The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic Review

The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic is better known as — “That Orange Guitar” — and it is certainly a big bite of juicy and refreshing sweetness in every way.  Orange is not my favorite color, but I love this Gretsch orange and I love the silver pickguard that is standard on the newer 5120’s!  The G5120 is massive hollowbody electric guitar — but it is still lightweight in your hands — and you can easily play it plugged in for that electric sound or  you can go acoustic and unplugged.

Not everyone can afford a $3,600.00USD David Glimour Custom Black Strat, but quite a few musicians can afford a $600.00USD Gretsch G5120.

Is the Gilmour Strat six times better than the Gretsch G5120?

No.

How is it possible that the G5120 is such a great guitar, and yet it gets so little favorable play in the Press and in the minds of guitar elitists?  Is it because Gretsch — around since 1883 — is no longer family owned and Fender, yes, that Fender, now owns the company?  Or is there some lingering xenophobic resentment going on because Gretsch guitars are now built in Korea?

Unfortunately, the G5120 doesn’t come with any sort of case.  It arrives in a cardboard box.  If you want to carry your big orange guitar in the street, you need to find an extra $100.00USD for the hardshell case.  That’s a hard sell — but an inevitable one — if you ever  hope to play beyond your home.

The Gretsch G5120 is one of the finest guitars I own.  The fact that it is so cheaply priced, and yet so magnificently built for sound, makes the G5120 the biggest bargain in guitars.

The pickups sound great.  Some complain the bridge pickup isn’t twangy and sharp enough — I argue there is a huge difference in sound between the neck and the bridge — and that’s enough of a distinction with a difference to make the guitar a great tool for music.

The neck is thin and slick.  The frets are fast.  The rosewood fretboard is smooth and quick.  The G5120 is obviously built for speed.  I don’t know if the G5120 is made for Bending the Blues — the floating bridge creaks at me when I bend just a step — but if you’re looking to play quick notes or strum rhythm, or finger pick, you won’t find a better built, or more agreeable, guitar for the purpose.

The tuners look strange and flimsy but, so far, they hold the strings in tune in fine shape.  The G5120 arrives with D’Addario .11-.49s and my guitar was built in March of this year.  The strings were clean and ringing.  I changed the factory installed strings to D’Addario .10s and the guitar plays just fine.  I have some Gretsch-branded .11-.49s on order so I can test the difference, if there is any, between sustain, tone and sound.

I love it how the entire guitar rings when each string hits the sweet spot of coming into tune and that means, in essence, that the guitar tunes itself once you attune your ear to hearing that sweet, pinging, echo.  You really get a sense of musicality from this guitar.  It regularly treats the ear.

I’m not a tremolo fan, and trying to get the strings to stay on the Bigsby pegs during re-stringing was a chore I am not eager to repeat.  If the guitar requires a “foam wedge” to help the strings stay on the Bigsby while re-stringing, then the foam wedge should be included with the guitar.

Here’s an excellent video from a Gretsch tech demonstrating how to set up your G5120 with the floating bridge.  Get ready for an eyeful of beautiful orange!

Here’s the immortal Chet Atkins in a 1954 performance with a similar Gretsch Electromatic Hollowbody:

If you play the guitar, you must have a Gretsch G5120 in your musical arsenal — the sound is unique, instantly recognizable, and rich — and the G5120 can fill so many gaps in your sound that a Telecaster, Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul cannot imagine to begin to abide.

27 comments

  • David,

    That’s a really pretty guitar. I’d go for that over the Ibanez, definitely. It looks great and sounds even better! :)

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    • It’s really a lovely guitar, Gordon, but it feels more like an acoustic than a solid body electric when playing. That isn’t a problem if you’re prepared for it.

      Orange is certainly the color to have, I think, though others are going for the more traditional colors now that the orange is over-saturating the market.

      There are tons of “G5120″ vids on YouTube. You can really get a fine feel for the sound and the guitar gets along with a wide variety of amps — that’s always a good sign of a well-made git.

      I think I’m quickly becoming a Gretsch Man! You can’t be the price for the value!

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  • UPDATE:

    I confirmed, using a digital caliper, that the original factory strings were Daddario EXL115 Set Electric Guitar Strings (11-49).

    Gauges: .11; .14; .18; .28; .38; .49

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  • P.S.

    The Gretsch .11-.49 strings arrived yesterday from SamAsh.com. They were rusted in the packaging. No wonder they only had two packs left in stock. FAIL!

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  • I just bought the walnut double cutaway. I love it and was surprised how much more “live” it sounds and plays in comparison to the single cutaway. Overall, a great value for the price and really nice playing. The Bigsby is SO cool.

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  • Soon David. I love it through my Vox AC15 with the tremolo. whooooooo.

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  • Sounds like a killer rig, Ted! I’m so happy for you!

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  • I have just recently purchased a Gretsch g5120 electric guitar. It is my first electric guitar and I am
    just trilled with it. I have only had three guitars in my life! The first was a Yammaha FG75 which I
    only had for a couple of years. The second guitar, I purchased as a teenager was a Ovation accoustic Baladeer which I still have and enjoy to play. The Gretsch electric is like a whole new world for me. Sounds excellent even with a used Fender practice Amp. Neck is very thin and string
    action just great, makes it a pleasure to play.

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  • Just found your blog – An excellent (and truthful) write-up on the G5120. I bought mine (Burgundy stain) back in April 2010 and I simply love it. I agree that the pickups are decent and totally usable, but now that I’ve played it for a year, I am intending to replace the stock pups with TV Jones classics. This guitar is a great value. The workmanship and finish are surprisingly refined, especially given the price point ($599 USD). I play it though a Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue Tweed.

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    • I love your upgrade plans, John. I think I saw a YouTube video showing how to achieve that pickup upgrade and it looked a little complicated with risers and toothpicks and drilling new holes and losing wires inside the guitar. Do you think it will be that complicated, or have you found a simpler way to upgrade?

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  • I just got a G5120, sunburst with a wine colored back. Really beautiful guitar, great sound, silky action. Have a Gibson Les Paul, several Strats, a Jazzmaster, a Telecaster, and a Martin, and also a nice Epiphone Les Paul. I never had a Gretsch. I am vey happy,and I know is Korean made, but the finish and the sound,are world class. Congratulations Fender Gretstch guys….

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  • Edwin, Inventer of Classicalobilly Funk

    I’d picked up a solidbody Electromatic right around when the Fender takeover had just happened. Loved the sound, hated the playability, so after a couple weeks trying to be happy with it I wound up returning it. Now I have a recently built G5210, and I have to say the outsourced worksmanship is FAR superior to how it had been. I played around with the G5120 against a White Falcon out of curiosity and, for a player without a rock star’s disposable income, I’d have to say the Falcon just wasn’t quite worth the additional cost. Note the disclaimer though–if you can afford a Falcon or similar, absolutely try them out and decide for yourself.

    At any rate, while I’m still admittedly in the honeymoon phased, I’m pretty pleased with the amplified sonic character, the playability, and most surprisingly the acoustic sound. It won’t win any volume contests unamplified, but the sound is quite pleasing, unlike a number of other hollowbodies I’ve tried. I’m looking forward to exploring with it further. Definitely a good addition to my modest axe herd. And for anyone else who was like myself apprehensive of the quality of Korean Gretschs, the time’s right for renewing your evaluations.

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  • Simply a gorgeous guitar. Any video of you playing it?

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    • Yes, it’s a beautiful guitar. I had no idea the orange would look so cool. There’s no video yet of me playing. I’m much too awful a player — and too shy in general! — for that to happen right now. SMILE!

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