By Jeb Silburn, Twin Town Guitars Staff Writer
A historical summary of one of the most iconic birds of prey in music history.
In 1954, Jimmie Webster aimed to improve upon the venerable Gibson Super 400, in the hopes to craft a “dream guitar”. Drawing much of his inspiration from the multitude of instruments made in the Gretsch factory, such as the engraved pearl inlays and adorned headstocks of their banjos, and the gold sparkle drum wraps that he would then adapt as a binding for his guitar.
That year at NAMM, Gretsch unveiled Webster’s creation, dubbed The White Falcon, as a “guitar of the future”, intended as a showpiece to intrigue sales representatives with Gretsch’s top notch luthiers and build practices. The guitar drew incredible interest, and in response Gretsch launched the model into production, with its first models at market in 1955 identified as the 6136. This model sat as Gretsch’s most high end offering upon its release, originally costing $600 (close to $4100 considering inflation), a price that was then only dwarfed by Gibson’s Super 400CESN, which sat at $690.
Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, the White Falcon received a multitude of updates and fresh appointments. Half moon inlays in ‘57, changing out the DeArmond single coil pickups for a pair of Filter’Tron humbuckers in ‘58, a handful of different bridges and eventually the addition of the Bigsby vibrato came into play as the new standard in 1962. Later on, even a stereo model was introduced, and then a double-cutaway body that same year.
The retirement of company owner, Fred Gretsch, in 1967, led to the Baldwin Piano Company purchasing the entire business. Unfortunately, it was widely perceived that Baldwin didn’t understand guitars or players well enough to maintain a spotlight on their instruments. With their fall from grace, rockabilly giving way to rock and roll, and a pair of factory fires at the Arkansas plant in 1973, Gretsch escaped the 70’s by the skin of its teeth, only to finally close as the 80’s rolled in. A revival came in 1989, as Fred Gretsch III retook the reins of the family business, and began rolling out production models that held truer to the original Gretsch designs- including the White Falcon.
Nowadays, the White Falcon is being painstakingly recreated in all its most famous eras. A collection of artist signature models have made their way to market since ‘95, including players like Stephen Stills, Bono, and Brian Setzer’s ‘Black Phoenix”, which features stripped down electronics. Standard production models can be found in the iconic original white colorways, as well as silver or black, each accurately mirroring the design and craft of their now vintage models.