1940s Gretsch Synchromatic Archtop Guitar

This is a customer's guitar that was purchased and sent to me for work. It's had some amateur repairs in the past but, with a little tweaking, is now a great-sounding, good player's grade instrument. Its interior label is missing and the whole guitar has been refinished blonde so I can't tell the year it was made, but I'm hedging this is either a Synchromatic 160 or 200 from the late 40s or very early 50s. It's 17" wide and has the famous "cat's eyes" bound soundholes.

The top is solid spruce but I'm not sure if it's carved or not. Tonally, it sounds like it could be carved (it sounds tremendously open and big), but the same-thickness top all around suggests it's a molded/pressed top instead. The back and sides, on the other hand, are both definitely laminate maple with a very pretty flamed maple veneer on the outside layer.

The guitar had its neck reset (awkwardly and too low) in the past and the saddle on the adjustable bridge had been filed to oblivion. It'd also had a refret that was semi-accurate but needed a light level and much dressing to be playable. The fretboard had been leveled before the refret, however, which means that the neck is nice and straight (a bonus) so action could be adjusted to"perfect."

Interestingly, this guitar shares the 24 3/4" Gibson-style scale length so a set of 12s feels very comfortable, springy, and fast on the slim, C-shaped neck with its 1 11/16" nut width. Something about the wide body, lighter bracing, and shorter scale gives this a more Gibson-style "velvety" tone compared to a other contemporaneous archtops that tend towards raucous and "out front." It's a good thing that's going on here.

The pickguard is brand new and unoriginal but came unmounted on the guitar. I decided to put it on as it lends a bit of classiness to it.

The neck is 2-piece maple with "wings" at the headstock. The nut is not original and came on the guitar.

These are pearloid inlays in a rosewood (as far as I can tell -- it's stained) board.

See how the previous neck plane/level left some of the celluloid block-inlay rubbed down to its underlay of maple? Oh well.

I love them holes!

I made a new bridge topper/saddle for this guitar as the original had been so reduced that it was no longer structurally viable.

The gold-plated Gretsch tailpiece is in good stead.

Here you can see that I've strung the tail "backwards" so as to get the break-angle from the strings under the edge of the tailpiece. This lifts it off the top to counteract that low bridge (from the sloppy neck reset job). There's a bit of muting fabric stuffed under that edge to counter random overtones and you can't see it, really, from in front.

Pretty, no?

Nice old tuners!

Those original buttons would've looked great when new.

The "neck reset" involved a shim and, apparently, some sort of bolt reinforcement. No, this is not my work... but I'm not going to charge the customer several hundred dollars to rectify this on a refinished guitar...


Anonymous said…
Was the celluloid binding intact when you got it? I've seen several of these Gretsch archtops from the 1940s and the binding was breaking off in all of them. Didn't look like an easy fix, either!
Jake Wildwood said…
Yep, this one survived. I think perhaps the refin is what helped. Binding rot is terrible stuff -- it usually means it's time for replacement. Epis do the same thing.