Gretsch’s Flightless Birds: A Quest for Solid-bodied Success

Throughout the Great Guitar Boom of the early 1950s, many companies like Fender and Gibson began gearing production towards solid-bodied electric guitars. The legendary rivalry between Fender and Gibson is one for the ages, however these two guitar giants we not the only ones on the cutting edge of this new field. Often overlooked, there was another major player experimenting at this time: Gretsch. 

Located not too far from the Williamsburg Bridge at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn, NY, was Gretsch’s main facility. Gretsch had been manufacturing acoustic guitars since the 1930s and archtop style guitars since late 1949, kicking off their archtop offerings with the Electromatic Spanish Model, a semi-acoustic guitar that featured a lone DeArmond pickup. 

The following year, Fender released the market’s first mass-produced, solid-body guitar, the Broadcaster. Coincidentally, this was a copyrighted Gretsch name as their “Broadkaster” drum and acoustic line. Following a telegram, Fender eventually renamed their model to the Telecaster by 1952. Almost simultaneously, Gibson released their iteration of a solid-bodied electric guitar: the Les Paul. The success of the Telecaster and the Les Paul models and their respective companies was too much for Gretsch to miss out on. So, in 1953, Gretsch released their Model 6128: the Duo-Jet.

The Duo-Jet was crafted with a mahogany body, routed to make space for the electronics, and topped with a sheet of maple to create a more “solid” feel. Sales for this model were nothing to write home about, but that all changed in 1954 with the arrival of Gretsch’s own “Les Paul”; Chet Atkins. Atkins’ signature models, the hollow-bodied 6120 and to a much lesser degree its solid-bodied companion the 6121, brought Gretsch some much-needed success and recognition. Following this boom, it wasn’t long until Gretsch unveiled their top-of-the-line models: the White Falcon and White Penguin. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus primarily on both iterations of the White Penguin. 

First released alongside the White Falcon in 1956, the Penguin (Model 6134) was finished in white with multi-laminate binding. The outermost gold layer of the binding was actually repurposed Gretsch drum wraps. This ebony fretboard features neo-classical inlays on our single-cut model and the same on our double-cut. The headstock is finished off with gold-plated Grover Imperials. In fact all of the hardware on this model is gold plated, a careful touch that ties in with the gold in the binding. Electronically, this model is rich with two gold-plated Filter’tron pickups and accompanying volume and tone controls. The volume and tone knobs were inlaid with pearl, and Gretsch even went as far to include a “ruby” as a position indicator! Unlike many of these guitars, our single cut White Penguin is wired mono with two individual volume controls, a master volume, and a tone switch instead of the traditional potentiometer style knob. 

To summarize just how special, and just how rare these beautiful instruments are, our very own David Davidson sat down with Rod Brakes of Guitarist Magazine:

“I’ve had two straight single-cuts and one double-cut in my life, but I’ve seen several that had numerous problems, including broken headstocks, and/or strange appointments that I would hesitate to authenticate.

“I’ve seen two ’58 White Penguins. But I wasn’t convinced the other one was 100 percent real. Not a lot of people know this, but if you magnify the original gold sparkle binding, each little sparkle should appear octagonal-shaped. When you look at reissues or others where the binding has been replaced, that isn’t the case because nobody makes that binding any more. You can’t get it anywhere. And because the celluloid binding on so many of these guitars shrinks and rots and breaks away, it’s very common to see Falcons and Penguins with pieces of binding missing. Most Gretsch guitars from this period are starting to develop problems, although these two are very much intact.

“So, I’m very happy to have them in the store. They really are the Holy Grail of Gretsch collectors.”

Works Cited

Swiden’s Stunning Sparkles: Fender’s Sparkle Finishes

Some of the guitars we’re very fortunate to have in our collection are an array of extremely rare, original 50s and 60s Sparkle Fenders! These finishes feature large metallic “flecks” that give each guitar a glitzy effect. This style of painting was and is extremely popular in the automotive industry, from its invention to this very day. To understand the popularity and creation of the Sparkle guitar, one must look at the cultural landscape of California in the late 50s and early 60s. “Hot Rod” Car Culture and Surf music was all the rage at this time in Southern California, and musicians were keen to incorporate this culture into their instruments.

Our very own David Davidson spoke about Sparkle Guitars in Guitarist Magazine: “[Fender was] in Fullerton, California, and all that stuff was happening around them. So naturally, the idea of painting your guitar to look like a hot rod was a cool thing.”

The metallic fleck used in custom sparkle finishes differs from standard colors like Candy Apple Red or Lake Placid Blue, as the metallic particles in the former are much larger. With the chunkier fleck, you can see the texture underneath the clear, and almost feel it on some instruments. While these sparkles were still factory original guitars, Fender’s paint guns were not equipped to spray these rare finishes in-house until 1966. As a result, Fender built the bodies and then outsourced the finishes to the one place they knew could perfect them: auto body shops. Once the bodies were finished, Fender took them back into the factory to complete the electronics. Various shops were tasked with this important job and one artist, Dennis Swiden, is known to have painted a number of Sparkle finishes for Surf players, including Dick Dale and Eddie Bertrand. Dennis worked out of his parent’s furniture store and was close with many of the artists. Many one-off examples of Sparkle guitars were made for these popular artists, and we’re very lucky to have a few in our collection. One example we have even features crushed glass rather than glitter as the “fleck” to really add another dimension to the sparkle and texture.

Authenticating a sparkle finish as an original is no easy task, as no two are alike. We’re lucky enough as a store to possess multiple confirmed originals, allowing us to compare. However, each requires research, history, and even senses to authenticate. It can be anything from texture, smell, what we can see under the paint, and what we don’t. Because of this, and the amount of non-original pieces, authenticating Sparkles is one of the hardest tasks. Even so, here at Well Strung Guitars, we’ve done our homework so you can take one home with peace of mind! Give us a call today to add one of these jewels to your collection! 516-221-0563

Photos Courtesy of Facebook Group, “Dennis Swiden in Memory Of” and

Welcome to Our New Website!

Welcome to the newly redesigned Well Strung Guitars website! We implemented a slew of design changes to make browsing and enjoying our selection easier than ever before! We wanted to take this opportunity to walk you through some of those changes. 

Firstly, we’ve listed an additional 50 or so guitars we’ve never had on our website, and we plan on keeping the new listings coming, so check back every week! Be sure to let us know if you have any questions using our contact form, and at the bottom of that page add your email to our newsletter to get alerts when new guitars are uploaded. Each guitar now features a comprehensive Specifications summary, which makes finding important details such as weight, nut width, and pickup readings as easy as possible. 

What to Expect on Each Listing

Diving into the “Spec” summary a little further, you can see we have added a categorical “Condition” rating to the finish and hardware sections, and a numerical “Overall Condition” rating at the end of each listing. Some might be very familiar with the Mint, Excellent, Very Good, etc. metric that many selling platforms use, and some might be used to a simple 1-10 scale. We have adapted both styles to fit our inventory of 30+ year old vintage guitars, and provide easy references for both new and old school. Of course, condition is always subjective, but we use our years of experience dealing with hundreds of instruments to describe each piece to the best of our ability.

Let’s look at the “Finish Details” section of our listings. Some elements of age are hard to avoid, such as finish checking or yellowing of the clear, and this is taken into account when assigning a condition to an instrument. In that same vein, we also have a new “Hardware” section. One word we throw out quite a bit is “patina”. This is a thin layer of oxidation that can occur on metal components due to hand oils or even the air. We’ll note the presence of patina in this section, and if there’s any patina bordering on corrosion. Below we have provided a quick cheat sheet about the way we interpret our condition ratings for the utmost clarity.

MintEssentially new, like it just came out of the factory!
Near MintAlmost brand new, Could have very light swirling, very light weather checking, or a couple of small marks
ExcellentVery clean, Could have a few areas of light wear, light weather checking, or a few marks
GreatThe standard amount we expect a our vintage inventory to age, Could have some finish wear, some weather checking, a handful of marks, some patina, or just general play wear
GoodPlayed in look and feel, Could have fading/yellowing throughout, wear spots throughout finish (such as very visible buckle rash), weather checking throughout, marks throughout, or patina throughout
FairHeavily played in look and feel, Could have wear across the entire instrument, heavy fading/yellowing, areas of finish worn to bare wood, heavy weather checking, heavy marks, or heavy patina

Another area we’d like to expand on is the neck profile section. We got our hands on each guitar and assigned a neck profile that we felt matched. We can measure any neck in the store more thoroughly, so if you’d like more information please don’t hesitate to give us a shout! 

The remaining sections of the Specifications summary (such as nut width, weight, etc.) are pretty straightforward. The last “Includes” section lists any case candy and the type of case each guitar comes in.

We truly hope you all like our website’s new look and enjoy the changes. If there’s anything we haven’t answered for you here, please don’t hesitate to let us know! 

Fender’s Electric XII

In the early 1960s, there was a clamor to capture the jangly, bright, and unique sound produced by a relatively new invention; the electric twelve-string guitar. Acoustic twelve-string guitars had been accompanying folk and blues music since the 1920s/1930s but were seen as little more than novelties. Until the early 1960s, when George Harrison put his brand new twelve-string Rickenbacker 360/12 to good use. George was given one of the first two prototypes made by Rickenbacker, and was immediately taken with the new sound he was able to achieve. He was given the guitar in February of 1964 in New York City, a day before their legendary performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Harrison’s quickly put his new guitar to use in the studio, laying out the legendary opening of “A Hard Day’s Night”.

This meteoric popularity caught Fender by surprise, and the brand quickly began planning its own design to compete with the likes of Rickenbacker and others. Using the offset designs of the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, and Mustang as a baseline, a new headstock design was needed to accommodate six extra strings. The result came to be referred to as the “hockey stick” headstock; a clunky yet unique departure from the sleek lines and curves the company was known for.

Fender Electric XII Head Stock
The Electric XII’s “hockey stick” headstock

The Electric XII featured two split single coil pickups, a single volume and tone control, and a four-way rotary switch. This switch allowed the player to use either each pickup by itself, both pickups together in phase, or both pickups together but out of phase. While this is intensely cool, where the Electric XII really stands out lies with its unique bridge design. While many other twelve-string electric guitars had just six saddles for twelve strings, Fender took a slightly different approach. As one of Leo Fender’s last designs with the company he founded, the bridge features twelve individual saddles to perfect the instrument’s intonation. The string-through body design also helped enhance the overall sound and sustain, since many others were stringed using a top-mounted tailpiece.

Fender Electric XII Print Ad
The original advertisement for Fender’s new “12-String Electric”
Fender Electric XII body detail
A close-up of the Electric XII’s revolutionary bridge design

By the summer of 1965, The Byrds were dominating the charts with their hit, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and were scheduled to appear on several television variety shows to promote it, thanks to their record label CBS. Coincidentally, CBS had also just purchased Fender and asked Gene Clark to play a Firemist Gold Electric XII opposite Jim McGuinn’s Rickenbacker 360/12. This was The Byrd’s second television appearance on Hullabaloo, in May of 1965. When the Fender Electric XII was released in June of 1965, the standard Sunburst finish with a white pearloid pickguard was offered for $349.50. Soon after its initial release, a faux tortoise shell pickguard replaced the white pearloid guard. Later, in the same year, white binding was added to the fretboard. Many Electric XIIs featured pearl dot inlays, except for a small amount of them that featured block markers. In an effort to boost sales during the first few years, a fair percentage of Electric XIIs were finished in an array of Fender’s custom colors in order to provide a guitar for anyone’s taste.

Fender Electric XII
A 1965 Fender Electric XII in Firemist Gold, very similar to the one Gene Clark played on Hullabaloo

The Electric XII quickly became a studio favorite, with the likes of the Beach Boys, Pete Townshend, and Bob Dylan relying on the XII. Even Elvis Presley was seen sporting a 1966 Electric XII in Lake Placid Blue. Arguably, the most famous recording of an Electric XII is featured on Led Zeppelin’s legendary epic, “Stairway to Heaven”, recorded in late 1970 and released in 1971. Jimmy Page opted to use his Sunburst 1965 Fender Electric XII in order to capture the mystical, shimmering tone featured on the track.

Fender Electric XII

Despite the popularity in the studio, musicians were not seen playing Electric XIIs much on stage, which starved the model of the star power needed to sell them. By the end of the decade, the popularity of the twelve-string and its unique sound was waning. In 1969/70, the Electric XII was scrapped from the Fender lineup entirely. After the Electric XII, the Coronado XII was the only twelve-string Fender offered until the end of 1970. Twelve strings would be unavailable from Fender until nearly 20 years later; when the Japanese-made Strat XII was introduced.

Fender Electric XII
1967 Fender Coronado XII in Cherry Red, featuring the same “hockey stick” headstock in Black

The Fender Electric XII was certainly one of the last remaining bastions of the Golden Age of Fender and endures as one of the most comfortable, ergonomic, and well-pitched twelve strings ever available on the market.

Fender Electric XII
1965 Fender Electric XII in Lake Placid Blue

Works Cited

Babiuk, Andy, et al. Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio. Montclair, Nj, Backbeat Books, 2015.

Kelly, Martin, et al. Fender: The Golden Age. London, Cassell Illustrated, 2011.

Owens, Jeff. “Ring True: A History of Fender 12-String Electric Guitars.”,