1965 Gretsch 6135 Corvette

 

Gretsch’s early decades gave no indication that the company would become a major guitar manufacturer. Founded in 1883, the company spent its first half-century concentrating on drums, banjos and distributing instruments made by other companies. Although Gretsch was building guitars by the mid 1930s – including some rather expensive models – their instruments were not generally prized by players. The company’s catalogs still prominently featured instruments built by National, Harmony, and others. After World War II, Gretsch began to develop its own electric guitars with a unique sound and a unique sense of style, but it was only with the endorsement of Chet Atkins in 1955 that it began to sell guitars in large numbers.

At the turn of the 1960s, although their range of guitars had expanded considerably, Gretsch still did not build any true solidbodies. The Jet series had been produced since 1953, but despite looking somewhat like Les Pauls, they were actually mostly hollow. This gap in the lineup was remedied in 1961 with the introduction of the Corvette. The earliest version featured slab-style double-cutaway bodies with a single Hi-Lo’Tron pickup in the bridge position, a 3x3 headstock and a trapeze tailpiece. As the least expensive model in Gretsch’s electric lineup, the Corvette was clearly aimed at players with tight budgets. However, the full scale and set neck ensured that it was not seen purely as a “student” model.

The Corvette underwent a number of changes by 1963. The body was given contoured edges that resulted in more angular “horns”, perhaps a nod to Gibson’s SG series. The truss rod adjustment was moved from the heel to the headstock, which allowed Gretsch to combine the two-piece pickguard into one piece of plastic. The headstock itself was changed to a unique asymmetrical design in 1964, with two tuners on one side and four on the other. The finishes were changed as well; natural mahogany, platinum grey, and peppermint twist were replaced by cherry red, with the Silver Duke and Gold Duke variations appearing briefly around 1966. On a functional level, Gretsch expanded the model into three variations: one pickup with a trapeze tailpiece, one pickup with a Burns vibrato, and two pickups with a Burns. This last one (model 6135) was listed at $240 in the 1965 catalog – in between the price of a Telecaster and Stratocaster.

If the Corvette is not highly prized by collectors, it is not on account of the guitar itself; no prominent players adopted the Corvette, but it was built to the same standards as the rest of Gretsch’s electric guitars at the time. In fact, with a more stable neck joint than its archtop brethren and no celluloid binding to decay, the Corvette is among the least troublesome of vintage Gretsch guitars. The single-coil Hi-Lo’Trons do not have the same sparkle and chime as Gretsch’s other pickups, but much of the criticism heaped upon them is unmerited. Collectors and players simply associate Gretsch primarily with hollowbodies, which explains why the Astro Jet remains similarly undesirable despite its humbucking pickups and retro-chic appearance.

This particular example is all original, including the excellent Van Ghent tuners, chipboard case and hang tag. The indent into the body at the tail came about during 1965, indicating that this example was built later that year.

 

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