Few punk-rock guitarists have made their mark like Tim Armstrong. Through his work with renowned punkers Rancid, Armstrong has torn it up on stages worldwide, and key to his presence is the fact he prefers hollowbody guitars. He recently teamed with Gretsch to design and build a new signature model.
The G5191BK is the latest addition to Gretsch’s Electromatic import line, a budget series that offers surprisingly high quality.
The G5191BK has classic Gretsch styling with some of Armstrong’s particular requests well-represented. Aesthetically, it’s just plain cool – oozing a rock vibe reminiscent of a hip old hot rod, it looks retro in its flat-/matte-black finish and gold hardware. It has a simple appeal; no crazy wood combinations or gawdy flash.
Fully hollow, it has a laminated maple body with a one-piece maple neck. Its 24.33″-scale neck has 22 jumbo frets with block acrylic inlays on a rosewood fingerboard and a graphite 111/16″ nut. The neck and headstock are triple-bound, the latter adorned with a pearloid Gretsch logo inlaid on its black overlay. The truss rod cover has an engraved signature and the headstock is rounded out by a set of gold Grover tuners. This is all attached to the four-ply bound maple body with single-ply bound f holes finished in an über-cool flat-black urethane.
Underneath the 17″ top are parallel tone bars and a soundpost that helps the body resonate extremely well and project louder than most hollow instruments. Fine touches include a gold rosewood-based Adjusto-Matic bridge, gold harp tailpiece, and traditional Gretsch knurled strap retainers.
To power the raucous riffs sure to be played on the G5191BK, it’s fueled by a pair of Black Top Filter’Tron pickups. The black/gold combination help round the basic, striking look of the guitar, and they’re controlled by a standard three-way switch with individual Volume and Tone controls for easy, effective tone tweaking. In typical Gretsch fashion, there’s a Master Volume on the cutaway so you can use the individual controls for tone shaping while having a quick, efficient way of cutting overall output volume. This feature is priceless once you get in the habit of using it.
Plugged in, the G5191BK does not disappoint. Its tone bars and soundposts give an acoustic projection and help it really drive the Filter’Tron pickups. It has the classic jangle and resonance one would expect from a Gretsch, while all that projection is a godsend for styles not necessarily associated with the brand.
In terms of build quality, this could be the best Electromatic to date. Playability is exceptional and overall tone rivals some instruments with considerably higher price tags. Detail work is clean, from the wiring down to the complete lack of finish or binding flaws.
After pushing the G5191BK through a variety of tube amps, it’s apparent the mission here was to build an affordable rocker. But Gretsch fans needn’t worry that this is strictly a rock machine. In fact, the added output can make for a much cleaner sound, especially when it comes to recording. And the twang inherent in hollowbody guitars will keep country and surf players happy. The only drawback is the requisite tendency to feed back, but again, the design helps reduce that at least a little bit.
Fans of classic Gretsch can be hard to impress. But for the money, there is very little to gripe about with the G5191BK. Its construction is solid and its sound is good for a number of musical styles. Purists may balk, but for the sheer fact this is a budget-level hollowbody with serious tone and character. Is it a classic ’60s Gretsch? Nope. Will it rock your socks off? Without fail.
Gretsch G5191BK Tim Armstrong Electromatic
This article originally appeared in VG August 2010 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.