“I’ve always found them to be extraordinarily versatile guitars – you can play any kind of music on them”: Rockabilly great Darrel Higham on why he uses only Gretsch guitars – and that time he bought a 6120 he found lying around Jeff Beck’s house

Darrell Higham
(Image credit: Future)

It would not shock anyone who has heard Darrel Higham play that he counts himself a superfan of That Great Gretsch Sound. He’s a rockabilly player, right? And that’s Gretsch to a tee.

But as Higham explains here, in what is a love letter to the brand's electric guitars than that. We all know a Gretsch can be a great blues guitar, a rock guitar, indie, alternative, jazz, whatever, and that’s why Higham can’t get enough of them, why he plays nothing else.

What was your first encounter with Gretsch guitars?

“When I was about four or five years old, I heard Elvis for the first time. The neighbours were playing his music very, very loud and it made a huge impression on me. It turned out that mum and dad had a couple of Elvis albums in their record collection, and then I discovered this Eddie Cochran album in there, Singin’ To My Baby

“The first thing that struck me about the album cover was there were two headshots of Eddie and in between there’s this picture of him holding this beautiful red guitar. From that moment onwards, I basically wanted to be Eddie Cochran. And all these years later, not much has changed!”

When did you get your first Gretsch guitar?

“I bought my first 6120 in late ’89. Sadly, it was stolen in ’97 from a theatre in Melton Mowbray where, ironically, I was playing Eddie Cochran in this theatre show. But, fortunately, I went to see Eddie’s mother and sister in ’92 and I managed to get several pictures of my guitar sitting next to Eddie’s. That was a dream come true.”

Have you acquired a collection of Gretsches since that time?

“Yes, I have a Duo Jet that is based on the Cliff Gallup model, a White Falcon that I bought when I was touring with Jeff Beck – and the very first gig I did with it, the bridge fell apart!

“I’ve got a 6120 Custom Shop that was built in 2008 by Stephen Stern. I saw that at Jeff Beck’s house – I think they had sent it to him to see if he wanted to buy it, but he wasn’t particularly interested so he let me buy it instead. I’ve got a sort of hybrid – it’s a cross between a Falcon and a 6120, which I had built in 2014 by Stephen Stern. It looks like a 6120, but it’s the same dimensions as a White Falcon.”

Can you sum up the magic of the Gretsch sound?

“They do have their own sound, there’s no two ways about it. I’ve always found them to be extraordinarily versatile guitars; you can play any kind of music on them. So that’s the reason why I just play Gretsches. 

“When I worked with Imelda [May], I found them versatile enough to handle anything. I mean, her music was a very eclectic mix of roots music: it was rockabilly, blues, jazz, country… and the Gretsch handled all of that extraordinarily well.”  

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David Mead

With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.