New-design Full’Tron pickups turn a familiar semi-hollowbody into a potent axe that’ll wow fans of both vintage Gretsch sounds and sparkling modern tones.
After decades of largely being associated with country and rockabilly, Gretsch introduced the Center Block series in 2013 in an effort to appeal to guitarists who prefer a little more volume and gain. The series, which includes entry-level Streamliners, mid-level Electromatics, and high-end Japanese-built models, pairs Gretsch’s trademark laminated-maple semi-hollow construction with a spruce block running down the center of the body to reduce unwanted feedback.
Now, with the release of the center-block-equipped G6609TFM Players Edition Broadkaster (as well as the more compact G6659TFM Broadkaster Jr. single-cut), Gretsch seems poised to break down even more doors, thanks to the Broadkasters’ new Full’Tron pickups. The company’s first U.S.-made pickup debut in around 40 years, Full’Trons were designed specifically for Center Block instruments and feature alnico 5 and 2 magnets in the neck and bridge, respectively.
Modern Meets Vintage
As part of Gretsch’s relatively new Japanese-made Players Edition series (launched in 2016 to further telegraph cognizance of guitarists’ evolving preferences), the Broadkasters feature a host of notable upgrades. The Bigsby B7’s string-anchoring bar has holes through the center rather than those pesky little pegs—a super-convenient feature that eliminates the time-consuming pain in the keester of having to bend a J shape into the ball end of each string so it (hopefully) stays put while you wind the other end onto the tuning post. There’s also a no-load master tone with a vintage-style Squeezebox paper-in-oil capacitor (which is removed from the circuit at maximum setting), a treble-bleed master volume circuit (also with a Squeezebox cap), Gotoh locking tuners, and modern-style strap locks.
Fit, finish, and setup on our 24.6"-scale Broadkaster were exemplary in virtually every way. The bourbon stain over the “tiger-flame” maple top and back is luxuriant perfection (dark cherry is also available), as is the aged-white binding running from stem to stern. And from the Graph Tech Tusq XL nut all the way up the medium-jumbo-wired, 12"-radiused ebony fretboard, the G6609TFM proffered inviting, silky-smooth playability. Even the surprisingly easy responsiveness of the vibrato spring was noteworthy.
Broadkast in Progress
I tested the G6609TFM through a variety of amps, including a Fender ’64 Custom Deluxe Reverb, a ’76 Fender Vibro Champ, and a Jaguar HC50 running in tandem with a Goodsell Valpreaux 21—the latter being my go-to rig for a combination of lovely old-school grit and clean, brawny headroom. My immediate tonal observations? The Full’Trons are quite aptly named. But I’m also happy to report that their visual vibe and “’Tron” naming convention aren’t merely an effort to capitalize on buzzword-obsessed guitarists’ fixation on all things vintage. The essential Filter’Tron character is here in spades—there’s just more of … well, kinda everything.
Specifics? Particularly on neck and middle-position settings, there’s a sizable boost in bass presence. The Full’Trons are also hotter than many similar-style pickups. Although the net effect of the added output and bass oomph will vary from rig to rig, at times the Broadkaster’s more resonant body and hotter pickups sounded a little woofy for my taste when run at full bore. However, wailing blues and classic-rock riffers will likely be ecstatic about the neck Full’Tron’s searing fatness. Either way, the G6609TFM’s handy control scheme renders the point moot: Simply adjust either the master or the neck unit’s volume—depending on your tonal destination (more on this in a sec)—to reduce output and, therefore, bass wallop. Voila—“problem” solved!
But extra beefiness is only half the Full’Tron picture. Regardless of pickup-selector position, most players will be struck by the Broadkaster’s single-coil-like clarity and chime. In fact, with tone and volume max’d, vintage hounds might be tempted to dismiss the Full’Trons as too bright and modern sounding. A/B’d with a G6636T Players Edition Falcon—an otherwise identically spec’d instrument featuring Gretsch’s traditional High-Sensitive Filter’Trons—the Broadkaster flaunts an upper midrange sparkle and compression that’s more pronounced and in-your-face than the somewhat nasal, mid-scooped sound of HS Filter’Trons.
Whereas the Falcon easily yields warm, gritty, classic sounds reminiscent of iconic old-school rock and country recordings, the Broadkaster can sound almost hi-fi in contrast—although the negative connotations most would associate with that term are an injustice. With no volume or tone attenuation, these new pickups are so full-range that it’s possible to, for example, get tones very much like a more resonant and open-sounding Strat.
But by no means does the Broadkaster have to sound modern or hi-fi. The key to unlocking its magic is taking the time to explore the many possible combinations of knob settings. I’ve heard players complain that Gretsch’s master volume is needless or in the way, but here it’s an absolute gem. Besides being perfectly placed for on-the-fly adjustments during glorious, infinitely sustaining fuzz excursions, the master volume (and tone control) need only be rolled back a bit (10–20 percent for the former, maybe 20–30 percent for the latter) to get tones incredibly close to those available on the HS Filter’Tron-equipped Falcon. Like most tone controls, the Broadkaster’s attenuates treble more noticeably than mids through most of its range, so you may not get the exact level of mid scoop, but you’ll get 90–95 percent there—a negligible difference, especially considering the Full’Trons’ vast array of tones you could never conjure from HS Filters. It’s this sort of flexibility that enables the bridge pickup to go from tough and/or cutting rock sounds to stellar slapback-soaked rockabilly twang and traditional-sounding surf runs with ease.
My only complaints about Gretsch’s G6609TFM Players Edition Broadkaster are fairly shallow: The lack of less-flashy wood options and more color choices is a bummer for those of us who find the flamed-maple thing too fine-furniture-y—never mind the extra cost it must add. More substantially, given the Full’Trons’ stellar flexibility, some players wishing for the best of old and new Gretsch tones might like to see a modern iteration of the company’s traditional upper-horn “mud switch”—one that would tweak the circuit to avail traditional Filter’Tron tones at a flick.
But this is nitpicking. I’ve played many fine guitars in my day, and honestly, most of the time I find myself thinking, “This is nice, but my upgraded mid-level guitars sound and play just as good—at a fraction of the price.” I’m a firm believer that, if you put a pair of nice pickups in any solidbody with decent fretwork and proper intonation, you can usually get it to sound and react as well as boutique instruments. But I think there’s a lot more to making a hollow or semi-hollow guitar really sing—it’s much more of an art and a science to get the resonance and breathy quality right. On the latter point, Gretsch has done an astounding job with the Broadkaster. It’s the first guitar I’ve played in a very long time where, the more I played it, the more I lusted.
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