This cowboy-themed solidbody put the “western” in country and western.
By 1953 the Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company had been building drums, banjos, and guitars for 70 years. But that year, the traditional instrument maker made what seemed like a radical move by following the lead of Fender and Gibson in producing its own solidbody guitar: the Duo Jet. But while the Fender Telecaster’s ash body and the Gibson Les Paul’s mahogany/maple body were truly solid, the Gretsch Duo Jet’s mahogany body was nearly hollow to accommodate the electronics and wiring. The hollowed-out body was then covered with a pressed arched top. A family of similar guitars followed, differentiated mainly by their finishes. According to the company’s 1955 catalog, Gretsch offered the design “in four models, each one a triumph of modernistic beauty and musical performance.” These guitars were the Duo Jet, the Silver Jet (silver sparkle), the Jet Fire Bird (red), and the Round-Up (western orange).
The Round-Up was devised in 1953, when country and western music was gaining recognition on the pop charts. Its over-the-top cowboy-style decorations were aimed at aspiring C&W guitarists. The 1955 catalog described the guitar as having “Masculine beauty in real Western finish. Tooled leather shoulder strap and body binding; gold plated metal parts.” The fretboard inlays were etched with the same steer heads and cacti that appeared on the leather trim and strap. A pearloid steer head was also inlayed under the Gretsch logo on the headstock. A dramatic “G” brand embellished the top (often knotty pine). These decorations were reused the next year on the Chet Atkins signature models and the acoustic Rancher.
The Round-Up featured two single-coil pickups with adjustable-height pole pieces, a Melita bridge,
and an ornate “belt buckle” tailpiece.
The 1957 Round-Up pictured here—serial number 23405—shows the typical characteristics of 1957 Gretsches: hump-top block fretboard inlays (with no etching), knobs indented with a G bisected by an arrow, and a long truss rod cover (introduced in 1956). Round-Up features unchanged from the original version included the studded leather side trim, western belt buckle tailpiece, tortoiseshell pickguard decorated with a steer head (the steer head on the headstock had been replaced by a horseshoe), DeArmond single-coil pickups, and Melita adjustable bridge. The original “G” brand had disappeared from the deep-orange-stained maple top by this time.
Check out the elaborately tooled leather binding.
The Round-Up was priced at $325 in the 1955 Gretsch catalog. The current value for this 1957 version is $12,500.
Sources for this article include Gretsch: The Guitars of the Fred Gretsch Company by Jay Scott, Gretsch 6120: The History of a Legendary Guitar by Edward Ball, 50 Years of Gretsch Electrics: Half a Century of White Falcons, Gents, Jets, and Other Great Guitars by Tony Bacon, and The Gretsch Book—A Complete History of Gretsch Electric Guitars by Tony Bacon and Paul Day.