The VG article is about a new boxed set of Orbison's recordings, however it devotes a couple of sentences to one of Roy’s most unique guitars. I have seen pictures of this guitar many times and never paid much attention to it. At first glance, it appeared to be a typical 1960’s Gretsch guitar. But this guitar is by no means typical.
Roy used this guitar extensively in the 1960’s and then went on to play a variety of Gretsch instruments. Later in his career, he embraced Gibson guitars. He usually played an ES-335.
There are also pictures of him playing a Fender Telecaster.
I attempt to avoid mentioning guitars currently featured in current popular publications, but I have been obsessing over this guitar. This instrument is on the cover of an album titled Roy Orbison’s 50 Greatest Hits.
|Mid-50's Country Club|
Roy was playing this guitar prior to 1965. However, at the time, Gretsch guitars could be ordered with differing combinations of controls.
|Gretsch designer Jimmie Webb|
Roys black guitar has white binding.
Both the Country Club and the single cutaway 6120 Chet Atkins model had thick bodies. The Country Club was thicker at 3 and 3/8” deep through 1959, while the 6120 was 2 78th" in depth.
The older Chet Atkins 6120 models came with a "G" etched into the guitars body. However, this was no longer on the instrument by 1957.
By 1958, the model came with two separate pickup potentiometers and the tone control was replaced by a three-way tone switch.
|'59 Chet Atkins 6120|
Gibson Super 400 neck of the era. It is a fancy bound neck with split block inlay position markers and a split diamond design on the headstock. The bottom of the neck ends in a fancy volute, just like those on a Gibson Super 400. There is no logo on the top of the headstock. I imagine if someone at Gretsch modified the guitar for Roy, it would make sense they did not want a Gibson logo on the guitar.
The remaining feature that set this guitar apart was the four switches on the upper bout. Gretsch introduced stereo wiring in 1959 and called this feature, “Projectosonic.”
|Note the pole pieces|
The Gretsch stereo guitar evolved from an idea by Jimmie Webster. Mr. Webster is well worth mentioning.
Jimmie Webster was the main force that designed the Gretsch 6120 for Chet Atkins. He also designed the White Falcon.
Webster then went about modifying it, by splitting the humbucking pickups to run in stereo, then routing each signal to a different amplifier.
In 1959, this feature was added to the Gretsch Country Club, but with only two switches.
The stereo design on the Country Club was achieved through "half" pickups.
Although each pickup housing looked like a normal Gretsch humbucking pickups, the neck pickup only had the magnets and polepieces under the lower three strings and the bridge pickup was designed in a similar fashion with the magnets and polepieces under the first three strings. The "bridge" pickup was centered in the middle of the Country Club.
The 1958 Gretsch White Falcon was the first to use the four switch option.
I wish I had more information on this unique instrument. There was an Asian knock-off on ebay for sale. The seller mentioned the four switches on the upper bout did not work. I note also, the body of this instrument appears to be only around 2” deep. Orbison’s instrument was deeper.
|Picture by Al Willis|