The new Roots Collection swaps Gretsch's typecast Cadillac-and-Cherry Coke vibe for a down-home pickup truck and moonshine range of acoustics, resonators, mandolins and other folky instruments. The launch of the range comes at a time when roots instruments are enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity. Small acoustics, such as the G9500 Jim Dandy we have here, are attracting players looking for some Delta blues and old-school country tones.
The Jim Dandy pays homage to the forgotten range of Rex-branded guitars that were produced by Gretsch in the 20s and 30s. Like those produced by Martin, Gibson and Stella - not forgetting the various cheap acoustic guitars sold through the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues - Rex instruments helped reduce the then-overwhelming domination of the banjo in popular music.
"The quality of the fretwork is the best we've seen on an entry-level acoustic"
Built in Indonesia (not Kalamazoo, Michigan, like the original guitars), the Jim Dandy features an agathis body that measures 330mm (13 inches) across its lower bout. The guitar echoes its ancestors' compact feel with a 610mm (24-inch) scale length.
The chubby, glued-in nato neck is topped off with a 305mm (12-inch) radius rosewood fingerboard studded with 18 vintage profile frets, 12 of which are free of the body. The quality of the fretwork is the best we've seen on an entry-level acoustic.
The guitar's unmistakable vintage vibe is cleverly achieved with a semi-gloss Sunburst finish, framed by the silk- screened body binding and simple soundhole rosette.
The oversized pearloid dot fingerboard inlays, white- buttoned nickel-plated open- gear tuners (plus the 'Steel Reinforced Neck' legend and 'Gretsch' and 'Jim Dandy' logos printed on the headstock) add extra sweetness to the retro eye candy.
Incidentally, 'Jim Dandy' is an Americanism that roughly translates into English as 'absolutely spiffing' or something similar. We'll soon see if it lives up to its name...
"The Jim Dandy injects some much-needed fun and character into the typically bland entry-level acoustic market"
For those looking for some old-school Robert Johnson tone on a restricted budget, the Jim Dandy is the perfect guitar to pick down at the crossroads. It's bright, but there's just enough bottom-end to balance that out a bit. It works much better for fingerpicking than strumming in our experience; fingertips help to soften the top-end and release some of the guitar's inherent sweetness.
The supplied D'Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze 0.012 to 0.053 strings get the guitar's top moving, and work great for slide playing. Meanwhile, the chunky C profile neck proves sturdy enough to support open tunings without the need for truss rod tweaks; the action is low enough to comfortably play chords and licks, yet can still accommodate rattle-free slide work.
Okay, you're never going to mistake the Jim Dandy for a top-end Martin or Taylor, but it's really good fun to play. You should know that the guitar records very well, too, and it sounds bigger on 'tape' than you'd perhaps imagine.
The well-built Jim Dandy injects some much-needed fun and character into the typically bland entry-level acoustic market. It also reminds us that beyond our shed loads of expensive gear, we should be able to get a tune out of anything. You just know that Mark Knopfler or Joe Bonamassa could pick up a Jim Dandy and make it sing. Well, you can, too - this guitar isn't just for beginners.