Gretsch G6134T-LTD Penguin Review
by Joseph Avery-North
Today we’re going to take a look at the beauty below, the Gretsch G6134T-LTD Penguin, in smoke grey/violet metallic. It was released in April, 2020 and limited to only 100 worldwide. And I’m proud to say I have one.
I’ve been a Gretsch fan since I was a little kid. As I mentioned in a previous review I was introduced to The Beatles by my grandparents and while The Beatles haven’t directly influenced my sound as a musician and songwriter they had a massive influence on my choice of instruments and amplifiers. I’ve had Epiphones, Hofners and Rickenbackers, my Vox AC30 will always be my main amplifier and I always wanted a Gretsch. It just took me a while to get there.
A Little History of Gretsch
As a company Gretsch, which has been around since 1883, has had its highs and lows (including the dark days of the “Baldwin Era”). Despite famous artists like Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, George Harrison and, of course, Chet Atkins all being well known for their love of Gretsch guitars the company once seemed on the verge of being relegated to the 50s and 60s and almost forgotten.
In the 80s Brian Setzer and George Harrison helped restore the company to prominence. Setzer famously for his use of, and love for, the classic Nashville 6120 model when The Stray Cats brought about a rockabilly revival and Harrison restored his old ’57 Duo Jet for his Cloud Nine comeback album. Then, when he formed the Traveling Wilburys, everyone in that supergroup was posing with a Gretsch.
Still, some people seemed to think that Gretsch was only good for the sounds of old rock from the 50s and 60s. Guys like Billy Duffy and Malcolm Young went a long way in dissuading people of that notion though.
Gretsch was clearly back now but prices were still pretty high and out of reach for a lot of musicians. Fortunately they eventually launched the Electromatic and Streamliner lines (both names they’d used in the past) as more affordable options for people wanting “That Great Gretsch Sound”.
My First Gretsch
I picked up my first Gretsch, an Electromatic G5420T in beautiful Fairlane Blue, in the fall of 2018 to “test the waters” as it were and I love it. It’s a great guitar, worthy of the Gretsch name and if someone tells you an Electromatic is not a “real” Gretsch… Well, my past reviews make my stance on brand elitism very clear. Suffice it to say, it’s a real Gretsch. Still, I knew sooner or later I had to have a model from their Professional line. You see, Gretsch is an addiction. You can’t have just one.
I flirted with the idea of the Vintage Select ’59 Chet Atkins 6120, the Vintage Select ’62 Tennessee Rose and, of course, the George Harrison Artist Signature Duo Jet. And believe me, all three are still on my wish list – when I win the lottery. But when Gretsch announced the G6134T-LTD Limited Edition Penguin I had to have it.
I placed my order with my local Long and McQuade, hoped all 100 units worldwide weren’t yet spoken for and waited. In late April when the store manager, a great guy I’ve known for many years, called to say it had arrived my wife laughed as I practically skipped out our door and off to the store.
This Guitar is a Looker
Looking at the aesthetics first, the guitar is simply gorgeous. The pictures on Gretsch’s site never do their guitars justice (you need to fix that Gretsch!). While the smoke grey on the top of the body may seem a little bland it makes everything else “pop” perfectly.
I’ve never been a fan of purple guitars, even though purple is my favourite colour, but the metallic violet on this LTD Penguin blends beautifully with the silver sparkle binding, ebony neck and bridge base and nickel hardware. And the jeweled control knobs are just a little extra touch to remind you you’re holding something unique in your hands.
Some players find the size of the headstock, the larger design used on the Gretsch Falcon, to look out of place on the smaller bodied Penguin. I’ll admit, every now and then it still leads to me doing a bit of a double take but the second glance always turns to an appreciative appraisal of the exquisite appeal this guitar has.
Build Quality and Hardware
The build quality is the degree of excellence you’ve come to expect from Gretsch’s Professional line coming out of the Terada factory in Japan. The guitar features a maple neck with ebony fretboard, bone nut with medium jumbo frets and a chambered mahogany body with an arched laminate maple top. The craftsmanship and care that went into this guitar are flawless.
The hardware features Grover Imperial tuners, a rocking bar bridge on a pinned ebony base and a Bigsby B3C tailpiece. I’ve met a few Gretsch players that aren’t fans of the look of the Imperial tuners and, while they would look out of place on another, smaller, headstock, they suit the aesthetic here. And I’m a fan of Art Deco design anyhow.
I had some initial trepidation regarding the stock rocking bar bridge. If you spend any time on various guitar forums, particularly those devoted to Gretsch guitars, swapping out the stock bridge for a Compton or Tru Arc is common mod players make and I was set to order a Tru Arc bridge myself but there was no need. I was pleasantly surprised. The intonation and tuning stability, even after Bigsby use, is as close to perfect as you can get.
Speaking of the Bigsby, I haven’t been a big user of them previously (the majority of my guitars over the years have been stopbar tailpieces) but the B3C is smooth and responsive. While the Electromatic line for example use a licensed Bigsby (like the B60 on my G5420T) the Professional line use a “proper” Bigsby and I can feel the difference. In the past I’ve used them very sparingly, just for some shimmer and accents here and there, but I find myself wanting to use it more often now.
The Sound and Tone
This LTD Penguin comes with TV Jones Classics and, coupled with the maple neck, chambered mahogany body and maple top, the guitar delivers exactly as promised on the Gretsch site: “bright and twangy with a hint of growl”. Further, I was really impressed with the amount of sustain resulting from the above combination. It’s an auditory delight in all three pickup positions.
The only adjustment I had to make was to tweak the height of the pickups and pole pieces. Clean or with some reverb it was perfectly fine but with a little dirt courtesy of my Keeley 1962X pedal… Rhythm playing was great, chords were exactly what I wanted but for lead work the G string, and the D string to a lesser extent, had a warble that I can only describe as being underwater listening to Octopus’s Garden. On acid.
Still, pickups and pole pieces are adjustable for a reason and once lowered a little the guitar works great with some overdrive for both leads and rhythm. I didn’t get a Gretsch Penguin to be a dirty rocker on every song (some songs call for humbuckers, some for P90s, etc.,) but it does what I want it to when a certain song calls for it. The only problem is that I want to use it on every song. It’s been just over a month and a half and the “honeymoon phase” with this guitar is still going strong.
The Summary – 10/10
I simply love this guitar. I’ve spent my entire life playing hollow and semi-hollow wide body guitars with very few exceptions so I was a little concerned I wouldn’t bond with a smaller solid body guitar but bond I have. I thought there’d be an adjustment period but there wasn’t. Every player is different but for me this guitar feels so comfortable, it just feels “right”.