1966 Gretsch 6117 Cat’s Eye

Stock, the few hundred of these guitars that exist share more with Tennesseans than they do with Double Anniversaries, but those are the guitars they share a model number with.

Alley Cat’s Eye

They came double bound in black or red with super-slick bound cat’s eye sound holes summoned up from Gretsch’s arch top Streamliner past, a bar bridge on a rosewood base, a rosewood board, usually a Solid G tailpiece, and HiloTrons.

HiloTrons are amazingly good pickups for being half a FilterTron with a bar magnet taking the place of the second coil. They absolutely kill overdriven, remaining bright and articulate right on top of a mean, thick distortion, and they roll off beautifully. I found a questionable set of HiloTrons in the case with this guitar, but they’d been swapped in the 80’s for a set of Super Distortions. I replaced those with a set of TV Classics, pocketing the Super Distortions and (old and busted) HiloTrons for the future.

I emailed  TV Jones to ask questions about the harness and the bridge, which had been changed to a gold adjust-o-matic, along with my questions about which pickups to buy. Tom Jones replied. He was great: super patient and super helpful. He advised me to go with the English Mount TV Classics over the TV-HTs and to use the nickel Allparts abr-1 with brass saddles, which he said he’d put on all of Setzer’s guitars, taking advantage of its combination of wobbly construction and solid brass saddles to allow the strings to shift in and out of pitch smoothly with Bigsby use. I figured that was good enough for me.

Chrome Jones, chrome Gs, Seuferling slant-mount nickel abr-1, sandcast B6, elgtsco 11-50 artists.

I’d already found a 60s Gretsch-branded B6 and a set of the wrong Gretsch knobs to finish the guitar off. I had all of that done locally, since I was concerned about getting the saddles properly slotted, which, along with the pickup mounting and soldering, was still out of my reach. All very well done. The Bigsby was swapped cleanly for the stock G tailpiece as well, but the swap revealed a problem with the original build–or at least with the tailpiece, which had been mounted off center. 50s and 60s Gretsches are notoriously variable: binding falls off; braces come loose; necks fall right out of pockets; others are rock solid and sterling musically. The neck-set on this one is and was perfect, so the odds were good that something else wasn’t; a misplaced tailpiece is no big surprise, but any use of the vibrato pulled the floating bridge right out of line, out of tune, and out of intonation.

I sent it to Dave Sëuferling for a vibrato shift, a pinned bridge, a refret, and to see whether he might be able to remove the rattle-can white overspray to reveal the original solid red finish. He nailed everything, vintage frets and all, but thought getting the finish back was not to be. I’ve always thought this guitar would be great in an over-oxidized 295 gold, especially as a nod to the very unGretschy but nonetheless stock Gibson wiring scheme that set these guitars apart at the time, but the trashy finish doesn’t not suit it.

After a few years, one of the non-original-it’s-the-70s-and-everything-needs-Grovers tuners exploded, and I bought a set of nickel Keystones to replace it/them. For a couple more years, it just had the one. Sanding out the holes was work.

Zero-fret, factory nut, nickel Grover keystones.

They suit it too, but I’m sad that the sta-tites were gone.

The original finish has never been a mystery, and the original finishes on these look almost brushy, so maybe the refin was dead smooth after all. They all had snazzy red side markers next to the half moons. The stock toggle, which was an extra tall black Rickenbackery affair, was gone too. And I think I had to put back the knurled endpins.

Sëuferling fretwork, Mosrite toggle, red dots.

It sounds amazing through the Vibrolux it was born with, better through everything Tim Schroeder made or worked on, and best of all through my much-loved Xits x10.

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