Posts Tagged ‘Jimmie Webster’

Webster-Designed Gretsch White Falcon Turns 60

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Gretsch Remembers Jimmie Webster, the Musician, Inventor, and Traveling Ambassador for Gretsch Guitars who, among many other important contributions, designed the Gretsch White Falcon.

Jimmie Webster

The Early Days.

Jimmie Webster was born on August 11, 1908 in Van Wert, Ohio into a very musical family. Both parents played as well as taught piano and his sister, Virginia, became a well-respected jazz pianist. Keeping the family tradition alive, Webster excelled at piano but also had a passion for the guitar.

In the 1930s Webster was a professional musician in the New York City area and married L’Ana Hyams, one of the first women jazz bandleaders. Webster was also an in-demand professional piano tuner, ran a small music store, and began doing a little consulting work for the Gretsch Company.

During World War II Webster served as a musician in the U.S. Air Corps in Iceland. After the war, Webster moved to Long Island, N.Y. where he became more involved with the Gretsch Company. Webster’s long association with Gretsch guitars would span four decades.

The 1950s: A Golden Decade for Jimmie Webster and Gretsch Guitars.

In 1951 Gretsch informed the music industry (and market leader Gibson) it was serious about manufacturing a professional line of electric guitars. Webster led a successful, three-day promotional show for music dealers and professional musicians at New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel. Webster demonstrated the new Gretsch single cutaway Electromatic and Electro II hollow body electric guitars. Based on industry trade journals, the event was well attended and very successful in getting Gretsch the awareness and exposure the company needed.

Throughout the decade, Webster proved to be Gretsch’s main “idea man” in his quest to distinguish Gretsch guitars from the competition. Webster and Gretsch led an industry “color revolution” and took guitars beyond their conservative natural or sunburst finishes. It was Webster’s idea to cover the top of the solid body Silver Jet guitar with a flashy, sparkle drum finish from Gretsch’s drum department. He also took marketing cues from the auto industry by introducing guitars finished in Cadillac Green, Jaguar Tan, and Copper Mist and conducting traveling “Guitarama” shows and demonstrations around the country.

1954 was truly a banner year for Gretsch and Jimmie Webster. At the July Summer NAMM Show Webster unveiled the ultimate “dream guitar”, the opulent White Falcon. Designed more as a concept “guitar of the future” than an actual production guitar, Webster’s stunning white and gold beauty caused such a stir with sales reps that Gretsch had no choice but to offer it in their 1955 lineup. It was-and remains today-the “Cadillac of Guitars”.

In an effort to match Gibson’s recent endorsement of Les Paul, Webster set his sights in 1954 on landing Gretsch’s first signature guitar with one of the industry’s most talented guitarists, Chet Atkins. Although he resisted at first (Atkins was happy with his self-modified D’Angelico), Atkins finally agreed once Webster told him he could design his own signature guitar. The result was the legendary Chet Atkins Hollow Body Model 6120. Launched in 1955, this milestone electric guitar with its distinctive orange finish, fire-branded “G”, and western-themed appointments put Gretsch on the map and forever changed the company’s fortunes and popularity.

Ever the inventor and in search of the next innovation, Webster patented and introduced a line of Project-O-Sonic stereo guitars in 1958. With split Filter’Tron pickups and dual amplifiers, Webster proclaimed it to be the biggest revolution in guitar engineering since electrification.

Jimmie's Album, Wester's Unabridged, Was Produced by Chet Atkins.

The stereo guitar sounded impressive when played by a talented guitarist and Webster proved that with his landmark Webster’s Unabridged LP. Not only did it showcase his Project-O-Sonic stereo guitar, but it also captured his revolutionary two-handed tapping technique. Webster is known as the “Father of the Touch System” and transferred his piano playing abilities to the guitar by developing a two-handed tapping technique. Webster played guitar with both hands producing bass lines, chords, and melodies simultaneously. Webster even wrote an illustrated instruction book entitled Touch System for Electric and Amplified Spanish Guitar that was published in 1952. Those fortunate to have seen and heard demonstrations of Webster’s unique Touch System were left amazed and impressed.

Space Control Bridges, String Mutes, and Tone Twisters

As Gretsch’s main guitar sales and marketing man, Webster had an endless imagination for new gadgets, inventions, and innovations. Many of Webster’s ideas were granted patents. During the 1950s and 1960s Webster was responsible for such memorable Gretsch features as the Space Control Bridge, String Mutes, Padded Backs, the Standby Switch, Project-O-Sonic stereo guitar, the Tone Twister, the Floating Sound Unit, and one of his most bizarre: the T Zone Tempered Treble slanted fret experiment.

Throughout the 1960s, Webster was the primary force behind many of Gretsch’s product changes and new model introductions. In 1961 and 1962, Gretsch guitars drastically changed into thinner, twin-cutaway models with sealed bodies and stencil-painted fake f-holes. Webster even created a new name for their new line of guitars: Electrotone. He also was responsible for some of the more unusual products to be introduced including the unconventional-looking Astro Jet and the seven-string George Van Eps signature model guitar.

After Gretsch was sold to Baldwin in 1967, Webster continued working and even conducted some of his famous Gretsch Guitarama shows across the country. Over time though, Webster worked less and less and eventually stopped working altogether for the company he had helped establish and promote. Although Webster died in 1978 at the age of 69, many of the guitars he designed and launched-the White Falcon, Silver Jet, Chet Atkins 6120, and many more-are still being admired and produced over fifty years later. This is a true testament to the genius, vision, and imagination of one of the guitar’s more colorful ambassadors: Jimmie Webster.



The Gretsch Duo Jet: Still Rockin’ at 60

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

By Fred Gretsch

In January 1951, Gretsch let the music world know it was a serious contender in the quickly evolving electric guitar business when it introduced the Electromatic and Electro II models at a three-day promotional show at New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel.

Meanwhile, on the west coast in Fullerton, California, the Fender Company was manufacturing a groundbreaking concept: a solid body electric guitar with a bolt-on neck. A year later in 1952, my uncle and Gretsch president Fred Gretsch Jr., was more than surprised when rival Gibson introduced the Les Paul “Gold Top” solid body electric guitar.

Seeing the sales success of these new, untraditional guitars, my uncle realized solid body guitars were more than a passing fad. He assembled his guitar brain trust of Jimmie Webster, Duke Kramer, and Phil Grant and the team worked diligently to develop the Gretsch Duo Jet, one of the most desired guitars of the 1950s that’s still going strong 60 years later.

Introduced in 1953, the Duo Jet had a cool name (“Duo” for its two Dynasonic pickups and “Jet” which reflected the most advanced aircraft technology of the day) to go along with its cool, elegant looks and great sound.

The single-cutaway Duo Jet featured a gleaming black arched top — some made from Nitron plastic drum material — with mahogany sides, back and neck. Other Gretsch firsts included truss rod adjustments through the headstock (concealed with a bullet-shaped cover), a master volume control knob on the cutaway, and a pickup selection switch. With two DeArmond Dynasonic pickups, a Melita Synchro-Sonic bridge, chrome hardware, white and black binding, and hump block inlays, the Duo Jet’s upscale black and chrome look was simply stunning.

It also lived up to its “Great Gretsch Sound” reputation thanks to the Duo Jet’s unique construction. Although it looked like a solid body, the inside was actually chambered to allow for wiring and components and to make the Duo Jet lighter and more comfortable to play. This “semi-solid” approach also gave the Duo Jet a unique sound that ranged from jangly and twangy to smooth and mellow. A perfect guitar for playing country and western, pop, and jazz music in 1953, as well as rock ‘n’ roll which was about to explode onto the music scene.

Some of the most influential guitarists who played early Duo Jets were Hank Garland, rockabilly great Cliff Gallup of Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, and the Beatles’ George Harrison. George’s ’57 Duo Jet was his sentimental favorite and he described it as his first “good guitar” when he bought it used in 1960. It’s unique tone shaped the sound and energy of the Beatles’ early recordings. We honored George’s famous ’57 Duo Jet in 2011 with a limited edition Custom Shop Tribute Duo Jet.

The popularity of the Duo Jet continues to ascend to new heights. From legends like Jeff Beck and David Gilmour, to some of today’s hottest players like Nick 13 and Alex Trimble, there’s no slowing down the Duo Jet Express. In fact, we offer more than 20 models including the George Harrison and Malcolm Young Signature models, Jet Firebirds, Silver Jets and Sparkle Jets.

In retrospect, it’s been 60 years since my uncle and his talented team wrote an important chapter in the Gretsch Company’s guitar history book: creating and marketing a successful solid body electric guitar. One only has to look at the longevity and success of the Duo Jet — which has changed very little over 60 years — to know they found the right recipe within the walls of the Gretsch Factory at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn way back in 1953.