Gretsch BST-1000


09/17/12- This poor little old guitar gets no respect! It's everything that you don't think of when you hear the name "Gretsch": Solid body, barebones, and not a particularly desirable or collectible old guitar. As I acquired shiny new toys, it was neglected (kept it at work for many, many years) and the only maintenance it saw was a string change whenever the strings were totally lifeless. It's a shame because it has the most "mojo" of all my guitar acquistions since then. It was a freebie from my brother-in-law, who had no interest in learning to play guitar. When my 1971 Strat was stolen during my gigging days, this one became my main (and only) guitar. I didn't think very highly of it because it wasn't as prestigious as the Strat, so it got its fair share of scuffs and dents from falling over while leaning against amps and from being handled carelessly. (At least it's honest "relicing".) I took it for granted and only recently, many guitars later, came to appreciate that it's a great-sounding and great-playing guitar.

From Wiki and other online sources, I learned that it was called "The Beast" in Gretsch's brief (1979-1981) foray into budget solidbody guitars. The model 1000 was its first, produced in 1979. It's mainly distinguished from the other models by its chrome-covered humbuckers, the horizontal logo lettering on its headstock, and white pickguard. There were a few other body finishes and model number designations, but I'm not a historian of that stuff. I'm more interested in this guitar's features, particularly as compared to the other guitars I've acquired since then: Strats, Les Pauls, Ibanezes, and Rickenbackers. Those guitars all have unique features that distinguish one from another, and I've often thought stuff like, "Gee, I wish this Strat had a flatter fretboard", or "Gee this Ibanez would be great if the fretboard weren't so wide". While it's not too hard to adapt to just about anything guitar-wise and while our preferences are malleable, I occasionally think that a particular guitar feels "just right". I get that feeling a lot when playing the BST-1000: The flat, narrow fretboard and thin profile plays effortlessly and fast. While I'd rather be seen playing a Les Paul, I'd rather be playing the BST-1000.

The BST-1000 is a mix of Strat and Gibson qualities: Like the Strat, it's rugged, lightweight and ergonomic, well-balanced on a strap, has a loaded pickguard with strings close to the surface, a hardtail-like bridge (with string-through ferrules), and a robust, bolt-on neck. Like a Les Paul, it's got humbuckers, a 24.25" scale, flat fretboard radius, angled headstock, and a mahogany body (? I've read). It's a great, practical mix of features, and adds a thin body, 24 frets, with good high-fret access.

A unique feature not found on Strats or Les Pauls is the "zero fret"-- this is the 25th fret, right after the nut. Basically, it makes the open strings sound as crisp as fretted strings, and eliminates the need to file the nut to the correct string depth and width to accommodate different string gauges (the nut spaces the distance between strings). The downside is that it's one more thing for the string to bind on when it stretches during a bend. I'm not sure that it would work well on a guitar with a whammy bar bridge. On the other hand, I removed the trussrod cover so I could bend open strings behind the nut and never had tuning problems from that.

Although I played this guitar loud in the band with no problems, post-band, I got to turn it up unreasonably loud with lots of gain and learned that the stock humbuckers were somewhat microphonic (of course, this was decades after-the-fact). I replaced them with aftermarket PAFS, which don't have that problem. I have to admit that I really like the sound of humbuckers for their full, warm sound when playing clean. The bridge humbucker is centered about 1/4" further away from the bridge and the neck pickup is centered about 3/4" closer to the bridge than a Les Paul, which gives the guitar a slightly different tonality. Theoretically (based on string vibration), this gives the bridge pickup slightly less bite, and the neck pickup slightly less mud. At any rate, I like the minimalist and straight-forward layout: 2 pickups, a 3-postion selector, a master volume and master tone knob.

The reason that I decided to write this article (besides giving the guitar the props it deserves) is that I decided to do some basic tuneup on it-- lowering the bass strings to better suit my current preference. However, I discovered that many of the saddle screws and the intonation screws were frozen with rust and gunk from the 80s. They wouldn't budge. I also learned/remembered that as much as the bridge resembled a Fender bridge, it wasn't and the usual allen wrench wouldn't fit.

I initially thought that I could just replace the whole saddle, but realized that the saddles were narrower with a much longer string-through slot. This made it imperative that I not totally trash them since it would be difficult, if not impossible to find replacements. (For what it's worth, they're not the best quality saddles-- the metal is quite soft and strings do leave a significant impression. It might be worth the effort to search for an alternative or adapt a Strat saddle.) The first challenge was removing the suckers, which were frozen in place with rusted intonation screws.

I doused everything with Break Free CLP (gun Cleaner, Lubricant & Preservative), then worked the exposed threads with a Dremel wire wheel bit. The intonation screws eventually began to turn, so I could remove the saddles and do the same treatment with the grub screws. After I removed them, I replaced them with Fender's so I could use a standardized allen wrench for future adjustments. It took some effort to get them to fit since the threads were slightly different, but once they were in there, they fit and turned just fine. After stringing her up and adjusting the saddle heights, the action was low and fast.

Since I've stopped playing in a band, I've had both the time and funds to buy and work on lots of guitars-- which is very gratifying in its own right, and something that wasn't in the cards when I was younger and poorer. The point is that this is a great player guitar, with all the necessary features "where it counts". At the time way back then, I was very aware that it was less prestigious than my Strat, but wasn't willing to concede that it was actually a better-playing guitar. So yes, (even today) you can get a very affordable guitar that performs as well as one that costs many times more, and this takes care of the needs department... the wants department is something completely different (and best handled with a thick wallet)!

Gretsch BST-1000

Gretsch BST-1000