Gretsch Electromatic guitars have always been a staple for the budget conscious worship guitarist, but to be honest I never liked them sonically. Cosmetically they nailed it, but tone wise they always sounded to fat and had too much gain to the pickups, when compared to their Japanese made pro-line counterparts.
There were tons of retrofit case studies out there and tons of folks learned creative ways to swap pickups and electronics out, but when you take into account buying the mods, paying for installation, or voiding your warranty and possibly damaging your guitar by doing it yourself, it just never seemed worth it to me. I kept thinking that Gretsch was just missing the mark. I mean why design cheaper versions of your more expensive guitars that nail the esthetic but miss out sonically, specially when big brother Fender has done a great job with Squier. Now before you go blasting me in the comments, let me explain that comment. Squier has always stayed true to the fender esthetic as well as sonic tonality. While both are a huge downgrade from their MIM, MIJ and American Made Fender’s you can get roughly the same tonality and esthetic from them. With Gretsch the tone seemed more matched for metal heads than who the core audience was built around, as well as Worship guitarists, with the likes of Michael Guy Chislett and Nigel Hendroff who have pioneered and had an immense impact on Gretsch.
Anyways, Gretsch started grabbing my attention with their Electromatic line. Their center-block series to be specific. I have owned three different center block models including a G6636T White Falcon, G6609TFM Broadkaster and now the Electromatic G5622T. I absolutely love the airy chime, full body mid-range, with the elimination of feedback issues that inherently come with a fully-hollow guitar.
After a long hiatus from playing guitar and being a gearhead, I was looking for a budget friendly semi-hollow guitar to start getting back into things. Yes, I know many of you are wondering how someone could part with the other two Gretsch’s. I still regret the Broadkaster sale. Oh well. Someday I will own another one. Back to the G5622T Electromatic though. I found one at Sims music on Reverb and it had an absolutely stellar wood grain on the top. It was almost quilt maple’ish. I paid $799 for it and thought, eh, I should give these a try. Up until then I hadn’t tried anything since the 3 humbucker semi-hollow Gretsch had put out back in 2012-2013, which was again to heavy on the gain side of things.
Boy am I glad that I did give it a chance. Gretsch, seems to have shifted their model a bit and has tried to create great sounding affordable options to their more expensive Japanese models. This particular one is very 335esque with a semi-hollow body with spruce center block that extends from the end of the neck to the bottom of the guitar leaving two hollow body chambers on the sides. The fit and finish of this guitar are absolutely spectacular for a Chinese made piece. The setup was spot on and I struggled to find anything to complain about. Specially at first.
What I Like
Fit & Finish
The finish and binding were incredible on this model and very much harkens back to the vintage Gretsch models that the company is famed for. Much better than their soiree into modern higher gain metal head designs. The guitar felt right at home with similar dimensions to both my previous White Falcon and my Broadkaster. I even love how they removed “Electromatic” from the headstock in favor of a clean black headstock with mother of pearl Gretsch inlay. It just has a simplistic beauty about it and doesn’t degrade the quality of the guitar as much at the onset. The “Electromatic” brand was tastefully added below Gretsch on the pickguard which, I thought I would end up swapping off but after playing the guitar for a few months, decided I should give respect where respect was due.
Laurel Wood Fretboard
The fretboard is made out of Laurel wood vs. Ebony on the higher end models. Cosmetically it isn’t quite as striking as the dark black ebony on the Pro-Series MIJ models but it has more of a rosewood look to it. I was a bit concerned about durability, because historically Ebony has been way more durable for me. In the two years of owning this guitar and the near every week 4-6 hours of playing it gets, I am happy to say that I don’t see any pitting or caverns in the fretboard. The Laurel wood absorbs fretboard oil similar to rosewood as well so it’s easy to keep it looking new.
The fretwork really shocked me as well. No whether this should be attributed to Sim’s Music who sold it to me or Gretsch, I am not sure. That said, there wasn’t a single buzz. The fret ends were perfectly polished and don’t dig into your fingers. The action was perfectly setup as well.
Broad’Tron Pickusp & Electronics
Now to where I am really blown away, the electronics. This has been where I have been critical of Gretsch. As mentioned they always missed the mark sonically for me on the Electromatic line. Not any more. These Broad’Tron pickups are killer. I must say they are a bit hotter than your standard classic filtertron pickup, but there were very similar to the Full’Tron pickups in the Broadkaster I owned, which for me is the perfect combo of gain, clarity and chime. These pickups are a hair darker on the high end but nothing that a bit of EQ can’t dial out/in. What I love is that they characteristically sound like a filtertron. They have a nice chime, good snarl and a woody/airiness to them. They have what many call “That Gretsch Sound”. Paired with a POD Go, yes I went budget friendly on this review, I was able to get some great lead tones and to be honest, some of the best rhythm tones I have ever heard. Utilizing Worship Tutorials free AC30 patch and this guitar, I was able to tackle, big open edge of breakup chords, soaring leads, chimey cleans and ambient reverb soaked swells.
Opportunities for Improvement
Now you have to take this section with a grain of salt, for no other reason than the price tag. You are not going to get some of these features on any guitar for under $1000 anywhere. It just doesn’t exist. That is why I call them “opportunities for improvement”. These are some great ways that you can take this guitar and for a few hundred bucks turn it into a guitar that punches way above it’s price range.
The pickups are a filtertron style pickup that is sized a bit larger like a humbucker. I don’t like that, because it eliminates the ability to install standard filtertrons in the existing pickup rings. Smart move on Gretsch’s part though. It wouldn’t be wise of them to make a killer affordable guitar that you could easily swap out the pickups and virtually make it sound the same as the higher end stuff.
Poor Quality Tuners
When you get a bigsby on a guitar, I have found that it is already hard to keep the thing in tune all the time. The tuners on this are cheap no-name Chinese tuners that while looking good, are really the first thing that has to go. I ended up getting Gotoh SG381 Magnum Locking Tuners similar to the ones that were on my Broadkaster. They were around $60ish bucks on reverb. You could also go with something not locking like a Grover or Gotoh for the $40ish range that would do the trick, I just loved the locking Gotoh’s on my Broadkaster so wanted that vibe.
This is debatable and to most, the licensed Bigsby will be just fine. I wanted to see them side by side and gauge whether there was a difference so I ordered a B7 USA Made one and mounted it. The first thing I noted is that the mounting holes are ever so slightly different so I had to drill different mounting holes on the bottom near the strap button as well as one of the top mounting holes. All of the previous holes are covered and not visible with the Bigsby mounted so it doesn’t really matter, but if you don’t want to do the light modification be warned it’s not a direct replacement.
When comparing the two physically there is an obvious difference cosmetically The other key difference is the weight. I found the USA made one to be much heavier in weight. It just felt more solid. Now I didn’t do a scientific test to confirm this but it is how they each felt in my hand. Tonally they are virtually the same. Absolutely no difference in the tonality of the guitar after putting the USA made one on. The feel however is where the USA sand casted one proved it’s worth. The licensed one had a hair of sloppiness to it when bending the notes and you had to push much harder to get even the basic warble for ambient sustained notes. The USA one, with even the slightest touch had an impact and the bearings and joints all were much more solid.
In the end swapping out the tuners and the Bigsby cost me around $200 so all in I am still under $1000 and I can almost guarantee there is no place where you can get this level of guitar for under $1000. It probably exists, but if you love Gretsch like I do, this is a great way to have great tone, playability and looks on a budget friendly conscience.
With that in mind, I can’t recommend this guitar enough. In fact I think I might get more compliments on this guitar than I did the White Falcon. SSSSHHHHH. I didn’t say that.
Another fix for the feel of the licensed Bigsby is to just swap out the spring. I changed out mine for the Reverend Bigsby sprint and it gave it a much softer feel.