“People who play solidbody guitars don’t have this happen. The whole thing shakes. You feel it. It’s the best thing in the world, for me”: Brian Setzer on his lifelong love of Gretsch guitars

Brian Setzer
(Image credit: Tony Nelson)

Rockabilly king Brian Setzer talks about his lifelong love of Gretsch guitars and how his beloved Gretsch 6120 was usurped by a ‘Frankenstein’ Duo Jet on his latest album, The Devil Always Collects.

How did you first become a Gretsch guy, and what keeps you one today? 

“Those things still bring me the most fun out of anything. Out of old motorcycles, old cars – it’s Gretsch guitars. I bought one [his 1959 orange 6120] in the late 1970s because I wanted to look like Eddie Cochran. I didn’t even know if they’d sound good.

“Back then, no-one knew who Eddie Cochran was, so I found it in the local paper for 100 bucks. It’s such a special sound. People who play solidbody guitars don’t have this happen, but the sound comes out of the amplifier, it goes back through the guitar, so you can control how much sustain you want, how much feedback you want, and the whole thing shakes. You feel it. It’s the best thing in the world, for me.”

We hear that you used a Duo Jet on your latest album, The Devil Always Collects?

“I think the first song I wrote for [the album] was Rock Boys Rock. I wasn’t getting the sound I wanted out of the 6120; it just was not matching how frantic the song had become. 

“So I plugged in this Duo Jet I’ve got – it’s a Frankenstein: a ’57 [body], ’58 [neck] Duo Jet – and I just turned it up a little bit louder than I normally would. Jason [Orris, studio engineer] and I looked at each other and were like, ‘Oh gosh, that’s it!’ 

“Little things like that inspire you to keep writing, to keep moving in a certain direction. On the last record it was this old reverb unit that got me to write songs. On this record it was the Duo Jet.”

What’s the Duo Jet’s story?

“I’ve had it for close to my entire life. I think it came from Canada originally, and it’s been worked on a lot; I’m not sure how much of a Duo Jet is really left in that guitar, really. 

“I used it on my first Rockabilly Riot album [2005], when I did all the Sun [Records] sessions covers, and it sounded great ’cos I wanted the old single-coil sound. But when I cranked it up a little more than I should this time, it became that kind of flange-monster thing. 

“What a great-sounding guitar! I don’t know what it is about it. It’s almost Telecaster-like but not as mellow. It’s got more twang to it. So I used it on most of the record, and this is my first record where I didn’t play the 6120 that much.”

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