I've never been a huge fan of Gretsch guitars. I've played a few vintage Gretsch instruments, but their playability and condition were often less than ideal. I've also played some of the more recent Japanese-built models, but they just didn't suit me. Then I played this guitar, a '59 White Penguin Relic by Masterbuilder Stephen Stern, a guitar which has changed my attitude on what a Gretsch guitar can be!
Stephen Stern got started in the Fender Custom Shop back in 1993 and became a Masterbuilder soon thereafter. During his tenure, Stephen studied under archtop luthiers Bob Benedetto and James D'Aquisto. In 2005 he was elevated to head of the Gretsch Custom Shop. This gorgeous reproduction Penguin is an example of Stephen's incredible skills.
Like the original and very limited run Gretsch Penquin upon which it is based, this guitar has a chambered Mahogany body with a laminated Maple archtop. The guitar has a total weight of just 8.2 pounds. It has the lavish cosmetics Gretsch guitars are known for.
The neck is Mahogany and has a C-shaped carve with depth measurements of .88" at the first fret increasing to .94" at the twelfth fret. The fretboard is made of Ebony and has a 12" radius. The frets are called "vintage" but look and feel like 6105's to me. The nut is bone and is 1-11/16" wide. Fancy MOP inlays adorn the fretboard.
This particular Penguin has one of the very few examples with a Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece. I much prefer the tuning stability and intonation adjustability of this bridge over the Cadillac or Bigsby hardware most common on Gretsch guitars.
The pickups on this guitar include a TV Jones Classic humbucker in the neck position and a TV Jones Classic Plus in the bridge with outputs of 4.0K and 4.8K, respectively. Controls include a master volume, neck volume, bridge volume, master tone and a three way toggle.
The hardware is all gold-plated and realistically aged. In fact, the overall relic job on this guitar is among the most authentic I've seen anywhere. The aged patina Stephen has given this white finish is just amazing.
While it feels and looks like a vintage Gretsch in your hands, the playability tells you this is an instrument built with the exceptionally fine tolerances that only modern technology allows. This guitar plays superbly and the TOM bridge lets you set it up anyway you like.
The tone of this instrument is just what you want from a Gretsch - clean and sweet at lower volumes, a nice growl when gain is added. All you need is a tube amp and your guitar with this Gretsch, effects pedals are almost superfluous!
Built in 2015, this magnificent instrument has seen only light play. The factory aging aside, you will find no signs of use and the frets show no observable wear. It comes in it's original and similarly mint hardshell case along with the certificate of authenticity and accessories. A new example of this guitar will cost approximately $5.4K, but this lightly played beauty can be yours for $1,200 less.
Despite my pre-conceived notions, I'm blown away by how good this Masterbuilt Gretsch is. Make it yours - you will be very glad you did!
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