Gretsch’s Electromatic line of guitars and basses let those that are a little more economically challenge still bask in the hollowbody glory that the company is best known for. Gretsch recently upgraded the specs of this line with the “54” series and we were lucky enough to be sent the G5440LS long scale bass to review.
Of course, the familiar (and nicely applied) orange finish instantly brings to mind the classic Gretsch Chet Atkins Hollowbody of the 50’s and the reissues thereof. The close association of this guitar model Chet and Brian Stezer makes this bass an ideal instrument for country and rockabilly music just based on looks alone.
The 2.75” deep body measures close to 16” across the lower bout. The body is constructed of laminated maple. While the body is fully hollow, there is a sound post directly under the bridge that connects to the top and back to reduce feedback at louder volumes.
The maple neck is capped with a rosewood fingerboard adorned with 50’s era “Humpback” makers, a feature that helps distinguish the 54 series from the other less expensive instruments in the Electromatic line. The 34” scale length is typically known for being used on Fender beloved Precision Bass and Jazz Bass, and seemingly is preferred by almost all bassists. A short scale (30.25”) Electromatic bass is also offered in the 54 series (5442BDC) with a double cutaway hollow body. A short scale bass is often preferred by those the find the long neck to uncomfortable to play, guitarists transitioning to bass, and those that just like the different tonality the shorter neck offers (think Paul McCartney).
The body, neck and large over-sized F-holes are all bound with single-ply white binding – a nice elegant touch.
For Electronics, the Electromatic Bass (and the entire 54 series line) uses Gretsch’s new Black Top Filter’Tron pickups. The Black Tops are based off of the 70’s era Filter’Tron Gretsch used in the 70’s and even maintains a similar appearance. This upgrade to the semi-pro line brings the Electromatics closer to their pro-line brethren, while the pro-line still retains its stature. These “54” Electromatics have an identity all of their own, and it would not be too surprising seeing some appear on the big stage.
Each pickup has its own volume control. The pair of pickups share a master tone control and a master volume control which is located on the upper bout opposite of the 3-way pickup selector switch.
A trapeze tailpiece secures the ball end of the strings in true hollowbody tradition, and the strings pass over a larger version of a tune-a-matic bridge which sits upon a rosewood base. All the hardware is chrome plated.
On the other end of the instrument, the strings pass through a nut (1 5/8” wide) to the 2-on-a-side headstock with closed back tuners.
The G5440LS tunes smoothly and easily, and held it tuning even with aggressive playing.
While the hollowbody does amplify the acoustic sound of the instrument somewhat (definitely louder that a solidbody bass), it is not as loud as the roundhole acoustic basses that resemble acoustic guitars. It may function adequately in a late-night motel room acoustic jam, but other than that (and private practice, of course) it is meant to be played plugged in.
Once plugged in, the hollowbody does what it is intended to do: provide deep, rich tone.
Plugged directly into a recording console the notes exhibited a type of bloom that can’t be captured on a solidbody instrument (or, at least, without adding compression). There is an acoustic element to the sound, but with the round wound strings few would confuse this instrument tone for an upright bass. That being said, a set of flatwounds on this bass could provide the thud and a more convincing approximation for those looking for a more transportable, yet vibey, option to the doghouse.
With the bridge pickup selected that sound of the bass is definitely in the more familiar territory of solidbody-like tone. There is a more modern snap, and almost piano-like tonality that proves this bass is not a retro machine, but a versatile tonal tool.
The looks of this bass may not be everyone’s cup o’ tea. The orange finish may be too, um…intense? country? for jazz cats, and/or the wrong look for rockers. Luckily this same bass is available in a black finish (and those bound f-hole really pop on that), for those looking for something more conservative or those that like black. Sunburst and natural would have been two easy to offer options that sadly are not available.
There’s something about a hollowbody that changes the attitude of the player and the listener alike, and the Gretsch Electromatic G5440LS at $1300 list ($900 street) can help deliver that mojo at a modest price.