Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster review: a sweet spot for Gretsch spec and unique features

Portugal. The Man’s leader has a signature model that could help to bring Gretsch center block guitars further into the light for a new generation of players, but it comes at an Electromatic premium

Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster, photo by Adam Gasson

Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster. Image: Adam Gasson

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Review Overview

Our rating


Our verdict

Great looks
Fantastic playability
Good tuning stability
Expensive compared to rivals

A stunning looker and a stylish player, but sitting at the top end of the Chinese-made Electromatic range means it comes at a relatively high price. There’s also no denying it's still one of the very best guitars that line has offered to date.

$1,199.99/£999, gretsch.com

Ok, who would have thought three signature Broadkasters would come from Gretsch in the space of two months in 2024? Not I. One signature Broadkaster for a contemporary artist would have been interesting but with Chris Rocha, boygenius and now Portugal. The Man’s (yes, that full stop is part of the name) John Gourley’s all newly-christened signature artists, it feels like a double-cut movement. Is 2024 the year that Gretsch gets its dues from a whole new crowd?

It’s probably owed. Look past the brouhaha around $1,000+ Far Eastern-made Epiphones and Mexican Fenders and the fact is brands are pushing to become more accessible on price – we’ve seen everyone from Shergold to Harmony try to widen their appeal in relative ways and at contrasting price points, but Gretsch has been fighting that corner for years.

From the entry-level Streamliner up to the Electromatic line, Gretsch has pushed the value envelope for quality electric guitars. Just how good can a guitar look and play for the money? Frequently I look to this brand for the answer. However, this Electromatic model doesn’t obviously fit that narrative. Like the Rocha signature’s Jr take on the Broadkaster blueprint, it flies comfortably up to the top end of the Chinese-made series’ price scale (yet still under the Tim Armstrong G5191) and glowers down on menacingly from its lofty perch, goading us to draw our credit cards. So what’s going on here?

John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster truss rod cover, photo by Adam Gasson
John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster truss rod cover. Image: Adam Gasson

Why does the Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster cost over $1000?

Look past the headlines on guitars like Epiphone’s Greeny Les Paul and the Esenada-made Fender Road Worn Mike McCready signature Strat and the facts emerge; the specs of these guitars go up with the price. To what justifiable degree is often the moot point. In this case you get ‘Pro-inspired’ specs, the most important being real deal USA Full’Tron humbuckers – as found on the higher-end Player Series and not available to buy separately new). Other features include locking tuners, a really quite mesmerising Iridescent Black finish with Silver Sparkle binding, and exclusive artwork to this model from Gourley’s friend and neighbour, acclaimed artist Cleon Peterson.

Other than that, the specs aren’t dissimilar to a lower-priced Electromatic; laurel fingerboard, licensed (die-cast overseas produced rather than made by) Bigsby B70, chambered spruce center block and maple body. But this and the Rocha are currently the most affordable Broadkasters models Gretsch offers right now – the boygenius website-only Jr limited edition quickly sold out.

So Gretsch are putting plenty of stock into the appeal of those extra features – just under $400 by my reckoning if we compare directly with the closest current model in the Electromatic line; the $799 G5622T Center Block Double-Cut with Bigsby. But adding up numbers on paper is never the full story with guitars, how does this guitar feel, play and sound?

Iridescent Black finish and Silver Sparkle binding on the John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster, photo by Adam Gasson
Iridescent Black finish and Silver Sparkle binding on the John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster. Image: Adam Gasson

In my mind’s eye, I envision a contemporary alternative artist’s signature Gretsch as an understated, even somewhat utilitarian spin on the blingier visions of rock n’ roll tradition. This is not that, and I like the way Gourley has gone all-in on the Silver Sparkle binding. But if you think it’s going to turn off some people, the context actually works here. The Iridescent Black finish of the body and neck is surely something many of us can get on board with. It’s beautiful; shimmering emerald and gold in the light, glistening moodily out of it. So yep, a big shiny tick for the finish with the pickup surrounds and pickguard helping that sparkle binding settle in just fine. A classy, premium-looking framing of a showstopping finish, that’s worth some extra money in my book.

Peterson’s touches highlight the balancing act signature models have to walk – they need to reflect the artist or why bother, but too personal and they may alienate buyers. So the ‘It’s grim up north’ truss rod cover may feel like an in-joke to some, but it works at the bottom of the fretboard and makes this feel like Gourley’s slightly playful love letter to the Gretsch form he admires so much. Peterson’s cloud inlays are a really appealing touch – as is the metal head badge. The pickguard graphic… well if you don’t like you could easily change it. But in short, this guitar looks great.

For a big-bodied 8lb guitar, the 44.45mm body depth really helps it feel more immediate than I was expecting. The comfort of the thin U-shaped neck contributes too, though I have to leave my personal preference for satin-finished necks at Gretsch’s door on the way in – gloss is part of the deal, and Iridescent gloss… well it does sweeten the pill for me. So too does a resonant acoustic response that’s great for strumming around the house. And you know what they say about electrics sounding good unplugged…

How does the Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster sound?

“I just love hearing things bend into tune,” says Gourley in the video above. “That is the most satisfying thing in the world to me.” Bigsby users’ mileage can vary on that front, especially in the more affordable foothills of Bendy Mountain. I’ve had experiences with Bigsbys where I’ve spent more time out of tune than ever using the thing. I’ve been terrified of the silver (and gold) monsters at times, so as I plug into a Fender Deluxe Reverb and dust down my pedalboard, I’m eyeing the Gourley’s B70 with a mix of fear and hope.

And… it’s pretty solid actually. I’m relieved at how well the tuning holds up to waggle in general. Which means I can enjoy playing the thing. Full’Trons are described as having a ‘dash’ of extra mid concentration, but my ears are drawn to the richer low-end presence compared to the Filter’Trons of the Electroromatic line. For me, this Broadkaster’s pickups are more of an open-sounding hot-ish humbucker. Less compression, more of a rounded attack for picking with a gritty growl for overdriven chordwork that you can dig into further. Not the Gretschiest Gretsh on the (Center) block, then, and certainly different to Filter’Trons.It works especially well for driven, stabby soul and blues rhythm work.

The neck is a brighter side of jazzy and still warmer than a Filter’Tron out-of-the-box without any tweaks, and no wooly edges in earshot. It makes for a really appealing middle position that’s airy alright, without sounding lightweight.

I’m a fan of tweaking gain levels on the fly with an easily accessible volume control, the master volume with its treble bleed offers me that with the clarity I want when winding down. But you of course have the option of pre-setting each pickup’s individual volume (and tone) with the less immediately accessible controls too.

John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster pickguard, photo by Adam Gasson
John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster pickguard. Image: Adam Gasson

Is the Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster worth the money?

We all want more for less – the guitar market isn’t unique in that sense. And the steps between the levels of quality and performance can get blurred sometimes in the buyer’s favour, but frequently if you want better… well you’ve got to pay more.

This is the best example of an Electromatic Gretsch center block hollowbody guitar I’ve played – it looks and plays very well, and sounds a cut above for the range. Whether that is worth the specific extra outlay falls on its specific appeal to you – and I have to say I think the lack of gig bag at this price is plain mean – but I believe it is a special Gretsch guitar in its series.

Bigsby B70 on the John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster, photo by Adam Gasson
Bigsby B70 on the John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster. Image: Adam Gasson

Gretsch John Gourley Electromatic Broadkaster alternatives

The G5622T Electromatic Center Block Double-Cut with Bigsby is possibly the closest comparison ($799/£729) with an impressive range of finish options, it’s more affordable too. The humbuckers here are Dual Black Top Broad’Tron, but the core build, body depth and circuit remain the same spec. Much further up the chain (the Gretsch price scale really can leap up) is the snappily-named G6609TG Players Edition Broadkaster Center Block Double-Cut with String-Thru Bigsby ($2,999) with Full’Trons, ebony fretboard, Gotoh locking tuners and the Bigsby-made Bigsby B7GP String-Thru. There’s a choice of Vintage White and Cadillac Green finishes, both with gold hardware.

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