The 6131 Jet Firebird was among Gretsch’s 1955 models launched to capture a bigger share of the solidbody guitar
market that the company entered in 1953.
Gretsch threw its hat into the ring of the expanding solidbody guitar market in 1953 with the introduction of the deep black 6128 Duo Jet, later made famous by George Harrison. By 1955, the Brooklyn-based builder spun this body shape out into a series of new models with various cosmetic flourishes. There was the sparkly 6129 Silver Jet, the countrified orange 6130 Roundup and 6121 Chet Atkins Solid Body, the glistening 6134 White Penguin, and this month’s featured guitar: the 6131 Jet Firebird in “Oriental Red.”
Compared to the other major American guitar brands of the day, Gretsch’s dazzling array of eye-catching instruments reflected a specific marketing strategy geared toward younger players in the nascent days of rock ’n’ roll. Much like other builders in the ’50s, though, Gretsch continuously iterated on its original design, looking to strike a perfect balance of specs for the burgeoning solidbody format.
The first iteration of the Jet Firebird sported a pair of Gretsch-DeArmond DynaSonic pickups. Starting in 1956, Gretsch’s famed Filter’Trons became standard issue.
A 1955 Gretsch catalog described the new Jet series this way: “A revelation of electronic perfection, notable for solid tone projection, wonderfully sustained, with infinite variety of tonal coloring. Twin Gretsch DynaSonic built-in pickups, played singly or together at a touch of the fingertip switch, range from rich solo to commanding brilliance as you choose.”
The fretboard of this ole ’55 features the original rectangular inlays that made way for humptop blocks in 1956,
followed by thumbprints in 1958.
Following its introduction, the 6131 Firebird underwent a set of updates that were shared by most Gretsch solidbody models. Original rectangular inlays made way for humptop blocks in 1956, followed by thumbprints in 1958. The latter year also brought Filter’Tron pickups to the model, replacing the original DeArmond DynaSonics that were standard issue on early Gretsch electrics, along with an updated roller bridge and a realignment of knobs and switches on the body.
The guitar’s control array includes a master tone and two volume controls—one for each pickup—at the rounded bottom of the body, and a master volume control on the lower horn.
The Firebird lasted until 1971 in its original run, after making the leap, like the rest of the models, to a double-cutaway body shape in 1961. Notably, a few years before Gretsch built him a now-iconic set of four custom rectangular guitars, Bo Diddley appeared on the cover of his self-titled debut compilation with a red Firebird in hand. This same “Oriental Red” finish was used for Bo’s rectangular guitars as well as for later reproductions of the famed Billy-Bo Thunderbird.
The distinctive hourglass-shaped Gretsch headstock shows enough wear to indicate that this 6131 Jet Firebird was
a player’s guitar, not a wallflower.
Our featured Firebird comes from the Chicago Music Exchange and showcases all the specs of the debut year. This guitar carries its share of play wear and buckle rash, with some fading on the edges common to Gretsches of this period. At the time of its introduction in 1955, the Firebird carried a price tag of $255. Today, a mid-’50s Firebird in original condition typically sells in the $4,000–$,6000 range.
Books consulted for this article include Gretsch: The Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company by Jay Scott and 50 Years of Gretsch Electrics: Half a Century of White Falcons, Gents, Jets, and Other Great Guitars by Tony Bacon. Catalog references were found on gretschpages.com.