Tour Gretsch’s Corona, California, custom guitar building operation with company master builder Chad Henrichsen and PG’s own John Bohlinger.
“We get a lot done in a small amount of space, but this is where it all happens,” Henrichsen says. It starts with the wood—mahogany, maple, and spruce body blanks; mahogany and maple neck blanks; rosewood for fretboards—and so does our tour. It also begins, of course, with specific orders from dealers, artists, and individual players, commissioning instruments."
Henrichsen describes Gretsch's process of making hollow- and semi-hollowbody guitars first, which uses pressure and heat to form tops and sides from wood laminate. The plant also uses old-school craftsmanship—a copy carver, for example—to cut wood tops and more to shape.
One of Henrichsen’s fortes is necks, so he explains the process of creating necks for Falcons, Duo Jets, 6120s, etc., in detail, and we see the neck shaper machine in operation. The evolution from wooden block to smooth, finished neck is fascinating! And some of the machinery, jigs, and other tools are older than your Uncle Billy. After inlays comes binding—gold sparkle for a Penguin, white for a Duo Jet, for example. And, by the way, all work in the Custom Shop is done by hand.
Master builder Gonzalo Madrigal makes a cameo to explain the step-by-step process of fitting a guitar’s neck to its body. The example here is one of the super-colorful, intergalactically shaped Billy-Bo models—half Diddley and half Gibbons. Madrigal also displays the process of setting a tortoise shell binding in place—a method that takes about 45 minutes overall, and then must sit to set.
In the final assembly department, we see a 12-string Country Gentleman turning to life—tuners, bridge, electronics, tailpieces and everything else comes home to roost. The grand finale? Dig a killer 3-pickup Penguin in a black paisley finish with Super’Trons, cats-eye f-holes, and a Bigsby. It’s gorgeous! And, in a sense, the culmination of Gretsch’s 140-year history of craftsmanship.