What is it?
Ordinarily, Gretsch likes to dress its stable of '50s-inspired hollowbody electric guitars in the finer things – in luxuriant high-gloss Orange Stain, Cadillac Green, with gold hardware just to set things off real nice.
Other times, well, that's not so appropriate, like when you want to put together a hollow-body with a little more attitude, drawing on American classic car culture and using all matte finishes for a more subdued vibe, street-ready vibe, the sort of thing the Electromatic Rat Rod is all about.
Now, whether offered in Matte Vintage White like our review model, or the silver-grey Matte Phantom Metallic or Matte Black, the Rat Rod is still one handsome instrument, but this is a Gretsch that's suited for meaner styles, for psychobilly punks and all kinds of freaks; it's the one that the Fonz's cousin just outta the joint plays.
Built in South Korea – and typically flawlessly finished – the Rat Rod has an arched-top body of laminated maple with sound post bracing, a set maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard with a 12" radius and 22 medium-jumbo frets to give it a contemporary feel.
On guitars such as this, which are culled from the 1950s memory bank, the whiff of pomade hanging in the air as you open the case, there's always an element of surprise when the proportions feel very much of the internet era. The 'Thin U' neck profile is not totally emaciated but it's certainly got plenty of zip to it.
This is a "big body" Gretsch, but the proportions feel very accommodating, the slimline 2.5-inch body depth will welcome your arm as you throw it over the lower bout, and it's light, weighing in at just 3.3kg.
There are a pair of Black Top Filter’Tron humbuckers, in the neck and bridge positions, and Gretsch has kitted this out with a treble bleed circuit, with the traditional master volume control, individual volume controls and a master tone, plus a three-way toggle for selecting pickups.
Yes, the G-Arrow control are all present and correct, so too the oversized, bound f-holes. The matte finish might reference automobile primer, the licensed Bigsby B60 True Vibrato is in chrome, not gold, but Gretsch still has style at the forefront of its mind, and with the Rat Rod that extends to red pickup covers – the "tail lights" of the car. It's a nice touch for the petrol heads.
Those pickups promise to be hot and snappy. We all think the same thing when we pick up a Gretsch; it might look American Graffiti, but it'll also sound like Physical Graffiti. We've long had our preconceptions drummed out of us by many a Gretsch's hot tone, and expect this to be no different.
Performance and verdict
A fully hollow build, the Rat Rod feels exceptionally open, and is bright and resonant when you strum a few chords acoustically. It has a similar body depth to the Setzer signature model, with a similarly impressive acoustic voice.
Clean tones are very treble forward, but rolling back the tone lets them bloom out a little. But like all Gretsch's of this stripe, the Rat Rod is a pugnacious customer, that tends to run hot and bring out a little break-up from the amp nice and early. The middle position tames some of that high-end, and here, with a little slapback tape echo, it's welcome to rockabilly central.
The neck feels stable and quick. On balance, we would have been happier with something a little clubbier, but this is just the sort of speedster to introduce the brand to a new generation of players. The fretboard feels excellent, and with the Bigsby, you've got the wobble, but with a very impressive degree of tuning stability.
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For a whole host of older-genre styles, from the obvious rock 'n' roll and rockabilly through to much rootsier swampier voices that love a little 'hair' or outright grunt and grunge, it's hard to think of a guitar that is better suited.
Earlier, we said the Rat Rod would be more than just a rockabilly guitar, and when you move to the neck pickup you will really understand why. Here, with that hot-jolting treble evened off, there is an inherent warmth and full frequency response that'll handle all the sus-chords and swing-time rhythms you can throw at it.
No matter where you park the pickup selector, fingerstyle is a treat, the treble brightness of the bridge 'bucker adding some snarl to the in-between notes. The neck pickup really comes to live when you give it a little bit of drive. Throw a Tube Screamer in front of your amp and it'll sing the blues.
Give it something nastier, a fuzz, and it manages to hold its own, with enough articulation to anchor your tone and give it its bearings. Here, you could easily imagine the Rat Rod as a garage-rock Excalibur, or as a tool for big rock riffs, knowing full well the road's all clear for some racing up to the top-end of the fretboard.
Altogether, for 700 bucks, this is an exceptional instrument, typical of the standard we expect from Gretsch's Korean-built Electromatics. It retains the US vibe, with touches such as the rosewood 'board making it feel of a piece with the Player's Edition models – the guitar we hope to afford when we grow up.
In the meantime, well, the Rat Rod's for fun, for honing your craft, and for getting some genuine Gretsch mojo on hand for your next blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll adventure. The Filter'Tron humbuckers have sure got the horsepower for such travels... Like Danelectro, Gretsch are wont to shake things up finish-wise, just make sure to try one while they are still available.
MusicRadar verdict: A Gretsch that plays just as well to the skatepark punk as to the country gent, the Rat Rod is seriously good value, with a whole lotta rock 'n' roll tones under the hood.
- ORIGIN: Korea
- TYPE: Single-cutaway hollowbody electric guitar
- BODY: Laminated maple with sound post
- NECK: Maple, set-in, with aged white binding
- SCALE LENGTH: 625mm (24.6”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Graph Tech NuBone/42.86mm
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood, 305mm (12”) radius, pearloid ‘Neo-Classic Thumbnail’ inlays
- FRETS: 22, medium jumbo
- HARDWARE: Chrome Licensed Bigsby B60 True Vibrato, Adjusto-Matic anchored six-saddle bridge, vintage-style open back tuners
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 54mm
- ELECTRICS: 2x Black Top Filter’Tron humbuckers, master volume with treble bleed circuit, 2x volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector toggle switch
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.3/7.3
- OPTIONS: Gigbag £63; hard case £191
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISHES: Matte Vintage White (as reviewed), Matte Phantom Metallic, Matte Black
- CONTACT: Gretsch