Gretsch Streamliner Collection review round-up

Grown-up Gretsches at pocket-money prices? We find out what the new-for-2016 Streamliner Collection has to offer.

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The Streamliner moniker arrived in the Gretsch catalogue in 1955 with a range of affordable instruments descended from the earlier Electromatics. Both names have, of course, since reappeared in the Gretsch product line, and now 2016 sees the new Streamliner Collection arrive in the form of a trio of guitars that are very competitively priced indeed.

As you’d expect from instruments that originate from the same series, several features are common throughout. The control layouts are identical, and by Gretsch standards things are relatively simple. There’s a three-way selector switch with a master volume control on the lower horn – Gretsch’s original solution for easy access to the volume control with Bigsby-equipped guitars always was the best. Each pickup has its own volume control, and the tone control is shared. The colours may differ, but all have clear plastic knobs that are not unlike Gibson’s early tall speed knobs.

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The bodies, fingerboards and headstocks have white plastic binding, and headstocks are scarf jointed to the necks. The nickel-plated hardware includes Gretsch’s Adjusto-Matic bridge and unbranded die-cast tuners. Teardrop-shaped pickguards are fitted on all the guitars in the range, in addition to as `synthetic bone’ nuts and 1950s-style pearloid block inlays and rosewood fingerboards.

The fretwork is excellent on all three guitars but, despite the published specifications, I would describe the fretwire as fairly low and narrow, rather than `medium jumbo’. So, let’s get into some of the model specifics…

G2655T Streamliner Center-Block Junior Double Cutaway

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I thought I’d start off with the smallest guitar and work my way through the range, so first up is the Streamliner Center-Block Double Cutaway, which I’ll refer to as the Junior. It’s a scaled-down version of Gretsch’s earliest double-cutaway design, but the lightweight spruce centre-block provides an interesting twist: the intention is to solidify the structure and make the Junior less susceptible to feedback at high gain and volume than traditionally-constructed Gretsch guitars.

With its licensed B50 Bigsby, clean look and stripped-back controls, the Junior has the visual vibe of a contemporary boutique semi-solid. That’s hardly surprising when you consider how many styling cues manufacturers of such guitars have borrowed from Gretsch over the years.

Gretsch used this shape on the 6122Jr Junior Gent model, and some will note its similarity to Jack White’s modified Anniversary Junior. It’s a cool concept, because you get the feel and sound of a semi-solid without the bulk.

In use

All three Streamliners have fairly generic U-profile necks of medium depth. The body’s shape and size make the Junior comfortable to hold, but choose your strap carefully: there’s a little neck dive due to the weight of the tuners.

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There’s enough acoustic tone on offer to make playing unplugged an enjoyable experience, and the even string-to-string balance and impressive sustain come courtesy of that centre-block. Some of the Adjusto-Matic bridge saddles are a little bit buzzy, but the Junior’s easy-playing action and rock-solid tuning are impressive: the Bigsby has enough travel to wobble chords about nicely, and you can get fairly vigorous with the arm before things begin to drift.

Soon after plugging in, you’ll realise that it’s `Tron’ by name but not by nature, because the Broad’Trons sound very different to traditional Filter’Trons; despite appearances, these units sound much closer to standard humbuckers. The bridge pickup is by far the most powerful and has a throaty midrange bark rather than a retro twang. The neck position sounds clearer and rounder, and allows more of the Junior’s semi-solid woodiness to come through.

Both pickups have a fairly high output and, with the factory setup, the bridge can push vintage-style valve amps into a rough and slightly splatty overdrive. Lowering the pickups to put more distance between the coils and the strings helps the Junior sing a lot more sweetly and sound more characteristically Gretsch-like.

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Through an overdrive pedal, the Junior produces big great-sounding powerchords, crunchy riffs and bluesy solo tones. Played clean, it has a quite delicate roundness on the neck setting and a lovely, phasey scoop with both pickups engaged. I couldn’t quite dial out the bridge pickup’s raspy bark, so this is maybe one for those with rockier inclinations.

As it’s a semi, overdrive at medium volumes brings controllable feedback, and happily it’s squeal-free. The tone control can be used to dial in a `woman’ tone on the neck pickup with no loss of clarity, but it’s less useful on the bridge pickup, where it can make things sound muddy and indistinct.

G2622 Streamliner Center-Block Double Cutaway

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Although this guitar may appear to sit squarely in ES-335 territory, there are important structural differences. Gretsch uses spruce rather than maple for its centre-block, which adds far less weight. The block is also chambered,  so it does its job of adding rigidity, but Gretsch is able to keep those wide-open spaces inside the body. It’s the sort of thing Chet Atkins was begging Gretsch for in the 1950s, so he probably would have approved.

Most of the Double Cutaway’s ingredients are identical to the Junior’s, with the exception of the gold knobs and the tailpiece. Although it performs exactly the same function as a regular stop tailpiece, the Gretsch designers have cleverly incorporated the iconic V motif seen on the Cadillac tailpieces of the White Falcon and Penguin models.

In use

It’s impossible to say with absolute certainty whether it’s the larger body cavities or the absence of a Bigsby, but the Double Cutaway’s acoustic tone is more pleasing than the Junior’s. The body resonates more, it’s louder and there’s more bass content.

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The very qualities that promise so much when the Double Cutaway is played unplugged may be thought by some to work to its disadvantage when played through an amp. When you combine a more full-bodied resonance with pickups that are relatively dark compared to vintage Filter’Trons and DeArmond Dynasonics, it can result in a slightly muffled tone.

In practice, this means the Double Cutaway sounds more like a Gibson-style semi than it does a traditional Gretsch. Depending on your point of view, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – and who can blame Gretsch for wanting to break the bonds of the rockabilly straightjacket? Again, lowering the neck humbucker helps it sound sweet and clear, but I’m inclined to think that the bridge pickup’s 9.3k-ohm DC resistance is a tad overcooked. 9.3k (bridge) and 7.8k (neck) readings were consistent across all three guitars.

Numbers aside, the pickups combine to really good effect in the middle position, and this is where all three Streamliners sound their most Gretsch-like in the traditional sense. Used together, the midrange is scooped out, which helps to emphasise the bass and treble frequencies; so if you want to play fingerstyle, or hybrid picking is your thing, this is the setting to use.

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Although it seems counterintuitive, I prefer the Junior for clean and the Double Cutaway for dirt. Through a cranked amp or overdrive pedal, the Double Cutaway sounds huge and combines familiar semi-solid characteristics with an extra serving of harmonic chime and woody depth.

Despite the bigger body outline, the Double Cutaway seems more resistant to feedback than the Junior. Overtones bloom pleasingly on top of fundamental frequencies, as feedback eases over held chords and single notes. However, I found the Double Cutaway’s sustain characteristics a little unpredictable: some notes hang on indefinitely, while others fade fast.

G2420T Streamliner Single Cutaway Hollow Body With Bigsby

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The big boy of the range is fully hollow. Given that the other Streamliners have centre-blocks, some trestle bracing or sound posts might have made things more series-consistent but, even so, I’m not complaining.

The bridges of vintage Gretsch archtops were supposedly held in position by downward pressure from the strings. Those who have spent entire gigs chasing these bridges around the tops of their guitars will be pleased to learn that this `secured’ design does not move. As well as conforming tightly to the curve of the top, the bridge posts protrude beneath the rosewood base and slot into locating holes. It’s not exactly a pinned bridge, but the outcome is the same. Besides that, the fixtures and fittings here are exactly the same as on the other models.

In use

Given that the Single Cutaway is the most `traditionally’ constructed Gretsch in this line-up, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s also the body that brings out the best from the Broad’Tron pickups. While it can’t be said that the neck pickup setting sounds exactly like an old 6120, the big hollow body, combined with a floating bridge and a low-set humbucker, is a tried-and-trusted recipe for jazz tone.

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It sounds mellow, woody and very balanced across the strings, and the slight shoutiness of the pickup can be tamed by rolling the volume control back just a smidgeon. Through a Fender Deluxe Reverb, I found it a very involving and enjoyable tone, and the extra range of the tension bar-less Bigsby allows you to do all those cool shimmers, slurs and dips.

Again, the middle setting’s phasiness gets you closest to classic Gretsch tone, and dipping the neck volume to reduce the bass content gets you closer still. The bridge pickup doesn’t sound as aggressive on this guitar, and much of that can be attributed to the distance it’s set away from the strings.

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The guitar’s neck and bridge sit high above the body, so there’s a lot of air between the strings and the pickups. This, combined with the inherently mellow tone of a bona fide hollowbody, ensures that the Single Cutaway sounds more old-school than its siblings.

It feeds back without much provocation, which is hardly surprising for a guitar of this type. As expected, there’s not enough sustain for rock soloing, but the Single Cutaway delivers huge tones for rhythm work when overdriven.

As you’d expect in this sub-£400 price bracket, there are significant differences between the Streamliner instruments and their considerably more expensive equivalents in the Professional Collection. The current line of Electromatics is also sonically and aesthetically closer to the iconic Gretsch stylings of old. Having said that, what’s really exciting about the Streamliners is their upgrade potential.

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Modifying and customisation has long been an aspect of Gretsch culture, and it wouldn’t take much to give these instruments the hotrod treatment. Sourcing and installing
a set of metal `G-arrow’ knobs would be a simple and affordable upgrade. The same could be said for a vintage-style metal switch tip, and many will welcome the Streamliners’ plainer-looking headstocks.

Other upgrade possibilities might include the pickguard, bridge and tuners. You could even apply a waterslide decal with a pin-up person of your choice and you would have
a killer-looking Gretsch that plays like a dream. But, most excitingly of all, the conventional humbucker dimensions of the Broad’Tron pickups open up a great plethora of possibilities for customisation.

None of the above should be taken as criticisms of the Streamliner Collection models in their standard forms. I wouldn’t even be pondering these modifications if I didn’t believe these guitars were more than good enough to justify the additional effort and expense.

There will always be compromises at the entry-level point, and I think the Gretsch guys have been very canny about exactly where those compromises have been made. Rather than skimping on the materials or the appearance, these Gretsches are so solidly made and well finished that there’s plenty to enjoy for newbies and Gretsch die-hards alike.

Behind The Liners

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Gretsch product manager Adam Bowden-Smith gives us the skinny…

Q. How did these models come about?

“This is a price point we haven’t existed in previously. Now we have the right R&D team and the right factories to do it properly, rather than simply taking guitar bodies and parts off the peg from a Far Eastern factory and putting our brand on it. The tailpieces and pickups were designed exclusively for these guitars. So they have a lot of Gretsch DNA, combined with features that are all-new.”

Q. Can you tell us more about the pickups?

“They resemble some we used to use on the old 5120, but they are completely brand new. The Gretsch R&D team spent quite a long time going through prototypes made in-house in Scottsdale. The sound we were looking for was between a classic Filter’Tron and a PAF-style humbucker, but leaning more towards the Filter’Tron. So Gretsch tonality with a broader sound, hence the Broad’Tron name. Once we were happy, we handed those specs over to a manufacturer in the Far East for mass production.”

Q. Is the pickup voicing indicative of Gretsch’s intention to move beyond its traditional fan base?

“Not necessarily. We think Gretsch guitars are more versatile than perhaps they are perceived to be, and our sound fits perfectly between the other classic sounds that are out there. But at the same time, the size of the pickup determines the tone because the magnetic field is wider and less focused than a Filter’Tron’s. We want to appeal to a broader range of people, who haven’t previously heard our sound. Voicing the pickups the way we have gives them a taste of that sound without taking them too far away from familiar territory. We’re inviting them into the Gretsch world through a familiar window.”

Q. Has Gretsch’s link with rockabilly been a mixed blessing?

“That’s a good way to put it. Brian Setzer has been a huge part of Gretsch’s resurgence and success, but there is this pigeon-holing that has led some people to think Gretsches are just rockabilly guitars. Look back at the early days of rockabilly – very few of those players actually used Gretsches. Setzer bought his first Gretsch because of Eddie Cochran, but he ended up with the wrong pickups and history got rewritten!”

Q. The f-holes on these new models are really small.

“They are, but like almost every feature on these guitars, they have some place in Gretsch history. We call those Baldwin-era f-holes, and they were a lot smaller than the oversized holes on older Gretsches. To get the bigger f-holes, orange and white finish options or the Filter’Trons of a full-fat Gretsch you will need to go to the next level up.”

Q. Or the Streamliners could be modified instead?

“We think it could become a big sub-culture, because they would make great modding platforms. There’ll be loads of these guitars with new pickups, new tuners, new this and that, simply because they’re so great. I just hope people will listen to these pickups first before changing them.”

Key Features

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G2655T Streamliner Center-Block Junior Double Cutaway
Price £395
Description Semi-solid electric guitar, manufactured in Indonesia
• Build Laminated maple body with chambered spruce centre-block, nato set neck with medium U profile, 12” radius rosewood fingerboard with pearloid block inlays and 22 frets
• Hardware Licensed B50 Bigsby, Adjusto-Matic bridge, die-cast tuners
• Electrics Broad’Tron humbucking alnico 5 pickups, master volume, master tone, invidual volume controls, three-way selector switch
• Scale Length 628mm/24.75”
Neck Width 42mm at nut, 53mm at 12th fret
• Depth Of Neck 21mm at first fret, 23mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 34.5mm at nut, 51.5mm at bridge
• Weight 2.85Kg/6.28lbs
• Left-Handers No
• Finishes Walnut Stain, Black and Flagstaff Sunset (without Bigsby)
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G2622 Streamliner Center-Block Double Cutaway
Price £350
• Description Semi-solid electric guitar, manufactured in Indonesia
Build Laminated maple body with chambered spruce centre-block, nato set neck with medium U profile, 12” radius rosewood fingerboard with pearloid block inlays and 22 frets
Hardware ‘V’ stoptail, Adjusto-Matic bridge, die-cast tuners
Electrics Broad’Tron humbucking alnico 5 pickups, master volume, master tone, invidual volume controls, three-way selector switch
Scale Length 628mm/24.75”
Neck Width 42mm at nut, 53mm at 12th fret
• Depth Of Neck 21mm at first fret, 23mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 34.5mm at nut, 51.5mm at bridge
Weight 2.9Kg/6.39lbs
• Left-Handers Yes (Flagstaff Sunset only)
Finishes Flagstaff Sunset, Torino Green and Walnut Stain (with Bigsby)
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G2420T Streamliner Single Cutaway Hollow Body With Bigsby
• Price £395
• Description Hollow electric guitar, manufactured in Indonesia
Build Laminated maple body with chambered spruce centre block, nato set neck with medium U profile, 12” radius rosewood fingerboard with pearloid block inlays and 22 frets
• Hardware Licensed B50 Bigsby, Adjusto-Matic bridge, die-cast tuners
Electrics Broad’Tron humbucking alnico 5 pickups, master volume, master tone, invidual volume controls, three-way selector switch
• Scale Length 628mm/24.75”
• Neck Width 42mm at nut, 53mm at 12th fret
• Depth Of Neck 21mm at first fret, 24mm at 9th fret
• String Spacing 34.5mm at nut, 51.5mm at bridge
• Weight 3.33Kg/7.34lbs
Left-Handers No
• Finishes Flagstaff Sunset, Gold Dust and Aged Brooklyn Burst (without Bigsby)
Contact : Gretsch www.gretschguitars.com
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