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It's more than a little ironic that the definitive electric guitar made by the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company is seldom referred to by its name - the Chet Atkins Hollow Body. Today, this classic guitar is more likely to be known by its model number (6120) or its trademark orange finish rather than its namesake, Chet Atkins. This wasn't always the case. In 1954, when Chet was an up-and-coming guitar superstar, he agreed to help design and endorse a new Gretsch electric guitar. Chet became the Gretsch Company's top artist-endorser and without his design input/suggestions and incredible name recognition, it's very doubtful that Grestch would have achieved the exposure and success it did in the electric guitar market.
The 6120 was officially announced in 1954 and made its catalog debut in Gretsch's 1955 Guitar for Moderns catalog. At this point neither Chet nor the folks at Grestch had any idea the guitar would become a true classic. From its flashy orange finish and its slightly oversized f-holes, to its metal bridge, big metal volume and tone knobs, Bigsby tailpiece and large gold-colored Lucite pickguard featuring a signpost logo with Atkins' signature, this guitar got attention! And it caught on very quickly - first with countr players, then with rock-and-roll and rockabilly players.
Gretsch's philosophy was to change most of its models regularly and the 6120 was no exception. From its debut as a single-cutaway in model year 1955 until it was changed in favor of a double-cut design at the end of model year 1961, the 6120 was modified almost every year it was in production. When it first appeared, it had Western appointments that included the "G brand" on the top and block-shaped position markers with engraved Western figures. The included leather strap was dressed with steer-and-cactus figures that matched the fingerboard markers, and came with a belt buckle and little ruby rhinestones! For an additional $58, you got the nifty deluxe Western case with white simulated-cowhide exterior, complete with a tooled-leather valance that matched the guitar strap. Two single-coil DeArmond pickups were standard and provided incredible sound.
This look didn't last very long and the 6120 went through an evolution that saw the finish color progress from orange/brown to pumpkin orange, to red/orange, to an almost yellow orange. The body depth got progressively slimmer from 2 3/4" to 2 1/2" to 2 1/4" deep. The Western ornamentation disappeared in favor of a more traditional look. The DeArmond pickups gave way to Gretsch's humbucking pickup - the double-coil Filter'Tron. The sound was very different but still distinct. A variety of cosmetic changes took place, but the 6120 remained a terrific-sounding, exceptionally cool-looking instrument.
In spite of these changes, several distinguishing characteristics did not change radically, including the body, the flashy finish (regardless of hue), signpost-logo pickguard, big control knobs, Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, metal bridge, and the unique sound.
In 1959 and '60, Grestch must have had a stockpile of curly maple, given that so many of their deluxe models from that time have gorgeous tops like the one you see here. It also has Filter'Tron pickups, the trademark pickguard with the signpost logo, a "Gretsch by Bigsby" vibrato tailpiece (note the neat looking "V" in the base) and neo-classic (thumbnail-shaped) fingerboard inlays.
Many famous guitarists have used the 6120 as their primary instrument. Legends like Atkins, Eddie Cochran, and Duane Eddy have used the 6120 to great advantage because the instrument is so versatile. Listen to classic songs like Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock," "Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie," "Nervous Breakdown," Eddy's "Forty Miles of Bad Road," "Rebel Rouser," "Stalkin'," "Quinela," or Atkins' "Caravan," "Arkansas Traveler," and "Alabama Jubilee." Rockabilly star Brian Setzer has been a 6120 disciple for years, playing one on killer tunes like "Rock This Town," "Double Talkin' Baby," and "I Won't Stand In Your Way."
A true eye-catcher, the 6120 has been featured on the covers of classic LPs like Singing To My Baby, Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel, and A Session with Chet Atkins. Stellar blues and R&B artists like B.B. King and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters have also featured the 6120 on album covers.
The 6120's distinctive visual appeal carried over into the video era, where it appeared regularly on MTV with artists like Bryan Adams, Thompson Twins, and Van Halen. Not bad for a guitar known by a number! - Jim Hilmar
Jim Marshall Passes
Jim Marshall, who pioneered guitar amplifiers used by some of the greatest names in rock and roll, died April 5. He was 88.
Born in London in 1923, Marshall was a drummer, drum teacher, and owner of a musical-instrument retail store specializing in drums. He also carried guitars and amps, including the Fender line. Most players, however, found them to be prohibitively expensive and not quite what they needed.
"Players like Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore and 'Big' Jim Sullivan pointed out to me, that although they used a Fender, it didn't produce the sound they wanted," Marshall told VG in a 2003 interview. "So they described the sound they were looking for to me. And that's how the JTM 45 came to be."
Also in 2003, Marshall product manager Nick Bowcott described the "sound" of Marshall amps as highly subjective.
"What the typical Marshall sound is really does depend on the listener," he said. "A fan of '70s British blues rock might cite Paul Kossoff's edgy, organic sound as typical Marshall or Clapton's quintessential 'woman tone.' Others might hear it as AC/DC's cleaner-than-you-think rhythm and bruise, Edward Van Halen's jaw-dropping classic 'brown sound,' the raw, brutal roar of the rhythm work of Kerry King of Slayer, Zakk Wylde's fat, woody overdrive, the singing sustain of a Joe Satriani or Slash, or the crushing crunch of modern players like Wayne Static (Static-X), Stef Carpenter (Deftones), Daron Malakian (System Of A Down), or Mike Mushok (Staind)."
Friends and music-industry acquaintances cite Marshall as a humble and generous man who, over several decades, quietly donated many millions of pounds to worthy causes.
To read more, including Lisa Sharken's interview with Marshall for VG and Ed Driscoll's 2003 feature on Marshall amps.