Some guitars combine fascinating stories about both their creation and acquisition, and this 1979 Gretsch TK 300 Model No. 7624 is one of those guitars! It was conceived during what many vintage Gretsch enthusiasts consider to be the low point in Gretsch history. It was purchased during one of the great guitar adventures of my career! But, is it any good?
Gretsch was founded in Brooklyn, NY, in 1883 by Friedrich Gretsch of Mannheim, Germany. He died a couple years later and the company was run by Fred Gretsch, Sr., until 1942. Bill and Fred, Jr., took over and when Bill died in ’48, Fred, Jr., was in charge. Most of Gretsch’s most famous guitars date from the 1950s, including the famous White Falcon that was promoted by touch guitarist Jimmy Webster in guitar demos offered at Gretsch dealerships throughout the country. Gretsches during this era were powered by DeArmond pickups and were undoubtedly cool!
Then along came the Swinging Sixties. Baby Boomers fused with the Beatles and suddenly you could sell every electric guitar you could make. Sensing gold in them thar hills, major corporations, some of which had nothing to do with music, stumbled over themselves to get into the guitar business. In 1965 CBS, with TV, radio and record company holdings, bought Fender. Ok. In ’67 Norlin, with a beer-making history, bought Gibson. In between both guitar manufacturers and distributors sold to corporations. Guild went to Avnet, an entertainment company. Kay went first to Seeburg, the jukebox company, and then to Valco. Jack Westheimer’s Teisco went to King Korn trading stamp company!
Anyhow, Gretsch got caught up in the buying frenzy. Baldwin Piano and Organ Company of Cincinnati made a bid for Fender, but lost out to CBS. Then later in ’65 Baldwin bought Burns of London. Two years later, Baldwin added Gretsch to its portfolio. After that, Gretsch guitars began incorporating Burns features, like the “gear-box” neck adjustment and vibratos. To save money, in 1970 production was relocated to Booneville, Arkansas, and finally to DeQueen, AR. HQ moved to Cincinnati in ’72. Later that year the plant burned down, marking pretty much the end of the era acceptable to hardcore Gretsch freaks. Production didn’t really ramp up again until 1974, by now facing stiff Japanese competition. Baldwin was interested in capturing as much market share as it could.
In around 1978 Gretsch came up with a bunch of new models, including the ill-fated Committee (designed by same), as well as the Beast models (bitchin’ guitars), and this Bizarro TK, with the asymmetrical body and hocky-stick head. The hardware and pickups on these were made in Japan. This model may have been Gretsch’s first bolt-neck guitar model. The rising sun was about to set.
This particular TK came from my classic visit to discover the Temple of Doom, aka Bob’s House of Music in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Bob owned a strip mall and instead of renting out the shops, filled them with guitars. More guitars than you can imagine. If you came in to buy one and tried to negotiate, Bob would drive the price UP, not go down. He didn’t sell much with this strategy. He also collected feral cats and wore cast-off thrift store clothes. I went out there to take pictures of guitars, and came home with this as one of my prizes. No, it was a fair price but no bargain. What would you expect?
Collectors who like Corvettes or Mr. Chets or Falcons disdain these later Gretsches, but if you ignore the history, these are really nice guitars. The necks are slim and fast. They’re light-weight, which is good if you’re older like me (or like to jump off amps). And the Japanese pickups are HOT, HOT, HOT. These are great guitars. In a popular guitar context.
Gretsch died shortly after this adventure, though it would return as an import later. But if you’re interested in good guitarflesh that, like Rodney Dangerfield, don’t get no respect, but is quite respectable, you might want to keep your eyes open for a TK 300!