In July 2022, I located someone selling their used Gretsch Electromatic G5120T on OfferUp for a price I couldn’t ignore. The seller didn’t list a lot of details around this particular guitar, but it had a good enough photo and looked like a guitar I’ve been wanting. However, in the photo, I did notice what appeared to be gold covered humbuckers, which was not standard on a G5120T. But that was okay because I already knew I was going to pull whatever humbuckers anyway for an experiment.
So I headed out to pick this guitar up after arranging to meet up with the seller. However, we hit some snags as the seller had some sort of medical emergency that delayed him a git, leaving me to wait there like a sitting duck. The seller arrived 20 minutes late after I repeatedly looked over my shoulder for someone, anyone, to ambush me as their delays were concerning. But no, his wife came out with the guitar, I quickly paid, and scurried back home to see the new toy I got.
Once I got back home, I didn’t have any time to work on it. It played okay, but it came with flat wound strings, which – for me – always feel weird and dead. I put the Gretsch aside for the time being, and ordered a set of GuitarFetish’s GFS Surf 90’s in black and chrome. I‘ve been really really curious as to how Surf 90’s would sound in a full hollowbody, especially in a Gretsch after I installed a set into my Squier Mustang Bullet to my own amazement.
Now, I’m fully aware Gretsch once manufacturered Electromatics with stock DeArmond Dynasonics. But I opted to try and save money through this guitar vs buying one in better shape with Dynasonics factory installed. I also loved it because I gravitate towards that classic Gretsch Orange Stain finish. I knew it’d be a perfect home for Surf 90’s having PAF-sized humbucker cavities.
Once I got it on the bench, I was startled that I never noticed a sizable and poorly repaired split off the bottom F-hole. The terrible repair job left the top uneven, but was already super glued to death leaving me to pause on that. I decided to leave it alone for the moment just to get a player assembled.
Next was the pickups. I pulled those two gold humbuckers out, confirming my suspicion that a previous owner installed Epiphone humbuckers. I was crossing my fingers for a nicer surprise like Lollar, Fralin, Seymour Duncan, or whatever. But nope, they were some heavily worn Epi humbuckers, soldered onto a spliced factory lead and wrapped with electrical tape.
Next came some rewiring. One of the best things GuitarFetish offers is their Kwikplug system. Sure, Kwikplug can make swapping pickups a breeze in all electric guitars. But on a semi or full hollowbody guitar, Kwikplug can be a God send for future swaps as replacing pickups in any semi or full hollowbody can require considerable work. So I readied the Kwikplug lead and installed the Surf 90’s.
Next was simply stringing her up and setting the intonation. Of course I first cleaned the fingerboard, polished the frets, checked the neck, etc. She got a set of .009-.042 strings and was ready to go.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but this guitar definitely blew my mind. Not only does it play like a champ, but has that classic tone many come to expect from a Gretsch. With this guitar, my love of higher gain amps with low output pickups became a thing for me. The breakup point is perfect, I don’t have any squealing feedback, and I’m coming up with more and more new riffs after feeling completely inspired.
I’m surprised I’ve not heard more people install a set of GFS Surf 90’s into their hollows and semi-hollows. I mean, I kind of get it with a name like “Surf,” leading people into thinking they’re more for that style of music and not Rockabilly at first. But these totally work and do a stunning job packing a lot of sparkle and jangle. For my own use, I’ve struggled to leave the middle position of the 3-way toggle. This tone is just everything.
A video covering this topic will come at a future date. For now, if you want to check out your own set of Surf 90’s, check the link below:
Want your own Gretsch 5120T? They’re discontinued by Gretsch, but can be found on Reverb: