5 Things You Probably Don't Know About the Gretsch Country Gentleman

Sixty years ago, Gretsch introduced the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and the Chet Atkins Tennessean, two new models that sat above and below the existing Chet 6120 in its catalogue. The Country Gent was the high-end guitar, while the Tennessean, a sort of less fancy one-humbucker take on the 6120, was the budget option. The Tennessean had a list price of $295 USD, the 6120 continued to sell for $400, and the Gentleman was pitched at $525. That put the new Country Gent second only to the White Falcon in the company's hollowbody electric line.

Chet himself switched from a 6120 to the new Country Gentleman as his main studio guitar. Despite the "improved" versions of the Gent that came later —notably the double-cutaway version introduced in 1961—and the fact that Gretsch would send them to him as they appeared, Chet continued to play his single-cut original. He felt it was a better instrument, and his view was that most of the changes Gretsch made were for the sake of change.

Chet helped promote the new Gent, and in summer 1957 Gretsch announced to its dealer network that "guitar star Chet Atkins will be in the Gretsch Guitar room to greet you personally" at that year's NAMM show in Chicago, where the Country Gent was previewed to the music trade, ready for its launch in '58.

1. The Country Gentleman was designed to avoid feedback.

Gretsch had for some time been concerned about feedback from its hollowbody models. Guitarists now playing live rock'n'roll at high levels on this type of electric were sometimes troubled by howling feedback when they pumped up the volume. Ray Butts suggested a solution, telling Gretsch that the way to minimize feedback—and to get better sustain into the bargain—was to secure the body's top in order to stop it vibrating.

Gretsch 50s Country Gent catalogue entry

Gretsch followed his advice and installed what it called truss bracing, which has since become better known as trestle bracing. The company was already gluing to the underneath of hollowbody tops a parallel pair of wooden rails to secure the pickups. Now, it began to add a "trestle," a sort of wide bridge-shape wooden section, to each of the rails. The two "legs" of each trestle connected to the back of the body, which meant the pair of trestles provided four curved, solid vertical posts that joined the top to the back. The result was a guitar where the top and back vibrated more sympathetically with each other, helping to cut feedback and enhance sustain.

Gretsch originally used its new trestle bracing from around 1958 to 1962 on many of its hollowbody models, including the Country Gent, the 6120, and the Tennessean, as well as the Country Club and the White Falcon. The company had for some time been making its "solidbody" models, such as the Duo Jet, with various pockets routed into the body, and for Gretsch this new bracing system further blurred the lines between solidbody and hollowbody guitars.

2. The Country Gent's new Filter'Tron pickups needed a new control layout.

By 1958, Gretsch was advertising its new humbucking Filter'Tron pickups as standard on almost all its models, including the new Country Gent. It proudly claimed that the Filter'Trons "eliminate absolutely all electronic hum—you get pure guitar sound."

Ray Butts, who devised the Filter'Trons, revised Gretsch's regular control layout to complement the new humbuckers. Until now, a Gretsch with two single-coil DynaSonic pickups had three knobs down beyond the bridge (a volume per pickup and a master tone), a master volume on the cutaway bout, and a pickup selector switch (bridge–both–neck) on the top bout.

Now, a two-humbucker Gretsch such as the Gent came with two volume knobs, one for each pickup, down beyond the bridge, and the regular master volume knob near the cutaway. On the top bout, there were now two three-way selector switches. The one furthest from the player was the usual bridge–both–neck pickup selector, but the other one replaced the old tone knob and was for "tone color." It selected between bass-emphasis, neutral, or treble-emphasis settings. Some Gretsch vintage fans call this the mud switch, thanks to what they consider its less-than-useful sounds, and many keep it safely stuck in the neutral middle position.

Gretsch Country Gentleman

3. The Gent was the first Gretsch with a thinline body.

The new single-cutaway Country Gentleman had a thinline body, a style that Gibson had popularized with its Byrdland and ES-350T models, both of which the Kalamazoo-based company had introduced in 1955.

Gretsch's take on Gibson's idea was an important feature of the new Gent, which had a body around 2" deep. This was in contrast to most of the similar models in the company's contemporary catalogue that were around an inch deeper—the 6120, for example, was about 2 3/4" deep at the time.

The Gent was also the first of the Chet Atkins models that Gretsch offered with a slightly wider 17" body—just like the White Falcon, Country Club, and Convertible—while the 6120 was only 15 1/2" wide, as was the new Chet Tennessean.

The body of the Country Gentleman was finished in semi-transparent brown, which Gretsch called a "rich mahogany-grained country-style finish." The company gave the Gent its customary four-figure reference number that denoted a specific combination of model and color, in this case 6122. The only Gretsch generally known today by its reference number is the 6120, no doubt because its full name—the Gretsch Chet Atkins Hollow Body 6120—is something of a mouthful.

4. Gretsch's new Country Gent had fake f-holes.

Chet Atkins - Finger-Style Guitar

A key element of the new Country Gentleman was its sealed body with "fake" f-holes, a further design feature intended to reduce the chance of feedback. In fact, Gretsch had been looking at this idea for a number of years, and it went back to an experimental 6120 that the New York-based company had made for Chet around 1956.

The instrument can be seen in some detail on the front of the sleeve of Chet's Finger-Style Guitar album of that year. This testbed 6120 had a thick, solid top with painted-on f-holes and it was fitted with prototype Butts humbuckers feeding two output jacks.

Much later, Gretsch would reproduce the historic instrument, calling it the Chet Atkins Stereo Guitar 6120-CGP and offering it as a limited edition in 2008.

5. The Gent was one of the first Gretsch guitars with thumbnail markers.

During the earlier days of Gretsch electrics, the company used traditional dot-shape or block-shape position markers on its fingerboards as well as a more ornamental type of block marker known as the hump-top. During 1957 and into 1958, however, Gretsch introduced a new shape for its fingerboard inlays, usually known as thumbnail or half-moon markers.

Gretsch 50s Neo-Classic fingerboard leaflet cover

Gretsch was never shy about using a fancy term for its hardware and features where other companies might use a plain one. So it was that Gretsch rather grandly called its new look the Neo-Classic fingerboard. A leaflet promoting the change described the "beautifully inlaid mother-of-pearl half moons on the bass side of the board," which it said were "perfect position markers and do not in any way detract from the classic feel which is so essential to perfect performance."

At the same time as the new thumbnail markers appeared along the side of many Gretsch fingerboards, including the new Country Gentleman, many of the boards were switched from rosewood to ebony to enhance Gretsch's distinctive Neo-Classic look.

An original-style single-cut Country Gent is still available today, as the G6122T-59 Vintage Select Edition, 60 years after its first appearance in the Gretsch line, where it was promoted as the "new hollowbody guitar with all the famous Chet Atkins features." This refined Gentleman has certainly stood the test of time.

About the Author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. He is a co-founder of Backbeat UK and Jawbone Press. His books include The Gretsch Electric Guitar Book, Echo And Twang, and Electric Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at tonybacon.co.uk.

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