Gretsch G5013CE Rancher Jr. Review
In the 1950s, thanks to the endorsement by fingerpicking and country guitar pioneer Chet Atkins, Gretsch guitars became especially popular with country-western pickers. So, the Brooklyn, New York-based company, which had established itself as a more conservative maker of jazz guitars as well as drums, began channeling the West in the décor of its flattop and electric guitars, adapting such flourishes as steer’s-head and horseshoe inlays and the trademark G branded into its soundboards. Gretsch’s original Rancher—essentially a western-dressed version of the Jumbo Synchromatic—was made from 1954 to 1973. Now a division of Fender Musical Instruments, Gretsch has revisited the Rancher in a series of five new guitars with different body sizes and features. We checked out the smallest, the G5013CE Rancher Jr., which boasts a smooth cutaway and Fishman electronics package.
Classic Western Appointments
The Rancher Jr. has what Gretsch calls a "junior" body size; the lower bout is about 15 1/4-inches wide and 4 1/4-inches deep, similar to a standard auditorium size. The body is made from a selection of laminated woods—a spruce top and mahogany back and sides—and the neck is also mahogany. Rosewood was used for the fingerboard and bridge. Our review model’s woods are quite attractive; the spruce is finely grained and free from imperfections, the mahogany has a warm reddish-brown hue and a distinctive vertical figuring pattern on the back and sides, and the rosewood is uniformly dark. One noteworthy construction feature is that the guitar’s back is arched, therefore requiring no braces.
The Rancher Jr. incorporates some of Gretsch’s original, distinctive features: a triangular soundhole, a pearl steer’s-head inlay on the headstock, left-justified thumbnail position markers on the fingerboard, and the classic Gretsch logo inlaid on the headstock and emblazoned on the thick, curvy 1940s-style tortoiseshell-colored pickguard, which is made from four layers of plastic. Other appointments include five-ply black-and-white binding around the top; white binding on the soundhole, back, fingerboard, and headstock; and a solid white heel cap.
Craftsmanship on our review Rancher Jr. was perfectly adequate for its price. The fretwork is tidy and the nut and compensated saddle are both cleanly notched. The gloss polyester finish is smoothly buffed and is devoid of the orange-peel effect often found on inexpensive instruments. But in spots, tooling marks were apparent on our review guitar—most notably, an inch-long gouge in the inside of the mahogany back, as seen through the soundhole.
With its junior body, the Rancher Jr. sits nicely on the lap or when strapped on using the 1/4-inch endpin jack and classic cylindrical Gretsch strap button. The guitar was easy to play right out of the box, thanks to its factory-set low action and comfortable neck, which has a medium C-shape profile.
Small-bodied mahogany guitars tend to work well for fingerpicking, so I set my plectrum aside and tried some bluesy accompaniment patterns in A. You can’t expect a guitar in this price range to be as responsive as a fine solid-wood instrument, but it did have a slightly dark, mellow voice, likely owing to its mahogany build—a sound that it largely retained on fingerpicked excursions in D A D G A D and open-D tunings.
I next retrieved the plectrum and subjected the Rancher Jr. to some brisk strumming of basic open chords as well as more complex closed voicings, both with simple alternating strokes and a boom-chuck approach. The guitar sounded nicely balanced across the tonal spectrum and it had good note separation, but the headroom was pretty moderate; when played with force the sound muddied up a bit. Perhaps Gretsch’s jumbo or dreadnought Rancher would perform better in this context.
The Rancher Jr.’s Venetian cutaway encourages playing high up on the neck, and I found it easy to play single-note lines up to the 21st fret. When rendered with a medium touch, modal lines sounded warm, with a throaty midrange, a sturdy enough bass, and a clear treble. But as with strumming, the guitar’s sound suffered a little when I dug in, especially the notes on the G string, which buzzed a bit with a sitar-like sound.
Meaty Fishman Electronics
The Rancher Jr. comes equipped with Fishman’s Isys + electronics, which includes an undersaddle Sonicore pickup and a bassside- mounted panel including volume, bass, and phase controls, as well as a tuner and low-battery indicator. The unit is powered by a nine-volt battery housed in a compartment next to the endpin.
Cosmetically the onboard electronics are at odds with the Rancher’s retro vibe, but it does help address some shortcomings in the acoustic tone department. Plugged in to a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier, the guitar sounded sweet and organic, especially when fingerpicking ringing arpeggios incorporating open strings, and strummed chords were heartier amplified than when played unplugged. The Isys system was relatively noiseless and resistant to feedback, too, except when the volume was really cranked on both the onboard preamp and amp.
The Rancher Jr. has a cool appearance and a pleasant enough voice, along with easy playability and convenient electronics. And its meager price tag puts an American classic name easily within reach of a large audience of guitarists.
SPECS: "Junior" body size. Laminated spruce top. Laminated mahogany back and sides. Scalloped X-bracing. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Plastic nut and saddle. 25-inch scale. 111⁄16-inch nut width. 23⁄16-inch string spacing at saddle. Gloss polyester finish. Nickel die-cast tuners. Light-gauge D’Addario EXP strings. Fishman Isys+ electronics. Made in Indonesia.
PRICE: $550 list/$385 street.
MAKER: Gretsch Guitars: (480) 596-9690;gretschguitars.com.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar December 2012