Price paid: $ 799
Purchased from: Sam Ash
Features — 7
This is the Korean made version of the single cutaway, 2.75" deep hollow body G6120 Nashville. The body is a 5-ply maple with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard with 22 frets in a 24.5" scale length. Unlike it's pro-line big brother it uses a sound post bracing rather than a trestle bracing, has open back vintage tuners, and black top Filter'Tron pickups. The retail price of $799 doesn't include a guitar case.
It comes with a Bigsby-licensed B60 vibrato and comes in four colors of Black, classic Gretsch Orange, Sunburst, and a gorgeous Aspen Green. It has an Adjust-o-matic bridge monted on a Rosewood base, humpback fingerboard inlays, and everything is set off by very classy bound sound holes and fingerboard. It is a true archtop hollow-body design with only a sound post to brace the top and back. It has classic G-arrow control knobs and a silver plexi pickguard and all chrome plated hardware.
Sound — 9
Because I play a variety of styles I've been looking at Gretsch's for a long time to help fill the tonal gaps between my Les Paul and my Stratocaster. My primary intent was to use the Gretsch for jazz, rockabilly, late '50s/early '60s rock 'n' roll, and country/Nashville finger picking sounds. Although the 5420 is perfectly capable of more modern rock, pop, and even punk, it's classic full-bodied resonant sound best fits the uses I mentioned above in a way that a solid body or semi-hollow body guitar can't.
The black face Filter'Trons are a design that was revived from the Baldwin days of Gretsch. These still have a sweet full-bodied sound, but I found them a bit muffled in comparison to standard Gretsch Filter'Trons. For someone that intends to use this guitar for more overdriven music styles, this is probably fine. For myself and my uses I replaced these pickups with TV Jones Classic pickups which gave me greater articulation and clarity, a little more volume, and less tendency to break up a higher volumes. I also installed a treble bleed circuit on the master and pickup volume pots to better retain the highs as I turned down the volume.
I use a Fender Mustang IV as my primary gigging amp. The best amp models to match up with my uses for this guitar were the '65 Twin Reverb and the '65 Deluxe Reverb. With the black top Filter'Trons the Twin worked better to reduce break-up. With the TV Jones pickups I prefer the '65 Deluxe as I can add some gain to get a punchier sound without losing the fine articulation and full bodied sweetness of the sound.
Ultimately these additions really give you the classic Gretsch sound you hear from artists like George Harrison or Brian Setzer and even makes it possible to approach the Chet Atkins finger-picked sound.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
Like every Gretsch I've ever played, the action is very distinctive and smooth. Gretsch refers to the fret size as "Medium Jumbo" which means there's more room not only for your fretting hand, but also enough space to facilitate finger picking. The fit and finish on my guitar was perfect, but as is always the case one should closely examine each guitar as flaws can creep in with any manufacturing process where human hands are involved.
A couple of things are worth mentioning particular to this guitar. The larger fret size can be a bit challenging to get used to if you move between typical solid body guitars and the Gretsch. It's easy to get adapted, but there will be some differenced. As for myself I found that going to a medium full size pick seemed to work better than my typical Jazz III picks, not only for accuracy, but also for a smoother sound. The guitar does come with a Bigsby-licensed B60 vibrato. I haven't found this to have any bearing on the guitar maintaining tuning, but I have a very light touch on the vibrato because a little bit goes a long way. I'm not sure what the effect would be on tuning if you were to do any dive-bombing with it, but it does appear to be very stable. If you are new to Bigsby's just make sure you turn the Bigsby handle pointing away from the strings when you put the guitar in it's case as most cases (including the one from Gretsch) will place pressure on the handle if it's in it's normal position and can lead to tuning problems.
Reliability & Durability — 8
This guitar appears to be solidly made with decent electronics. The initial offerings of the 5420 came with a floating bridge, but the new models now have a pegged bridge which should be incur less maintenance and be more durable. You can still unpeg the bridge by simply backing out the screw on the bridge posts if you would like to use a solid metal bridge such as a Compton. The guitar itself is pretty large and heavy in comparison to other solid body guitars. It even outweighs my weight reliefed Les Paul. Because the jack is exposed along the bottom and is bolted directly to the wood, I chose to install a jack plate which is re-enforced by some wood on the inside of the guitar rather than risk a catastrophic problem if it were to be bumped or hit on a crowded stage.
Overall Impression — 9
I would say with the modifications I've made to the guitar it's a perfect fit for my needs. It certainly is much more fun to play than either my Les Paul Standard or my Stratocaster due to it's unique sound and action. The one thing I couldn't live with from the very beginning were the open vintage tuners. It's not a problem for many people, but I'm a big fan of locking tuners and have them on all my other electric guitars so I quickly replaced the stock tuners with a set of Sperzel's.
All in all with all the modifications I made my 5420 is a pretty good approximation of a Brian Setzer model 6120, but at about 1/3 the price. How can you not be happy with that?