“They've proven to be incredibly stable on this tour” – Guns N’ Roses guitarist Richard Fortus gives us the latest on his new Gretsch Falcons

Richard Fortus
(Image credit: Gretsch)

Last year, Gretsch launched two Richard Fortus Signature Falcon models: the white, Bigsby-equipped G6636T-RF and the black, stoptail-fitted G6636-RF.

Drawing rave reviews throughout the guitar world, these semi-hollow rock ‘n’ roll machines have been praised for their unique tone and impeccable build quality.

Developed in close collaboration with the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, the Richard Fortus Signature Falcons feature bespoke pickups and a construction designed to withstand the toughest of tours.

Currently in the midst of a huge Guns N’ Roses stadium tour, we caught up with the man himself to find out how his new axes have been performing on the world’s largest stages.

Richard Fortus

(Image credit: Future)

It’s been several months since your Gretsch Signature Falcons were released. How have they been performing on the road with Guns N’ Roses?

I’m so thrilled with them. I haven't had any major issues whatsoever. It feels great every time I pick them up. They've proven to be incredibly stable on this tour.

On the white one with the Bigsby [the G6636T-RF], I did have a minor issue with my low E string. I use a fairly thick .052-gauge low E string (.010 to .052 is my set) and it would pop out sometimes.

So, I just swapped the stock [TonePros TP6R] bridge with roller saddles for a regular Tune-o-matic and that solved it. It's a very easy fix. It just pops right on the posts that are already there.

I haven't had any major issues whatsoever

Richard Fortus

Also, when I'm chugging on the lower two strings, I can often hear some overtones ringing out. This is because we went with a B6 Bigsby which has no tension bar, as opposed to a B7 (which was the original idea).

But that was a real easy tweak too. I just cut out a little piece of foam and put it underneath the bottom two strings. [See above].

I’ve also seen people take a piece of Velcro and just wrap it around the strings on the Bigsby to kill the vibration.

It sounds like the same sort of hack people use for Jazzmaster and Jaguar vibratos. Did you notice the overtones more with high stage volume?

Yes. And with heavy gain sounds. When I was chugging on the strings, I started noticing a subtle ringing. But it's so easy to take care of.

How are the pickups performing?

The pickups I've kept completely stock. They're just exactly as they came. I think they're perfect.

The only pickup that bothers me is in the red prototype. Actually, I need to ask Gretsch if they can send me one of my regular pickups to swap out.

It’s an earlier one that we were experimenting with and I don't like it as much. It sounds muddier and doesn't have the definition that the other ones do. I notice it every time I switch to that guitar.

The red prototype Falcon has become a mainstay of your rig. What's the story behind that?

Leo Scala refinished it for me. It’s also pretty heavily reliced. I hope somewhere down the line Gretsch will do another model with me and use the red colour because it's so cool-looking.

I hope somewhere down the line Gretsch will do another model with me and use the red colour

Richard Fortus

It's more or less the same as my Signature Falcons. But it's a different finish. And it has the B7 Bigsby, which is what we started out with.

I find you just don't get the same subtle manual modulation of the B6 as you do with the B7. It’s like you lose something with the tension bar of the B7 – it’s a totally different feel. You don't have that sensitivity like you do with the B6.

My old vintage Gretsches have the B6, and it just feels so much better to me. Gretsch actually ended up changing the neck angle to accommodate the B6, but in my opinion it was well worth it.

Vintage Gretsch Chet Atkins guitars

Richard Fortus's collection of 1958 Gretsch Chet Atkins models (l-r): 6119 Tennessean, 6121 Country Gentleman and 6120 Hollow Body.  (Image credit: Future)

We’d love to see Gretsch issue a version of your Signature Falcon in red.

If I do another one – a red one – I'd like to do it with the B6. But I'd like to have the shorter 24.6” scale like the black [G6636-RF] guitar.

And I'd like to have a kill switch installed, like I do on my red one I use live now. I think those subtle changes would be nice.

Also, I’d maybe tweak the pickups a little for a gainier, more aggressive sound than the current guitars.

We had the luxury of being able to wind pickups and test them in Guns N’ Roses rehearsals

Richard Fortus

Tell us how you developed your Signature Falcon pickups with Gretsch.

At first, we tried all the boutique Filter’Trons – Lollar, Mojotone, TV Jones… We went through everything including the Arcanes, which is what I use in my [hollowbody] Players Edition Falcons.

I love the Arcanes in those guitars. They sound amazing. In fact, I've just recommended them to Charlie Starr from BlackBerry Smoke. He ended up putting them in an old White Falcon he has – like a late ‘60s model.

But in the end, it was quite the process. We had the luxury of being able to wind pickups and test them in Guns N’ Roses rehearsals.

I had several guitars on rotation and John Gaudesi was winding pickups on the spot. We were listening in fine detail through in-ears and in the control room and tweaking them as we went along until we found the perfect sound.

Which Guns N’ Roses songs do you use the Players Edition Falcons for?

I use them on Civil War, November Rain and Don’t Cry. They just have a thing that I like on those songs. It’s the Arcane pickups, and also the B6 Bigsby.

There's something really vibrant about the fully hollow body of the Players Edition Falcon. Not having the centreblock on those songs just works really well.

What differences do your hear between the white G6636T-RF and the black G6636-RF Richard Fortus Signature Falcons?

I hear the difference with the white one on rhythm stuff particularly. Because of the longer 25.5” scale length the intonation is slightly better.

I hear the difference with the white one on rhythm stuff particularly

Richard Fortus

It’s also a little snappier. For stuff that I'm strictly playing rhythm on a lot of the time I will opt for the white one.

Which Guns N’ Roses songs do you prefer to use the white G6636T-RF Richard Fortus Signature Falcon for?

I use the white Signature Falcon for It's So Easy and Mr. Brownstone – stuff where I'm playing a lot lower on the neck – because it has a lot of twang to it.

And I use it for Paradise City. I will generally opt for the better intonation if there are open strings involved, as there are on that song.

I also prefer the white one for the songs Chinese Democracy and Double Talkin’ Jive.

For Live and Let Die, Shadow of Your love and Reckless Life I can use either. It's more comfortable for me to play Reckless Life on the black one but I also like the white one on that because, like I said, it's lower down on the neck and it has more chime to it.

I can go either way on Estranged too, although I tend to favour the black one for Estranged lately.

Walk All Over You sounds better to me using the white one, but it depends on what [song] we're coming off of. I mean, I might not want to switch guitars. 

Same with You Could Be Mine, although I'll usually opt for the black one on that song because it's easier to do bends with.


Gretsch G6636T-RF Richard Fortus Signature Falcon (Image credit: Future)

Are there any songs in the current Guns N’ Roses set where you prefer to use the black G6636-RF Richard Fortus Signature Falcon exclusively?

I use the black one on Welcome to the Jungle, I Wanna Be Your Dog and the fast version of You’re Crazy.

If it's a song where I'm doing a lot more bending, I'll use the black one. It's easier to bend because you don't have to fight the Bigsby. And it's also faster with the shorter 24.6” scale.

If it's a song where I'm doing a lot more bending, I'll use the black one

Richard Fortus

In Rocket Queen, I use the black one because I solo a lot in that. It's all bending, and that guitar just sounds great on that song. Same with Nightrain – there's a lot of single note stuff in there too.

Hard Skool is another. There's some fast shredding stuff I do where I prefer to use the shorter scale. I like the stoptail for that one.

Absurd is very heavy and it's nice to have the stoptail on that one as well.

Do Guns N’ Roses use set lists?

No, we don't have a set list. Axl steps on a button and uses a talkback mic. He'll say, “We're going to go into this song next,” or whatever. But most of the time he’s telling jokes.

Do you tend to favour certain gain pedals depending on which Richard Fortus Signature Falcon you’re using?

No, they're pretty consistent when it comes to that. It's not that vast a difference between the black and white one tonally. I mean, an audience member in say row 637 in section 16 isn’t going to hear the difference.

Ultimately, we're just trying to be inspired as guitar players, aren't we? I mean, I'm totally thrilled with how the Falcons have held up on the road.

They're always inspiring to play.

For more information on the Richard Fortus Signature Falcons visit Gretsch.

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.