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.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

31 Comments

  1. 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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    1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. […] Comments David W. Boles on The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic…David W. Boles on The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic…David W. Boles on The Ibanez Artcore […]

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  5. […] Comments The Gretsch Electrom… on The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic…David W. Boles on The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic…David W. Boles on The Gretsch G5120 […]

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  6. […] Posted: June 10, 2010 by David W. Boles in Love Tags: g5120, gretsch 0 A ringing in the hollow brings joy to the […]

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  7. […] The D’Addario … on The Gretsch Electromatic Guita…Ten Seventy-Nine … on The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic…The Gretsch G5120 El… on The Gretsch Electromatic Guita…David W. Boles on The Gretsch […]

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  8. […] D’Addario … on How to Feel Good About Bending…The D’Addario … on The Gretsch G5120 Electromatic…The D’Addario … on The Gretsch Electromatic Guita…Ten Seventy-Nine … on […]

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  9. […] height of the stand to best meet the length requirements of your Les Paul or your Ibanez or your Gretsch or your […]

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  10. […] to help ensure your guitar “sounds right” up and down the fretboard.  Most guitarists test their harmonics at the 12th fret.  Others also test the open-string naturals at the 9th and 7th and 5th frets and sometimes the […]

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  11. […] installed the Jazz Bebops first my on Gretsch 5120 and the voice of the guitar was immediately made richer and deeper.  One strange thing I noticed […]

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  12. […] Setzer is an amazing musician.  He plays a Gretsch guitar with tremendous power, grace and energy, and he alone resurrected the long-dead Rockabilly […]

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  13. 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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    1. I’m loving your guitar, Ted! Thanks for sharing your new baby with us. Do you have any pictures or sound samples we can enjoy?

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

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

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  16. 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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    1. You have a great guitar, Daniel, and in six months, as the wood comes in and ages, it will sound even better and better!

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  17. 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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    1. 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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  18. 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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    1. Love the story about your new guitar! Be sure to let us know how it plays and sounds for you as you break in the new guitar!

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  19. Edwin, Inventer of Classicalobilly Funk May 29, 2012 at 11:40 am

    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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    1. Thanks for that excellent review, Edwin. Your wide experience in evaluation will help a lot of people!

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

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    1. 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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  21. Hi David!

    Was just searching 5120 stuff to find some quick tips on adjusting intonation with the ‘backwards’-facing bridge screws when I ran across your excellent review. Wanted to chime in and say thanks and share my G5120 love story.🙂

    I’m a regular music-store visitor. I was dropping in to Guitar Center quite often in the mid 2000’s and test driving various guitars and amps. I’d always grab some flavor of 6120 to enjoy and dream. One day, I stopped in with my Wife-to-Be and grabbed the usual ‘Orange’. It was great, but noticed that it was laid out a bit differently. Checked the tag on it to see model number and price.

    I s*** you not when I say that I actually let out an audible yelp-noise when I saw the price. I’d spent years grabbing $2,200-$6,000 Gretsches…and this tag said $599. I was literally shocked–I thought it was a mistake. Then I guessed what was up, and sure enough: Korea. (I buy American when possible, but guitars and amps are too far out of my price range. No American is going to be out of a job since the price-points don’t make it either-or.)

    A brief talk with my girlfriend ensued. I walked out with that lovely G5120 thirty minutes later. GC had a deal going that if you bought something over $500 they’d give you an $70 gift card. So, in effect, it cost $529 plus tax! Unreal. Bought a gig bag with that $70 a bit later.

    I know exactly what you mean about the weird little tuning machines–I immediately installed a set of Sperzel locking tuners (that, if I recall, also have a finer gear ratio). Hardly use the Bigsby, but the Sperzels really keep it in tune if I do. Beyond painting the pickguard white and adding some great mismatched knobs, two years ago I had my guitar tech replace the sticky plastic nut with something better, plus shim the bridge pickup up with another (matching) piece to make that one’s output just a wee bit hotter. I thought I missed having white bound f-holes till Gretsch released the 5122’s (at $799)–and then I didn’t. They looked ‘off’, and not like the 6120’s to me.

    You’re dead-on about the good and quality sound of the stock pickups. I’ve read some purists whine about them, but those guys are definitely being price-blinded snobs. The two dual coils–and all 3 positions–sound excellent and usefully different. I also bought from my tech a one-knob, 4-watt, 1961 Gibson Skylark GA-5 tube amp that’s so small it can be driven at non-ear splitting volume to almost all power amp distortion (and tweaked with pre/power tube changes). Since I record direct mostly, I use my 5120 to tell me whether amp and distortion software is worth it based on how well the pickups differentiate within the app. (A note: FWIW, my 5120’s sound is definitely crisp and woody, but not at all twangy/treble-y. I use the treble knob on my Blackstar stomp to give it some edge, or EQ it in my DAWs.)

    My other guitar is a 1991 Ibanez EX-360 solid body ‘rock’ guitar (also Korean) with S/S/Hum pickup layout (the single coils do produce a sound that the 5120 doesn’t make, and the double cutaway allows for playing up higher). Between the two, I’ve been pretty much released from the Wheel of Guitar Desiring (!).

    In a month and a half, my beloved 5120 will be 9 years old–it’s lasted longer than my marriage, unfortunately.

    I’d recommend the 5120 to anyone: the sound, action, set-up, and playability are 6120-level–no question. Great plugged or unplugged. Awesome-looking. And definitely a step beyond “greasy kid stuff”.😉

    Thanks again!

    Best,
    Nick
    ruskoberger.com

    p.s. As far as restringing the Bigsby, I just bend the strings at the ball-ends to keep them snug around the rocker bar.

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    1. Wow! Thanks for the beautiful article, Nick! I appreciate all the fine detail and the love of your guitar! You have given all of us a fine and keen way to adjust, and make better, our beloved Gretsch guitars!

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      1. My pleasure, Dave–you’re welcome. And you’re a fast-on-the-draw blog responder!

        Nick

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        1. I appreciate your fine knowledge and your willingness to share it with us!

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