-holes lack any sparkle. They apear to be white. The sides of the guitar are definately a light color. The back of the neck is dark like the top, as you can see the heel of the neck. The guitars are on page 90 & 91 in the book. They are definately 2 different guitars I think. The Black guitar was used on the Dark Eyes video around 1956 and it was totaly black at that tim.
Here's some time line info that I've discovered:
Purina Show 1955:
1: On the song "Side By Side": The Orange or Red sealed top guitar has 2 DeArmond pickups and Chet's fixed Chet Atkins style arm Bigsby and the 1955 style steerhead neck with western inlays.
2: On the song "The Poor People of Paris (Jean's Song): The Orange or Red sealed top guitar has 1 DeArmond neck pickup & 1 Ray Butts prototype bridge Filtertron pickup, Chet's Kaufman vibrola and the 1955 style steerhead neck with western inlays.
3: The Orange or Red sealed top guitar appears in a July 1956 photo at the Grand Ole Opry (page 82 of the Gretsch 6120 book) with Chet's fixed Chet Atkins style arm Bigsby and the 1955 style steerhead neck with western inlays. The master volume has been replaced with a switch at that point. I can't tell from the photo what the pickups are.
4: The Today show April 4, 1957 photos show the Orange or Red sealed top guitar in it's stereo configuation, the replacement 56/57 style neck with the horseshoe & plain block markers, and the
fixed Chet Atkins style arm Bigsby.
5: The dark topped, light sided sealed top guitar is pictured with Chet back stage at the Grand Ole Opry in September 1956. It has a Ray Butts prototype neck pickup visible, plain Gretsch pickguard, swivel Chet Atkins armed Bigsby & a 1956 horseshoe, plain block neck. (page 90 & the back cover of the Gretsch 6120 book).
6: The Black sealed top gold sparkled f-hole guitar is featured on the "Dark Eyes" video. It has the prototype Ray Butts Filtertron pickups, and a 1956 horseshoe, plain block neck. It has the same switch & knob configuration as the Red/Orange guitar. It is also featured on the "Mr. Atkins, If You Please" cover with 2 output jacks. (pg. 80 of Chet Atkins, Me and My Guitars book).

I think all 3 of these guitars lead up to, and were the prototypes for the Country Gentleman. Chet was looking for a better sounding pickup (the Ray Butts Filtertrons), more sustain (the sealed top), do away with the western apointments (we see them going away on these guitars), and a darker colored guitar (he didn't care for the orange at the time we're told).
I do think the Red/Orange guitar was built first in 1955, then the other 2 in 1956. Then the Country Gentleman came out in late 1957.
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby thenorm » Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:35 am

Good list Chuck.

I asked Joe Carducci of Gretscj about the sealed top "red" guitar and he said this:

"…The original prototype Gretsch STEREO guitar was created for Chet Atkins in 1956 with the help of musician and electronics repairman from Cairo, Illinois, Ray Butts. Ray's ingenious split-dual-coil pickup was assembled on a prototype G6120 guitar with closed simulated "F-Hole" inlays on the body, Only ONE was ever produced…."

That particular time period (mid fifties) was a tremendous burst of creativity for guitar. The Bigsby got finalized, Gibson and Gretsch each had their own version of anti-hum pickup, the Les Paul and Fender guitars came into being. Ray Butt's Echo-Sonic amp paved the way for portable tape echo units and on and on.

Chet played several differnt guitars in that period but apparently did most of his recording on the "red" 6120 until the Gentleman guitars came around, particularly his old workhorse 6122-59. In any case he did a lot of tinkering and pickup switching during that time. I will say I always thought it odd that he reverted to the Kaufman vibrato for a brief period.

btw... it's been pointed out before that Chet didn't have Ray Butts split that pickup for "stereo" effect. He wanted to game his recordings a bit and have more control of special effects on his recordings. A "stereo" guitar would have little or no purpose in a radio or TV performance of the period. Paul has indicated that Chet always used it as a recording tool and when he played it publicly he played it mono.

Like I said, the mid fifties were a pretty exciting and creative period for guitaring. A lot of things happening at once...
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby guitarchuck » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:18 am

Norm,
You and I and maybe few others are interested in these mysterious details of Chet's guitars. I'm taking a wild guess here, I wonder if Chet only had one Bigsby at the time and more than one guitar that he was trying it on? That could explain why you saw the Kaufman Vibrola switch around on his guitars too.
Also that Black guitar with the sparkle f-holes clearly shows on the "Mr. Atkins, If You Please" cover, 2 guitar cords coming out of it. (pg. 80 of Chet Atkins, Me and My Guitars book). That makes me wonder if Ray built a second set of stereo pickkups for Chet, or if he just switched them out?
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby BillB » Sun Dec 12, 2010 10:54 am

Hey Chuck,
Speaking for myself, I find this thread very interesting. It seems that over the years, we have found out quite a bit more information on the sealed-top red/orange guitar, except for its current whereabouts (would love to see current pics). The black one is a little more mysterious, I guess since it was obviously an experimental sort (stealthy) that was seen a few times here and there. I guess if we hadn't seen it in the Dark Eyes video (which was outstanding), we might not be quite as curious about it. But it does make for interesting, even fascinating, conversation to those of us with Chet interest along with an interest in rare guitars. Anyway, I wanted to let you and Norm know that I'm enjoying the discussion as I'm sure several other folks are.

Have a great day!

Bill B.
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby thenorm » Sun Dec 12, 2010 12:28 pm

grrrr… I had this all written out then my computer modem hiccupped and I lost it all. I’ll try again…

Chuck wrote: “…I wonder if Chet only had one Bigsby at the time and more than one guitar that he was trying it on? That could explain why you saw the Kaufman Vibrola switch around on his guitars too….”

That seems unlikely but who knows why he did that. It’s only three screws to remount those things and only Chet would know why he did it.

As for the pickups:
Those color videos were based on some films made in, I think, a two week period.
The Dark Eyes guitar is missing one of the control knobs. There is a switch in the lower bout which is likely an A/B switch for the split pickup. I opine that is the test guitar for the split pickup and harness.

The red guitar, with its sealed top, was Chet’s newest experiment at the time. Right then it was his current favorite.

The clip of Arkansas Traveller has the ‘red’ guitar and shows no A/B switch. I’d say he was using the prototype Filter Tron pickups on that guitar and the dark guitar had the split pickup and harness as a test instrument.

So it seems reasonable and logical to think that sometime after those films Chet went ahead and moved the split pickup harness to the red guitar and drilled the extra holes needed to accommodate the A/B switch and extra output jack so he could use the advantages of the sealed top and split pickup in his recordings.

Paul sent me a picture once of a couple of Ray Butt’s pickups in progress and it was evident that once he determined how many windings he needed to get the meter readings he wanted Ray had the winders and wherewithal to make any kind of pickup he wanted. In those days he used DeArmond casings for looks and mounting ease.

It’s too bad Paul never had a chance to examine the red guitar when Jimmy Atkins had it. I’m sure he would have meticulously documented it.


That’s how it looks to me…
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Re: Gretsch 6120 book

Postby Paul Yandell » Sun Dec 12, 2010 4:25 pm

I remember one night at the Opry Chet had that black 6120 with the gold F holes as I remember they were flush with the top I only saw it once after Ray invented those pickups Odell Martin got a pair for his 6120 I wanted to but didn't have the money I think Ray charged $125 each for them which was a lot of money back then, I think Chet changed the pu's before he gave the guitar to Bill Porter, thanks paul
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