Gretsch White Falcon
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|Gretsch White Falcon|
|Body||17" wide, solid spruce archtop, laminated maple back and sides with gold sparkle-white-black-white layered binding|
|Fretboard||Ebony with pearl inlay and gold sparkle-white-black-white layered bindings; 25½" scale|
|Bridge||Ebony-based "Space Control" roller bridge (since 1958)|
|Pickup(s)||Two Dynasonic Single-coil Pickups (1954–1958); two FilterTron Humbuckers (1958–Present)/3-position toggle|
The Gretsch White Falcon is a high-end electric hollowbody guitar introduced in 1954 by Gretsch. Created as a "showpiece" exhibiting the craft of Gretsch's luthiers, sales and demonstration rep Jimmie Webster created it specifically for the 1954 NAMM Show, where the guitar proved such a hit that it was taken into production and went on sale the following year. Since then it has undergone various changes and is still being made. As of 2013[update], Gretsch offers a number of regular models including a custom-built replica of the original, the latter priced in the US at $12,000.
The White Falcon's distinctive appearance is owed to its 17-inch size (white, with gold-sparkle pickguard featuring an engraved falcon) and its striking hardware: Jimmie Webster's 1954 version had triple binding, gold-plated hardware, an ebony fretboard with mother-of-pearl inlays, and an eye-catching "Cadillac G" tailpiece.
Origins and history
In early 1954, Gretsch marketing strategist Jimmie Webster sought to design a guitar to improve upon the Gibson Super 400. He wanted a "Dream Guitar", and gained his inspiration by walking through the Gretsch factory and watching the construction of the diversity of musical instruments the company produced. From the banjo production line, Webster recalled the engraved pearl inlays that adorned the fretboard and headstock. Many of Gretsch's drums were covered with thick sparkly gold plastic that could also be used as binding on guitars. The combination of these eye-catching features with an large 17" wide by 2¾" deep white body and highest quality gold-plated hardware rendered "the Cadillac of guitars," the White Falcon.
The White Falcon was unveiled at the NAMM show in July 1954. It was displayed as "the guitar of the future," but Gretsch initially had no plans to actually manufacture the model. It was supposed to be a showpiece, much like GM's Motorama "Dream Cars" of the day.
The volume of questions sales reps received about the instrument led Gretsch to rush the guitar into production, and the first publicly available White Falcon hit stores in 1955, identified as model 6136. As the company's new high-end guitar, Gretsch marketed it as "the finest guitar we know how to make – and what a beauty!" The White Falcon originally cost $600 (about $4,100, adjusted for inflation); this price tag was second only to the $690 asking price of Gibson's Super 400CESN.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Gretsch tweaked the Falcon. The block inlays on the ebony fretboard were replaced with half-moon shaped inlays in 1957, the original single-coil DeArmond Dynasonic pick-ups were replaced with Filter'Tron humbuckers in 1958, and that same year the Melita bridge was replaced with a Space Control bridge; the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece was standard starting in 1962. A stereo version (model 6137) became available as well. It also switched to a twin-cutaway body beginning in 1962.
Fred Gretsch retired in 1967 and sold his company to Baldwin Manufacturing. Baldwin would have trouble understanding guitars in general and the White Falcon in particular, which disastrously failed to evolve smoothly out of the rockabilly era. Most who were inspired by the new popular guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and other musical greats were turning to Fender, rather than Gretsch.
To make matters worse, the rapidly deteriorating Baldwin Manufacturing experienced two destructive fires at its new Arkansas plant in 1973. Gretsch limped through the '70s and finally closed production in the '80s. Falcon guitars quickly evolved into mere collectables, being owned more as keepsakes or for vintage sound than as a popular instrument. In 1989, Fred Gretsch III resumed control of the family business and began making guitars again. These instruments are based on classic Gretsch designs, including the venerable White Falcon.
1995–present, model numbers 6136 and 7593=
Models are now available commemorating every phase in the design of the White Falcon. Features are reproduced accordingly. Modern Falcons are also available in black and silver, and include a Stephen Stills signature model (based on the 1958 incarnation), as well as a green Bono Irish Falcon that incorporates the original vertical headstock logo and engraved block inlays with the post-1958 electronics configuration and features "The Goal Is Soul" silkscreened onto the pickguard. Gretsch added a Brian Setzer Black Phoenix model to its lineup. Like Brian Setzer's signature Hot Rod 6120, the Black Phoenix features stripped-down electronics that consist of two pickups, a selector switch, and a volume knob. In January of 2013, Gretsch introduced the Billy Duffy signature model, replicating the Baldwin-era design with silver binding and chrome hardware.
- Bacon, Tony; Dave Burrluck, Paul Day, Michael Wright (2000). Electric Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Thunder Bay. ISBN 978-1-57145-281-8.