Review by Richard Beech
The cult of the Gretsch White Falcon is stronger than ever after nearly 60 years, so when a range of new Falcons were released earlier this year, it grabbed the collective attention.
Anyone who uses Gretsch's high-end flagship masterpiece for regular performances will know that, as beautiful and ethereal as the White Falcon is, the very same characteristic which makes it so briliant is the very same thing that can make it so tough to use.
The hollow-body combined with those oh-so powerful Filter-Tron pickups produces a booming low-end, particularly on the neck pickup, which made it so great for jazz, rockabilly and later-on its revival on the northern soul and post punk scenes.
The bridge pickup, britle under distortion with a motorcycle growl, and pushing punchy cleans with the gain rolled back. On either pickup, high volume in a gig venue of restricted size could have you scrambling for cover, with the neck pickup producing a smooth boom, and the bridge pickup occasionally squealing like a pig.
So a center block, placed right in the middle of the hollow-body, seems like a perfectly logical step. It should stop these problems, but will it affect the famous White Falcon tone?
What's the spec?
Gretsch have released three new center block models, including the new Black Panther. There are two new White Falcons with center blocks, a double cutaway and a single cutaway, it's the White Falcon double cutaway I have the pleasure of investigating.
And investigating is the right word.
For anyone familiar with how a modern Gretsch White Falcon feels underhand, there isn't much new to report in terms of playability. The beautiful ebony fretboard supported by that classic flat profile wide neck is unrivalled in the world of hollow-body guitars, for my money anyway.
The White Falcon has been on a diet though, the body thickness now resembles a Gibson ES-335 or an Epiphone Dot. The spruce center block adds a fair amount of weight, but this is still a light guitar, no need to worry there.
Everything about it screams luxury, but there's no decadence, the White Falcon Center Block is a classy lady. Gold hardware, with tiny jewels inlayed on the volume and tone knobs, you'll certainly feel like you're playing an expensive guitar.
The 3-ply maple top helps to ensure that the guitar doesn't get too weighty, but along with the gloss urethane finish the new Gretsch G6139-CBDC sounds remarkably similar to its predecessor when played acoustically.
There are Gretsch cultists out there with a more accurate ear than mine who could tell big differences between the new models and the old, but for me the change to the dimensions of the body and the addition of the center block certainly don't detract from the acoustic tone.
For anyone who has struggled over the years from being too heavy-handed with their picking and strumming to really get along with un-pinned bridges on archtops, you might be pleased to find the Gretsch Center Block models feature PINNED adjusto-matic bridges.
How does it feel?
It feels pretty wonderful to play, actually. I could never quite get on with un-pinned bridges, I'm heavy handed and lack a certain finesse, I'm always happy to admit that.
It's a very odd situation of having a $4000 guitar in your hands for a review, and wanting to see how hard you can play it. I wanted to test out that pinned bridge and also test the guitar close to an amp to see what it gave in terms of feedback.
I started, delicately at first, to play loud, in stage performance mode if you will, and the Gretsch White Falcon just felt so much 'tighter' than any other hollow-body I've played.
By adding the center block they've not only (almost) eliminated the squealing feedback you get from foldback monitors on stage, but they've also added an anchor which the rest of the guitar seems to safely cling on to.
It (excuse the pun) underpins the whole guitar, with the bridge being securely attached, jazz players might not feel like they're getting the authentic experience, but for neanderthals like me it's perfect.
How does it sound?
It sounds a lot like a Gretsch White Falcon! So much of that famous tone eminated from those beautiful Filter-Tron pickups, and after all this time, they still kick out the best clean tone in the world, in my humble opinion.
Boomy vibrant jazz tones on the neck pickup, particularly brilliant plugged into a Fender Twin or a Princeton on an ultra clean setting. The bridge pickup is, as has always been and will forever be, brilliant for dirty distorted tones with just a tiny hint of brittleness in the mid-range.
The combination of the two pickups is a nice place to sit, because you can blend in the volumes of both pickups to give you a huge tonal range, and use the master volume to increase gain if you have a distorted setting on your amplifier.
It is a versatile guitar, and now that you can really crank the volume on distorted tones, it is even more versatile.
What's the verdict?
Some have expressed dismay at the $4250/£3000 price tag, but realistically you can pick one up for around $3500/£2600. That's STILL a lot of money, but the White Falcon has always fought for the higher end of the market and you never really expect to pick one up cheap.
It feels odd, perhaps uneasy, to pay that much money for something that has been made in Japan, but there are no question marks over build quality, it's a beautiful guitar.
So would I buy one? Yes, is the simple answer. I personally feel like Gretsch have perfected the White Falcon with the center block models, purists may disagree and I can see why they would, but even with the addition of the center block and the changes to the dimensions of the body, this is still a thoroughbred White Falcon.
When I play this guitar I really can't see any drawbacks, it feels so stable, so reliable and trustworthy. Perhaps part of the character of the White Falcon was that you always felt like it was a delicate piece of machinery which had to be carefully loved and look after.
But the new Gretsch White Falcon Center Block models are the sort of guitars you would happily take out on the road and use as a first guitar. I always felt like if you were going to spend thousands of pounds on a guitar, why leave it hanging up at home like an ornament?
Despite the jewels embedded in the gold volume and tone knobs, and the large multi-bound headstock, this guitar is a workhorse, it looks pretty and it can get the job done.
What more can you ask for?
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