Envious Omissions

A Custom-Order Gretsch 6196
Envious Omissions
Click to enlarge. Photos by Preston L. Gratiot

Gretsch aficionados know the adage – “Clubs have holes and a Gentleman don’t!” With this guitar, though, somebody messed with the system!

Under normal circumstances, the only way to view the serial number on a hollowbody Gretsch is through the bass-bout f hole. But this rare creation doesn’t have those, so fanatics have to cope with simple estimates.

This late-’50s Country Club was a custom-order designed to minimize feedback by omission of soundholes.

The owner was a county performer from Bakersfield who didn’t even want the Gentleman-style painted-on f holes marring its face.

The rest is standard Gretsch fare, with gold plating and the post-’58 Space Control bridge. There’s no sure way of nailing its year of manufacture, other than Gretsch’s habit of assigning feature changes to individual model years – a procedure that started in 1957, with serial number 25,000. At that point, Gretsch replaced serial number stickers introduced in 1949 with a orange and gray label that reads,  “Fred Gretsch Mfg. Co.– The Great Gretsch Sound” and is affixed to the inside back. It’s normally viewable through the upper f hole.

Luckily, 1957 was also the year Gretsch replaced its arrow-style knobs with “G-Indent” knobs, which means this guitar is a ’57 or later Club. Other indicators are the larger truss cover (’56), Filter’Tron pickups (’58), Space-Control roller bridge (’58), gold-Lucite pickguard (’55), and the G-cutout tailpiece (’54).

The pickguard is pantograph-engraved from the underside with the Gretsch block-letter log, and replaced the tortoiseshell plastic pickguard in 1954-’55.

The thumbprint inlays (’58) on ebony fingerboard replaced the “humpback” rectangular inlays on the Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. The humpbacks, in turn, replaced the pearloid-plastic rectangles back in 1954. Other clues include the new “Space-Control” type roller bridge and the newer Patent-Applied-For “Filter’Tron” double-coil pickups that were also introduced in ’58, replacing the Dynasonic s by DeArmond.

The Filter’Tron pickups and the lack of a zero-fret indicate this Country Club Custom wasdelivered in late 1958 or early ’59.

However, even though this guitar is a very collectable Gretsch in its own right due to its custom-ordered heritage, it would be a valued collectable even if it were a stock Model 6196. It seems as if the Cadillac Green color (a sort of medium green metallic) is a notable attraction when it comes to Country Clubs.

Models in the Country Club series differ only in basic color. Gretsch was famous for splashing guitars with the wildest colors available. In the early ’50s, Fender had just introduced the Stratocaster, so black, sunburst, and natural were the primary colors of the guitar universe’s 6-string rainbow!

Gretsch introduced the stereo Projecto-O-Sonic Country Club in ’58, designated the Model 6101 (sunburst) Model 6102 (natural) and the Cadillac Green Model 6103. These offered separation of treble and bass output through separate amplifiers to generate what Gretsch wordsmiths called “stereophonic, biaural sound disbursement.”

Of course, everything has its price, and in 1958, the “Project-O-Sound” option would set you back an extra $50 over the base cost of your Country Club. A glance at the advertised sale prices over the course of the last few years shows the stereo 6103 (Cadillac Green) will usually cost a good $1500 more than its monaural counterpart on today’s market, with its Natural and ’Burst counterparts also gaining a respectable amount reflecting the 3,000% increase of the original $50 option cost since the late 50s

Gretsch discontinued the original Country Club run in 1981.

References: Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company, Jay Scott; Electric Guitars & Basses, Gruhn & Carter; The Ultimate Guitar Book, Bacon & Day; The Guitar Handbook, Denyer; and American Guitars, Wheeler.

This article originally appeared in VG November 1995 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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