Six Great (Extinct) Gretsch Basses
November 6, 2012
Today, Gretsch makes several highly acclaimed bass guitar models prized by players worldwide for their elegant style and seismic sound. When you see a Gretsch bass, it’s usually in the hands of a bassist who truly prizes a fine instrument and who truly appreciates the Gretsch name and tradition.
Well before its fine modern-era basses, however, Gretsch made some very, shall we say, interesting forays into the bass guitar world. From its first, shall we say, unusual model in the early 1960s to another, shall we say, distinctive model at the dawn of the 1980s, Gretsch indeed truly went its own, shall we say, unconventional way when it came to anchoring the low end.
Submitted for your approval here are six remarkable—and quite extinct—examples of Gretsch bass guitar history, starting at the very beginning.
Unlike contemporaries such as Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker, Gretsch arrived relatively late to the bass guitar world, and when it did in the early 1960s, it was with a decidedly strange instrument. What is one to make of Gretsch’s very first bass guitar model, 1961’s Bikini Bass? And what did bikinis have to do with it?
Hard to say on both counts. A truly odd creation, the Gretsch Bikini Bass (model 6024) had a piano-hinged “butterfly” poplar body that could be folded in half when the detachable neck was, well, detached. The solid maple neck was bolted to a center wood section to which the single Hi-Lo’Tron pickup, volume and tone controls, bridge and tailpiece were fixed; this assembly then slid onto slid onto aluminum receiver tracks on the body. It was black. And it cost $195.
The Bikini was the brainchild of New York guitarist Charles Savona, who thought a line of collapsible and modular instruments would make for ideally convenient storage and transportation (to the beach, one might assume from the name). Savona suggested the concept to Gretsch in 1960, and bass, guitar and double-neck guitar/bass models were subsequently produced. The instruments didn’t sound very good, however, and they proved notoriously difficult to build. The bass in particular was poorly received, and no more than about 50 were produced. It was discontinued in 1962, along with the equally unsuccessful guitar and double-neck models.
Their small numbers make them quite rare today, but collectors generally consider Gretsch Bikini models as novelties rather than true player’s instruments. Consequently, even double-neck models in excellent condition rarely fetch more than about $2,500.
Gretsch introduced a far more conventional—and far more successful—bass guitar in 1962. The 6070 bass model was far superior in every way to the short-lived Bikini, with a standard long scale bass and a hollow double-cutaway body based on the elegant and popular Country Gentleman guitar (it was often referred to as the “Country Gentleman Bass”).
The 6070 was a high-quality bass, with a single Filter’Tron bass pickup placed near the bridge, 2” body depth, upper-bout three-position tone switch, lower-bout mute switch, bound f holes, dual finger rests, four-string Space Control bridge and “G” cutout tailpiece, built-in string mute, gold hardware, padded back and a massive maple neck with a rather large headstock with two tuners per side. It was available in an amber red finish and had an extendable endpin that allowed the instrument to be played like an upright bass. 1964 revisions included a Super’Tron bass pickup, sunburst finish and removal of the endpin.
The 6070 bass was a good-sounding and successful instrument (Who bassist John Entwistle played one in a summer 1965 Ready Steady Go! TV appearance), and a dual-Super’Tron-pickup version, the 6072, was introduced in 1964.
Also in 1964, Gretsch introduced two short-scale variations, the single-pickup 6071 and the dual-pickup 6073. These two basses had a single-cutaway Tennessean-type hollow body with simulated f holes, Super’Tron pickups, a decidedly short 29” scale (standard short-scale basses are 30”), thinner necks and elongated four-on-a-side headstocks, four-string Space Control bridges with “G” cutout tailpieces, and gold (later chrome) hardware. The most visible exponent of these two high-quality instruments was Monkees bassist Peter Tork (various sources place the introduction of the 6071 and 6073 models in 1968 rather than 1964, but Tork can clearly be seen playing the dual-pickup 6073 model in the 1966 pilot episode of The Monkees, which was probably filmed in 1965).
The 6070, 6071, 6072 and 6073 remained in the Gretsch lineup until 1972, when all were discontinued.
The only bass in the entire Gretsch lineup from 1972 to 1975 was an unusual solid-body model dubbed the 7615, often imaginatively referred to as the Gretsch “Solid Body Bass.” Unlike the also-unusual Bikini Bass of 1961, however, the 7615 was a good-sounding, high-quality instrument.
The most obviously unusual features were the large cutout in the upper horn of the 7615’s offset double-cutaway mahogany body and the large rosewood pickguard that covered most of the body. The long-scale model also featured two Super’Tron bass pickups, dual finger rests, a mahogany neck with a 22-fret bound rosewood fingerboard, bound matching headstock with two-per-side tuners, a fixed bridge and a mahogany finish.
Gretsch replaced the 7615 model in 1975 with its most overtly “Fender-y”-looking bass, the Broadkaster (model 7605). It had a Precision Bass-style solid body with double cutaways, a similarly Fender-style pickguard, a single pickup and simple controls (volume and tone). Its only non-Fender-style touch, in fact, was its two-on-a-side headstock.
The “Broadkaster,” by the way, name goes way back in Gretsch history and, significantly, greatly affected Fender history, too. Gretsch had offered a line of Broadkaster drums starting in 1937; when Fender introduced its first solid-body Spanish-style electric guitar, the Broadcaster, in late 1950, Gretsch responded with a February 1951 telegram politely asking the young Southern California guitar company to stop using the name. Fender immediately complied, changing the guitar’s name to the Telecaster.
Gretsch’s original Broadkaster bass lasted into 1978. The name was resurrected yet again in the early 2000s for an entirely different bass guitar model, the beautiful high-end G6119B Broadkaster.
Only marginally less oddball than 1961’s Bikini bass was Gretsch’s angular 1978 solid-body model, the TK300 (model 7627). Undoubtedly the most radical bass departure of the Baldwin era, it had an unusual double-cutaway body with nearly straight lines and an indentation at the bottom. It also had an unusual pickguard hosting its single pickup and simple controls (volume and tone). The rectangular four-on-a-side headstock was most unusual, too.
The TK300 didn’t win many over, and it was quickly discontinued.
Gretsch’s other 1978 bass model, the solid-body Committee (model 7629), was a much more conventional instrument next to the TK300. A fine instrument, it had an attractive double-cutaway body of solid walnut with contoured sides and a natural walnut finish, a through-body maple/walnut neck with a 22-fret bound rosewood fingerboard and two-on-a-side headstock, a single Super’Tron pickup with simple controls (volume and tone), chrome hardware and tailpiece cover, and a clear or black pickguard that that covered much of the body
Nice though the Committee bass was, it too was short lived.