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The Gretschest Story Ever Told

Did Gretsch play a role in early Shadows recordings?
Roberto Pistolesi expounds his theories and invites your comments

This story begins one day in winter of 1980 when I went into a music shop
to buy myself a gift for my 33rd birthday, my first Fender Stratocaster……

With my new toy in the boot of my car I drove home with a continuous flow of
Shadows hits running through my head. Once home and plugged in, I realised
how wonderful the sound was compared with that of my old Elli-sound guitar and,
being convinced that this was the kind of guitar once played by Hank Marvin,
I began to play along with the records.

I made my first attempts with songs like Shadoogie, Blue Star, Sleepwalk,
Find Me A Golden Street, but I soon realised that the task wasn't so easy.

That sound
The next ten years were completely devoted to researching every picture available,
every piece of information, every book or magazine covering our heroes in order to
put down a chronological list of the gear used by Hank from the beginning of his
career. I toured England several times too, meeting people like David Petersen
(who co-wrote the Vox Story), Peter Friesen, Richard Harrison (of Music Ground).
Jack Golder (what a man he was) and many others. Every one showed great
kindness and helped to add more to my research.

During those years I put together several pieces of equipment too, including guitars,
amplifiers and echo boxes of various brands. This was partly due to my job which
was now amp and guitar builder in my, own one-man shop. At that time (1991)
I had two Fender Strats, a 1959 and a 1960, a 1964 Burns Marvin, a Marvin
copy made by Jack Golder equipped with original Rez-O-Matic pickups, a
1960 Vox ACI5, a 1962 AC30 Treble and a 1964 AC30 Top Boost, a Binson
Echorec, two Binson Echorec 2s (with different motors), a Binson Echorec Baby,
a Dynacord Echocord, an Echolette, an Echoplex, a Roland 301 and a Meazzi Echomatic.

In spite of all this gear I was not yet satisfied with my sound. When playing Shindig,
Atlantis and many others my sound was quite identical to the original. But every
attempt to get the sound of Apache or Shadoogie failed without a shadow of doubt.
Day by day I was convincing myself that capturing That Sound was not possible
anymore, and my thoughts were supported by various live Shadows recordings
on which Hank's own Strat sounded so different from the original records.

A Rare Find
One day in December 1991 I was in London's Notting Hill Gate looking for old
Shadows records. I was asked I would like something special and was shown an
unlabelled cassette priced at 2. A bootleg I thought, I'm gonna buy it. It turned
out to be an interview with Hank Marvin from an unknown radio source and he
was answering the questions from the listeners. What follows is the complete
transcription of my cassette.

DJ: You play a musical instrument, don't you?

Listener: That's right, I thought Hank might like to know that I've got his Gretsch
Country Gent guitar. I bought it in 1972 from a shop near Centre Point in London.

Hank: I hope you don't want your money back!!

Listener: I certainly don't, I tell you! It's a simply superb guitar Chet Atkins style.

Hank: Right.

Listener: I just walked into the shop, off the street, looking for any second hand
guitar and that was the onethat you had just taken in and asked them to sell it
for you. I couldn't believe my luck.

Hank: Right.

Listener: I thought you would like to know that I've it completely restored,
rewired……(scratches on the line)

Hank: I hope the rewiring is a bit better than the phone line.

DJ: When the salesman was actually selling to you, did he very much trade on
the fact that Hank had owned it?

Listener: Not at all.

Hank: Good.

Listener: In fact what he said was "You wouldn't believe your luck," because he
knew I played Chet Atkins style. He said "I've just got the guitar for you and it's
not just the right model but it happens to be a particularly superb instrument."

Hank: Yes.

Listener: I'm extremely lucky to have it.

Hank: Do you know that it was the first model in the country, it came into the shop
and was the first they brought into the country and it looked so great that I bought
it as a spare guitar. I didn't use it very often; I did use it on some records though.....
Do you remember Nivram?

Listener: Did you really.?

Hank: Yeah.... I used it on that and on a thing of Cliffs called A Girl Like You,
do you remember that?

Listener: My God!

Hank: It just had a different sound from the Strat.... It was just to ring some changes
and I enjoyed it, but afterwards, because I was getting to the situation where really
I needed to stick to the Strat sound, I decided to sell it. I wasn't using it you see,
I thought it would be better off in someone's hands like you, who could play sonic
nice Chet Atkins stuff, than in mine sitting in a cupboard somewhere.

DJ: Where do you play yourself?

Listener: I used to demonstrate guitars at Selmer's in Charing Cross Road and
now I teach guitar.

DJ: I can just mentally see you saying to yourself "Ha-ha... the value of this guitar
has upped considerably in the last three minutes, now that I know what recordings
were made with it."

Hank: (laughs)

Listener: Can I just ask Hank another question?

Hank: Carry on.

Listener: Is it right that it originally belonged to Cliff?

Hank: The guitar? Oh no, no, you are probably getting confused with the original
pink Stratocaster I had that, in fact, that was bought by Cliff directly from The States.
The guitar you have, the Gretsch, I bought probably from the shop you got it from,
in fact it is no longer in existence: the Burns shop, I bought it through them I think
originally. I think so. Anyway, no, it's my guitar, it never belonged to Cliff.

DJ: Well, there you are, you have got all the history.

Hank: He (Cliff) did play it once or twice if that's any value to you.

DJ: Will have to leave you now, because the line is not good.

Listener: OK, right.

DJ: Thank you very much.

Hank: Good bye.

Listener: Great to speak to you.

Getting Into The Gretsch
At that time I didn't know that Hank owned a Gretsch Country Gentleman and
I didn't know too much about old Gretsches so I assumed that the Gretsch
mentioned by Hank was the one that I saw in Bruce's hands in some pictures
from the Summer Holiday movie.

Although I was impressed by its sound on A Girl Like You, I didn't plan to look for
a Gretsch like that because of its high price on the vintage market. Then a close
friend showed me a picture in a magazine which shocked me! It was from a show
at the Paris Olympia in March 1962 and next to Hank's echo box I could clearly see
Hank's Gretsch – and it wasn't the one seen in Bruce's hands but a different guitar,
a Country Gentleman model #6122 and not Bruce's Chet Atkins #6120 (1).
(1) The two guitars are different in many ways. The Country Gentleman #6122 is finished
in dark brown and doesn't have real F-holes, black celluloid Fs are inlaid into the top.
The body is 2
5/16 inches deep and 17 inches wide and sported a square gold plated
nameplate on the middle of the headstock which bears big Grover Imperial machines.
The Chef Atkins model #6120 is finished in orange with real bound F-holes and a body
2 inches deep and 15 inches wide. The headstock is inlaid with a horseshoe and
bears small Grover machines. Both guitars are equipped with two FilterTron humbucking
pickups and a Gretsch by Bigsby vibrato with a swivel handle and a very smooth action.

It's time to buy that Gretsch I told myself. I was lucky enough to find just the right
guitar, a 1960 Gretsch Country Gentleman, at Gruhn's shop in Nashville after only
few weeks of searching. I fitted a set of pure nickel wound strings gauged .012 /
.016 / .025w / .034w / .044w / .056w and ran it through my 1960 AC15 as I put
the first Shadows album on my Garrard 301 turntable. I then started to play along
with Nivram and, sure enough, the two sounds were so identical that I couldn't
believe my ears. Shadoogie too, the two sounds matched perfectly!! During the
following two hours I discovered that I could match the sound of almost all of
that album using my 1960 Gretsch Country Gentleman and the AC15.

Thinking The Unthinkable
This was a new scenario for me to live with and it took several months of trials and
evaluations to convince me that most of The Shadows' early hits were recorded by
Hank using his Gretsch Country Gentleman. I think that my evaluation method is
very simple and effective. Using my reel to reel Revox when playing along with
the record, I send the original tune into the Right channel, and the sound of my
guitar into the Left channel. Using the balance control, I can then do ping-pong
sound comparisons.

Using this procedure I recorded hours of tapes and it is my opinion that the
following songs were recorded by Hank using his Country Gentleman and,
when underlined, the song also features Bruce playing his Gretsch #6120.

Apache / Quatermasster's Stores / Mustang / Theme From Shane / Shotgun
/
FBI / Midnight / The Frightened City / Back Home / Kon Tiki /36-24-36
/ Shadoogie / Blue Star /
Nivram / See You In My Drums / Baby My Heart
/ Gonzales /
Find Me A Golden Street / Theme From A Filleted Place
/ That's My Desire / My Resistance Is Low / Sleepwalk
(2) / Big Boy
/ The Savage / Peace Pipe /Wonderful Land / Stars Fell On Stockton
/
What A Lovely Tune.
(2) On Sleepwalk there is an overdubbed Gretsch arpeggio in the last part of the song.

Last but not least, using as master reference the book by Peter Lewry and Nigel
Goodall "Cliff Richard The Complete Recording Sessions", I recorded Hank's
solos in chronological order and realised that from the end of 1959 to mid
1962 the use of the Gretsch Country Gentleman was predominant (80%).

I have also noted during my tests that the use of different echo machines did not
affect the sound, thus refuting the view that a particular echo box, like a Binson
instead of a Meazzi, could drastically alter the "cutting" sound of a Stratocaster.

Feedback
As the above list of songs was too important to be ignored, if I was right it meant
that we had used the wrong tools for 40 years, I began to share my thoughts with
friends and fans around the world in order to give everyone who wanted it, the
chance to reach That Sound. I quote some of the feedback I have received.

Bruce Welch (April 1996): "You are wrong, I was there!"

Ian Kershaw (August 1996): "Hank said that your conclusion is
very interesting but adds that it just proves that you have been able
to reproduce his sound with another guitar. He did not own a
Gretsch Country Gentleman until about 1963."

Jim Nugent (July 1997): "Looking at your list, I am struck by your
conclusions.... it's that earlier period when the Shadows sound is harder
to identify... and there must have been a reason for that. Perhaps you
are right... I agree, it's a mystery."

Roger Newell (of Guitar Techniques, January 1998): "Sorry it's taken
a while to evaluate the tape but I wanted to listen to it a few times before
making any comment. I felt that some of the sounds weren't that close
but others did seem pretty good. I also listened to A Girl Like You
again last night and it does sound like a Strat, but Hank says it was a
Gretsch. I wonder if that means that all the tracks recorded on that
session used the Gretsch. It's all very interesting!"

George Geddes (March 1998): "Though you have proved clearly that it
is possible to obtain that sound with the Gretsch, I guess it doesn't actually
prove that Hank did."

It is obvious that I couldn't get the same sound quality as Abbey Road EMI Studios
with my home equipment but, as Ronnie Gustafsson of 1961 admitted when he
came to visit me and tried the Gretsch, with that guitar he got the closest to the
original tone than he had ever heard.

I spoke with many guitarists around Europe and we agreed that copying Hank's
early sound is more difficult than copying the one from 1963 onwards. In fact if
we listen to records performed by various Shadows copy hands, we can hear
more acceptable versions of The Deer Hunter, The War Lord or Shindig, but
none of Apache, Wonderful Land or Blue Star. And if we listen to various
Shadows live recordings we get the same impression.

Hank's Dream Guitar?
We now know, from Hank's own words in that interview, that he owned
one of the first Gretsches in the country. In fact that guitar was probably
his dream guitar as can be argued when looking closely to the picture in
the centrefold of the booklet accompanying the 6 CD Box "The Early Years".
In that picture Hank is holding his Antoria and on the collar of his coat,
slightly covered by the guitar strap, he is wearing a pin with a miniature of
a guitar that looks like a Gretsch. Both Hank and Bruce sported these pins
on the 9th and 10th of February 1959 when they were recording the album "Cliff".

Muting
The sound of a Gretsch sometimes is very similar to that of a Stratocaster –
but when playing muted notes the two guitars have a completely different
sound. Muting a note on a Stratocaster means getting a thinner sound and
a loss of volume, while doing the same on the Gretsch the volume is retained
and the note has a full body. Shadoogie, Apache, Peace Pipe, Wonderful
Land, Theme From Shane and Stars Fell On Stockton are all great examples
of the Gretsch muting qualities.

How many times, when playing the last part of My Resistance Is Low, I tried
to reach that unreal 22nd fret on my Stratocaster before I discovered that
the Country Gentleman had 22 frets!

The Amp Story
To me, the only way to reconstruct the real story of Hank's gear during those very
early years is to listen very carefully to Hank's solos in Cliff's recordings in chronological
order. But one must consider the amplifier too and, to my knowledge, The Shadows'
amp story is not so simple as it seems to be.

George Geddes says in a two part article titled "The Sound Of Hank": "In July 1959
the Drifters changed their name to The Shadows. They began using Vox amplifiers:
the Vox AC15 model, delivering 15 watts output through a 12" Audiom speaker and
Vox finally came up with the legendary AC30, with the group taking delivery of four
in late 1959."

Since George's article was published, further information has come to light in the form
of published photographs and the Cliff Richard "Hit List" video. This undermines the
theory that The Shadows' early hits were recorded by means of the AC30.

February 9/10th 1959:
The Shadows recorded the album "Cliff". Hank played the Antoria and Bruce the
Grimshaw through two Selmer Truvoice Stadium amps. A good picture is on the
booklet of Cliffs four CD "The Rock 'n Roll Years", just four pages before the end.

Cliff Richard Show, May 1960:
On Move It Hank played the 1959 Stratocaster and Bruce the Jazzmaster through
Selmer Truvoice amps. This is from the Cliff video The Hit List. Jet has his Precision.

London Palladium, May 1960:
With the same guitars, Hank, Bruce and Jet played through three two-tone Vox
AC15s. This is from the book "Cliff & The Shadows Around The World In
Pictures With Dezo Hoffman".

Cliff Richard Show, July 1960:
Gee Whiz It's You, still with the same set up.

31 December 1960:
I Love You, another from The Hit List video. For this occasion our heroes used
AC15 TV fronts, and Bruce his Gretsch 6120.

Cliff Richard Show, 1961:
Theme For A Dream - AC30/4 TV fronts.

Then, on March 5th, 1961, at the Wembley NME Pollwinners Concert:
The Shadows performed using three AC30s. (Shadsfax issue 17)

As you can see, if my amp story is correct, we should consider that all early hits may
have been recorded with a Selmer or a Vox AC15.

I think that a closer look at the various amplifiers might be useful here.

Selmer Truvoice Stadium:
Two channels, the first with one input and the other with two, separate Volume
controls, Tremolo working on one channel only with Depth and Speed controls,
Treble and Bass Controls working on both channels. The pre-amp section is
equipped with three EF86s and one ECC83 valve and the power-amp section
is equipped with a push-pull of two EL84s and one ECC83 as driver, while a
negative feedback network helps to reduce distortion; the supply stage employs
an EZ81 rectifier valve. This amplifier is equipped with a Goodmans Audiom 60 speaker.

1960 Vox AC15 TV front:
Two channels with two inputs each. Speed and Vib-Trem switches for a vibrato
or tremolo effect working on one channel only, separate Volume controls for both
channels. a Brilliance switch working on the channel without Vib-Trem and a topcut
control working on both channels. The pre-amp section is equipped with one EF86,
two ECC83s and one ECC82 valve and the power-amp section is equipped with
a push-pull of two EL84 valves and one ECC 83 as driver with no negative feed-
back applied giving more power and different distortion than the Selmer; the supply
stage employs an EZ81 rectifier valve and the speaker is a Vox/Celestion G-12 –
the father of the well known Vox Blue. (Early AC15 models, like the two-tone
covered ones, differed from the above being equipped with a Goodmans
Audiom 60 and Vib-Trem on a separate panel.)

1961 Vox AC30/4 TV front:
This amplifier differed from the AC15 only for employing two more EL84s for
doubled output power and twin Vox/Celestion G-12s; the increased power
required larger transformers and a GZ34 rectifier in place of the EZ81. Apart
from the increased power, the sound is like the AC15 only with more bottom
end due to the twin speakers.

1961 Vox AC30/6 smooth black/dark grey 3 leather covered handles:
As seen in the picture related to the Calais tour (June 1961, "The Story Of The
Shadows" by Mike Read page 95), this (Bruce's one) is a three channel / six input
that differed from the above AC30/4 in having a channel added by means of
employing an ECC83 in place of the EF86 that, with the increased power of the
amp, tended to became microphonic and begin adding its own internal ringing to
the sound. Unfortunately with the replacement of the EF86 valve the amp tone
suffered a little, forcing Dick Denney to find new solutions (the AC30 Treble
and the subsequent TOP Boost unit were retrofitted on regular AC30s). See
"The Vox Story" by David Petersen for more detail and Mark Lewisohn "The
Complete Beatles Chronicle" pages 62 and 113 for AC30s with retrofitted
Top Boost units.

Looking closely at the pictures available I noticed the following oddities. The
very first AC30/6 had the Vox logo in the upper left comer of the black front
stripe and Hank's one sported his initials HBM just in the centre of that black
stripe. (Possibly just an ornament or a way to identify his AC30 from the other
two.) These first amps didn't have the double side gold trimming, it only appeared
on the subsequent AC30s that now had the Vox logo in the lower left corner of
the black front stripe.

Another interesting picture shows Jet Harris playing his Precision in Abbey Road
Studio 2 through a Leak mono preamp and a Leak TL25 Plus power amp linked
to a big enclosure, and it seems that this was a common practice at EMI as Paul
McCartney used the same set up in March 1963 to record "From Me To You".

Carrying on with my researches I am convincing myself more and more that recordings
need a different approach than stage shows and as my target is to match the sound of
the records, I am trying to open my mind to different solutions than the ones we have
trusted for decades.

Echo
I cannot go on without mentioning echo machines. Recently a very good two-part
article by Alan Jackson was published by Shadsfax. I love echo machines and I
own a number of them. I am sure that Hank's echo machine worked very well
on stage due to the expertise of Dick Denney, but I wonder why Hank would
have been using his own instead of the one in Abbey Road Studios. From 1958
they were operating with a series of magnetic delay drums with their outer faces
coated (as with magnetic tape) to allow recordings to be made on them. These
recordings were picked up via numerous playback heads placed strategically
around the drum's circumference. Why not use a Ferrari when one is available?

Those who still think that a Stratocaster or Burns Marvin and a JMI AC30 Top
Boost are the only tools to get That Sound exactly (apart from Hank's wonderful
playing of course), are invited to send me their recordings and ask for mine.

Roberto Pistolesi, Via Rivolta 2811
56029 S.Croce s/Arno (Pisa), Italy
Phone/Fax +39 0571 34481
Email: r.pistolesi@leonet.it

 

 

HANK'S GRETSCH - AN INSTANT RESPONSE
by Jim Nugent

Roberto has provided a well-researched article providing food for thought, and while
I don't wish to step directly into the argument about "Fender v. Gretsch", there are
several points I would like to make by way of clarification and emphasis. These are
mainly to do with historical accuracy; after all, had Hank realised he would be asked
about it years later, he'd probably have made notes!

First, in the quoted radio interview remark by Hank, he says: the guitar you have,
the Gretsch, I bought probably from the shop you got it from, in fact it is no
longer in existence: the Burns shop, I bought it through them I think originally".
But that can't be right – in another pan of the interview, he confirms that he used that
Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman to record both Nivram and Cliffs A Girl Like You,
both of which were recorded in the very early 1960s (no later than mid-1961). That
was well before Burns opened their fondly-remembered retail shop on the Centre
Point island. Hank must have bought the guitar somewhere else. The second point
merely reinforces that first: Ian Kershaw of SCOFA is quoted as saying that Hank
"...did not own a Gretsch Country Gentleman until about 1963". Again, that
can't be right - Nivram (on which he undisputedly used the Gretsch) was released
in September 1961!

Roberto provides an excellent description of the Gretsch 6122 model in his footnotes
but omits one vital detail – Hank's Country Gent, being a 1960 model, was of the
original single-cutaway design, and not of the double-cutaway design later made so
famous in the hands of George Harrison (who used the later 1962 or 1963 model).
Hank's guitar was pictured in a photo used on the "centrefold" (pages 14-15) of
Shadsfax issue 20 (May/June 1998), so there is no room for any doubt on this.
The most well-known colour photograph I can think of for this single-cut model
was used on the cover of Chet Atkins' 1963 LP "Guitar Genius" – get a look at it
if you can…..

Finally, I think a comment or two on the amplifier section is required. Roberto,
quotes George Geddes as having written that the Shads started to use their first
Vox AC30s in 1959 and then goes on to disprove it. It is important to note that
George wrote this many years ago, before the release of the various videos and
film-clips which have made research in this area rather easier. In retrospect, it is
now obvious (looking at, for instance, several 1961 clips of the Shads playing FBI
on TV) that the group was using AC15s at least as late as the early part of 1961.
The ATV 'Cliff Richard Show" clip of this number shows the Shadows with their
first batch of Fender guitars (the famous red Strat and the sunburst Jazzmaster and
Precision Bass) and "TV-front" Vox AC15s, whereas a slightly later TV performance
(the legendary "Crackerjack" appearance) shows the matching set of red Fenders
and a trio of Vox twin-speaker AC30s, though the amps are placed so as to make
exact model definition impossible. It thus appears that the Shadows acquired their
trademark red guitars and AC30s at about the same time, though it was not their
first use of either Fender or Vox equipment.

That's my comment - what do others think?

Tillbaka till Hank-sidan