1940s Gretsch Synchromatic 75 Flattop Jumbo Guitar

Quick note update: there's some folks chatting about this on a Gibson messageboard and I'm finding the conversation entertaining. For the record, it's hard to really grab what this sounds like through one take on a mic -- but it mostly sounds like a cross between a good J-200 and a '60s Harmony Sovereign jumbo. The single notes don't sound like an archtop lead despite what you all may be thinking. Maybe a little bit in the way ladder-braced guitars bite. The long scale also does not make playability an issue because of the way the strings break at the saddle. This actually "feels" less tense than a D-18 set-up the same way (there's one in the shop, so I can attest to this firsthand), though the neck is more cumbersome. I do agree that the vast majority of these old Gretsches are sold with all sorts of issues that make them play kind-of junky, though, so I get where folks are coming from. Pretty funny...!

Wartime Gretsch guitars are pretty rare, and this Synchromatic 75 (later dubbed "Sierra" in catalogs) is a bird that's not seen too often at all. It's a ladder-braced, solid-spruce-top, ply-maple back/sides, flattop guitar with a jazzy New York archtop guitar's looks and personality. It has a full-sounding bass and a snappy, mids-thick voice that suits 3-note chops just as well as it does folksy strumming and chord-banging. It's not a complex sound -- just up-front and powerful in a satisfying way. The build is bulkier than you might at first expect, which is a trait shared by most Gretsch acoustic guitars (last year's Bacon Belmont was the same).

Part of that sturdy build is due to combat the long 26 1/8" scale length which puts a lot of tension on the 54w-12 set of strings I have on it. In turn, that extra tension drives the top in a different way from a shorter-scale guitar -- it's more forceful in the way higher-end Kays from the same period are (though it doesn't feel "tight" or "tense" like a 25 7/8" or 26" Kay would). It also has an oddball 13-fret neck joint but a pretty average-sized mini-jumbo body shape -- 16 1/4" on the lower bout and 3 3/8" depth.

This guitar was brought in by a customer for repair and it was exhausting to work on. I thought it was going to be a simple re-binding, fret level/dress, and setup project. Of course they're never that simple. To begin-with, I had to chip-away all the old, 1/3-missing, cracked, half-falling-off original binding that'd been sprayed with some sort of fixative in an attempt to keep it in place. After that, rebinding the body was straightforward but not perfect -- the depth of the binding rout warbles from a straight 1/4" to a little more than that all around the body. The job is, however, good enough that I'm happy with it.

The neck proved to be the sticking point. Once I had a straight-edge on it, I realized it would need to be refretted. The surface has a gentle S-curve throughout much of the treble and center portions, though the bass side is fairly straight. By pulling the frets and installing new ones and leveling them, I was able to adjust heights enough to counter the S-curve part of the problem, but a remaining issue -- a backbow drop-off from the 8th-fret location onwards in the center/treble thirds of the board -- had to stay in place. It would've been a lot of extra work to attempt to level the complicated board issues with all of that celluloid binding installed. So I worked around it, and despite that drop-off, the refret has manage to keep this playing admirably. While "virtual" action (with a straight board) would put this at 1/16" DGBE and 3/32" EA at the 12th fret, the actual action is 3/32" overall at the 12th fret because of the 1/32" drop-off from the 8th-fret and on. If I didn't tell you there was the issue, however, your fingers would not notice -- this plays great and fast.

While the guitar is mostly original as far as fittings, the Kluson tuners are same-period parts-bin units I put on and all the binding save the soundhole edging is replaced. There's a bit of overspray at the headstock and on the back of the neck and guitar's edges, too.

The fret markers are all original celluloid stuff. The second marker is a little recessed compared to the rest as it looks like it was reglued in the past.

My new frets are medium-height, wide-width and play a bit like late-'50s Gibson frets.

The giant, textured celluloid pickguard is really cool.

This originally had a thin bone saddle, but it was not placed in the correct spot for good compensation. I widened the slot a bunch and then made this rosewood, drop-in, archtop-looking saddle instead. It sounds better and keeps it in tune as a bonus.

The string retainer is double-bolted to the top and fixed by hex nuts and washers over a big bridge plate reinforcement area. I, of course, tightened it all up.

The archtop-guitar-style back-angle on the strings and slight extra "freedom" behind the saddle means that this feels more like an archtop guitar under the fingers -- a little "springier" and less-tense despite the long scale and regular gauges.

The worst crime against the guitar are these weird marks on the top in the finish. I'm guessing someone had their name stuck to it via self-stick squares or something.

Luckily, the guitar has zero cracks.

The back and sides have a grey-brown "walnut" finish that's almost black. The back is press-arched like an archtop guitar.

"Gretsch Super Structure" is something borrowed from drum terms, I believe -- their 3-ply material.


guitarhunter said…
I stopped by the store and played this yesterday and you're right, it's sounds amazing! really loud but full and lush...and easy to play as well. Great job!