The electric guitar market in the mid to lower price range including solid body electric guitars for $500 and less features offerings from a number of fair to middling guitar companies from smaller makers like Washburn, Aria, Ibanez, Cort, Peavey and Epiphone, Gibson’s “more affordable” brand name subsidiary.
Even the storied Fender Music Instrument Company has an amazing three unique entries in this price space, from the top shelf and professional level Modern Player Telecaster to the quirky and cool Mustang to the lesser known and lesser used Duo Sonic. With the Duo Sonic they’ll thrown in a guitar stand, tuner, and I think, a even bowl of soup to sweeten the deal for just under $500.
Since I believe the smaller companies offerings here are just okay instruments, and to get a truly “best” Fender or Gibson you have to spend more than $500, I’m recommending a one of a kind company and guitar, the Gretsch’s Pro Jet Electric with the famed Paul Bigsby Tailpiece for the whammy bar enthusiasts in the crowd.
Some of the greatest guitarists in popular music history have championed Gretsch guitars, with the likes of Eddie Cochran, AC/DC’s Malcolm Young, Duane Eddy, Rolling Stone Brian Jones, Neil Young, the Who’s Pete Townshend, country virtuoso Chet Atkins, rock pioneer Bo Diddley, the only musician I know of to have an entire beat named after him and Beatle George Harrison among them.
Perhaps the guitarist who’s unique sound is most synonymous with the Gretsch Brand is the great Brian Setzer of Stray Cats fame. The bright shimmering chords and crazy vibrato of his 80’s rockabilly hit “Stray Cat Strut” comes instantly to mind. Setzer has used Gretsch guitars exclusively throughout his career and there was a signature model made for him some years back.
Gretsch is a company with strong roots in America, founded by German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch way back in 1883. Starting out making banjos, drums and early percussion instruments like tambourines, the company moved to Brooklyn in 1916 under the tutelage of Freidrichs son where it began it’s run of creating truly great instruments to this day. Today Fender owns the company and the Gretsch family retains the name as per a business agreement made in the early 2000’s.
So on to the electric guitar model in question here, The Pro Jet Electric. Some of the features of this terrific looking and sounding instrument include 22 jumbo frets for increased range and the cutaway body design for ease in getting at the high notes. It has an arched Maple top and the white pick guard is replete with the old school and still hip Gretsch logo.
The two “blacktop filter” pickups allow for a range of sounds with three toggle positions for a deep bass, midrange or a high trebly tone and volume, volume 2, master volume and master tone controls for easy dynamic switching in performance or recording. Chrome hardware and vintage tuning pegs sit atop the classic Gretsch headstock and pearloid (a plastic material that looks like mother of pearl) hump-block inlays make the fingerboard a thing of black and grey beauty. The Pro Jet Electric guitar comes with light D’Addario strings for the classic early rock sound Gretsch is known for.
Another great feature of a guitar like this, and I believe it’s evidenced by the sheer range and scope of famous players from all types of music who love Gretsch, is its versatility. This is an important consideration to make since we are discussing buying on a budget of $500 or less. With a guitar that you can use to play rock, rockabilly pop, jazz, blues, country, country AND western and with the proper dynamics and amplifier setting, some folk and even light classical pieces, you don’t have to buy more guitars to make those sounds, if you so desire or budget constraints won’t allow at this time.
Any article on Gretsch would not be complete without some attention paid to the unique vibrato tailpiece system used here. Paul Bigsby was the designer who created the unit, the first such “whammy bar” or tremolo device for electric guitar, known for its ease of use and the subtle control over vibrato and string bending it gives the player. Another feature of the Bigsby is that the strings stay in tune after the unit is released back to its normal position after use. Many guitars brands use the Bigsby but it is most closely associated with the Gretsch.
In summary, the Gretsch Pro Jet Electric is an affordable, awesome looking and great sounding versatile electric guitar built with solid craftsmanship, attention to detail and worthy of the storied name on its headstock with the classic look and feel of one of music histories biggest contributors.