Gretsch Jet Baritone Review
Item: Gretsch Jet Baritone
Inspiration: The sound of deep twangy guitars, whether it’s Duanne Eddy or The Cure, has always sounded awesome to me. I’ve also always been fascinated by the old Fender VI six-string bass but could never justify the serious dollars required to get one. Even when they were reissued at a cheaper price a little while back it was just a bit too much of a stretch – and then I came across the Gretsch Jet Baritone. Not only was the price right, but it was a Gretsch!
Image: I’ve been really impressed with the build quality of every Gretsch I’ve seen and this is no exception. Everything just feels solid. The body is apparently “laminated hardwood” which I think is just a fancy way of saying plywood! But covered with the excellent black sparkle finish you don’t really care what’s underneath. Together with the Bigsby, this is simply a very cool instrument.
Investment: I picked one a bargain for $500 – but even now they are still available for well under $700. For an instrument that will most likely be an “extra” rather than a primary tool, that seems fair to me.
Intrinsic Qualities: When the Jet Baritone was first released, Gretsch positioned it as a “bass 6” instrument with the tuning E-E an octave lower than a guitar. From what I understand, they are now shipping tuned B-B, which is how most baritones are tuned. My one came E-E, which is what I wanted, but it really changes the way you approach the instrument. Playing open chords an octave down is pretty marginal as they just end up sounding very muddy. From the 5th fret up you are okay with chords but below that it’s really a single note instrument to me – and it does that very well. In that sense you play it like two different instruments in one: a bass down low, guitar up the neck. The Gretsch mini humbuckers do a very nice job handling the sound too. At some point I may look at changing the strings to give a different tuning a run just to open up chording further down the neck.
Intangibles: Now I have to admit that I don’t use it a lot – it’s just not a go-to kind of thing. But when I do make the effort to plug it in I always wonder why I don’t use it more! Perhaps it’s that it does fall between guitar and bass, and most of the time I want to use one of them rather than a hybrid.
If not this then: That’s easy – if funds allowed I’d get a Fender VI simply because it’s always been on the wish list. But that said, the Gretsch is a very good instrument for the price.
The new format for doing a brief reviews of the various bits of great that I use is called the “I” Test: 7 categories that are a bit different from the standard review that reads like it’s lifted from a guitar magazine. My “I Test” takes into account not just the performance characteristics (as normal reviews do) but also addresses the real reason we buy stuff: the 7 “I”s – what’s the Item, Inspiration (why did I get it), Image (what’s it look like), Investment (bargain or just lust), Intrinsic qualities (what does it do), Intangibles (sometimes the reason you got it doesn’t fall into any other category!), and If not this then… (did I look at alternatives).