The Gretsch White Falcon is a high-end electric hollowbody guitar introduced in 1954 by Gretsch.
Created as a "showpiece" exhibiting the craft of Gretsch's luthiers, sales and demonstration representative Jimmie Webster created it for the 1954 NAMM Show, where the guitar was so popular that it was put into production and went on sale the following year. Since then it has undergone various changes, and is still being made. As of 2013, Gretsch offers a number of regular models including a custom-built replica of the original, the latter priced in the US at $12,000 (approximately £8300).
The White Falcon's distinctive appearance is owed to its 17-inch size (white, with gold-sparkle pickguard featuring an engraved falcon) and its striking hardware: Jimmie Webster's 1954 version had triple binding, gold-plated hardware, an ebony fretboard with mother-of-pearl inlays, and an eye-catching "Cadillac G" tailpiece.
Origins and history
In early 1954, Gretsch marketing strategist Jimmie Webster sought to design a guitar to improve upon the Gibson Super 400. He wanted a "Dream Guitar", and gained his inspiration by walking through the Gretsch factory and watching the construction of the diversity of musical instruments the company produced. From the banjo production line, Webster recalled the engraved pearl inlays that adorned the fretboard and headstock. Many of Gretsch's drums were covered with thick sparkly gold plastic that could also be used as binding on guitars.
The White Falcon was unveiled at the NAMM show in July 1954. It was displayed as "the guitar of the future," but Gretsch initially had no plans to manufacture the model. It was supposed to be a showpiece, much like GM's Motorama "Dream Cars" of the day.
The high interest from sales representatives led Gretsch to rush the guitar into production, and the first White Falcons were sold in 1955, identified as the model 6136. As the company's new high-end guitar, Gretsch marketed it as "the finest guitar we know how to make – and what a beauty!" The White Falcon originally cost $600 (about $4,100, adjusted for inflation); this price was second only to the $690 price of Gibson's Super 400CESN.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Gretsch tweaked the Falcon. The block inlays on the ebony fretboard were replaced with half-moon shaped inlays in 1957, the original single-coil DeArmond Dynasonic pickups were replaced with Filter'Tron humbuckers in 1958, and that same year the Melita bridge was replaced with a Space Control bridge; the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece was standard starting in 1962. A stereo version (model 6137) became available as well. It also switched to a twin-cutaway body beginning in 1962.
Fred Gretsch retired in 1967 and sold his company to the Baldwin Piano Company. Baldwin would have trouble understanding guitars in general and the White Falcon in particular, which was not successful out of the rockabilly era. Most who were inspired by the new popular guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and other musical greats were turning to Fender, rather than Gretsch.
The rapidly deteriorating Baldwin Manufacturing then experienced two destructive fires at its new Arkansas plant in 1973. Gretsch limped through the 1970s and finally closed in the 1980s. In 1989 Fred Gretsch III resumed control of the family business and began making guitars again. These instruments are based on classic Gretsch designs, including the White Falcon.
1995–present, model numbers 6136 and 7593
Models are now available commemorating every phase in the design of the White Falcon. Features are reproduced accordingly. Modern Falcons are also available in black and silver, and include a Stephen Stills signature model (based on the 1958 incarnation), as well as a green Bono Irish Falcon that incorporates the original vertical headstock logo and engraved block inlays with the post-1958 electronics configuration and features "The Goal Is Soul" silkscreened onto the pickguard. Gretsch added a Brian Setzer Black Phoenix model to its lineup. Like Brian Setzer's signature Hot Rod 6120, the Black Phoenix features stripped-down electronics that consist of two pickups, a selector switch, and a volume knob. In January of 2013, Gretsch introduced the Billy Duffy signature model, replicating the Baldwin-era design with silver binding and chrome hardware.