The Gretsch G5655T-CB Electromatic Center-Block
Price: $1,275.00 (list); $899.00 (street)
It’s no secret that hollowbodies don’t excel in high-gain situations. Gretsch’s Electromatic line of guitars use a solid-spruce center block designed to cut feedback when things get loud.
The smallest of the line, the G5655T-CB shares the 1.75″ deep, double-cut body and 13.5″ lower bout of the Double Jet. While the Double Jet’s body is chambered basswood with an arched maple top, the hollow G5655T-CB’s body features five-ply maple for the back, sides, and top. The neck is standard Gretsch – a 1.6875″-wide nut tops a rosewood fretboard crowned with 22 medium-jumbo frets, while the fretboard’s 12.5″ radius and the shallow D-shaped maple neck make for effortless playing.
Hardware includes a Bigsby-licensed vibrato and non-locking Grover tuners. However, the deep string channels in the nut or the nut material itself (or perhaps both) are a little grippy out of the box, causing the stings to come to rest slightly sharp after a wang-bar attack. Tuning becomes more stable after a few hours of playing, and a little dry graphite lubricant doesn’t hurt.
Fit, finish, and set-up are all surprisingly good for an instrument in this price range. Intonation was spot on, string height at the 12th fret was just .05″, the binding was free of paint bleed, and the urethane finish was smooth enough for self-admiration by even the most narcissistic among us.
A Black Top Filter’Tron pickup near the bridge provides all the early George Harrison jangle and super-clean Chet Atkins single notes anyone could ever use. Beatles songs are channeled almost involuntarily through the ’Tron. And even though Tom Petty doesn’t normally use a Gretsch, the G5655T-CB is great for reproducing the rhythms of nearly every song he’s ever done.
The dual-coil neck pickup, dubbed the Super HiLo’Tron, has just six pole pieces in view, but rest assured it’s a humbucker – the sound is a blend of Gretsch top-end shimmer and Les Paul PAF smoothness. It’s a unique sound, to be sure, and unusually useful for providing clear yet warm rhythm chords with great note separation.
Though volume between the pickups is well-balanced when switching between the two, the tone of the bridge is dominant when the two are combined. The Tone knob works only on the bridge pickup, but dialing it back offers the neck pickup a chance to come to the fore in the tonal spectrum. The spruce center block helps prevent unwanted feedback, as intended, but it also affects the tone of both pickups. While the sound remains distinctly Gretsch, there’s an extra meatiness to the midrange. The center block provides jazzy warmth to the neck pickup, and the bridge pickup can be used for a SG-like lead tone, especially with the Tone knob rolled off to about 8.
Due to the small body, however, the traditional “Bigsby hurdle,” in which the player’s picking hand has to clear the vibrato’s arm and mounting pivot to get to the control knobs, is more severe than on larger guitars. The Tone and Volume knobs for the bridge pickup are in the shadow of the arm, and the Volume control for neck pickup is nearly underneath the main pivot.
Feedback testing involved running the G5655T-CB through an early-’80s Fender Super Champ in a 15×15 room with an eight-foot ceiling. All-tube and point-to-point wired, the Super Champ dished out Paul Rivera levels of gain. Pushed to window-rattling, 911-calling levels, the little Gretsch refused to squeal unless it was aimed directly at the amp’s speaker, and then only in close proximity. Compared to a non-chambered Les Paul with PAFs, it fed back about equally.
The Gretsch G5655T-CB Electromatic proved capable of getting big, hollowbody Gretsch tones and a whole lot more without being big or, technically, a hollowbody.
The G5655T-CB comes in $575 more than the Double Jet. Is a block of spruce worth it? Sooner or later, things get loud, boost knobs get pulled, and a green box on the floor gets stomped… So, yes.
This article originally appeared in VG November 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.