What Strings Come on a Gretsch Guitar?

While they don’t quite have the same household-name status as Gibson and Fender, Gretsch have been a go-to brand for those in the know for decades. They’re widely regarded for their beautiful, retro-styled guitars and their warm, mellow tones

Gretsch pickups are fairly low output in comparison to other similarly-styled guitars, but another contributing factor to their unique tones are the strings they choose for their electric lineup. Interestingly, Gretsch equips their guitars with their own Gretsch Electromatic Strings, but for at least the past decade, Gretsch doesn’t offer their strings for sale separately.

This leaves Gretsch electric-guitar players in a situation where they either change things up completely, or they need to find a set that matches the originals as closely as possible in order to try to recreate the sound.

If your Gretsch is a solid-body, like one of the Jet models, or a center-block like the Streamliner series, it will ship with Gretsch Electromatic Nickel-Plated Steel Strings in a .010 to .046 gauge. Hollow-body models are equipped with heavier strings to compensate for some of the lost sustain. In this case, Gretsch Electromatic Nickel-Plated Steel Strings in .011 to .049. 

How to Choose New Strings for Your Gretsch Guitar

Understanding Gretsch Guitars | Buyers Guide

When the stock strings on your Gretsch electric guitar need to be replaced, you’ll need to think about which direction you’d like to go in the future. Keep reading to find out more about the strings that are best-suited to each style:

Solid Body

The solid body electric guitar is one of the most dynamic instruments in the world. Make a couple of simple adjustments and the same guitar that could feature in a jazz band can be used for the heaviest doom metal. This versatility really means that string choice is wide open for players.

Nickel-plated steel, pure nickel, and pure steel are the most common materials you’ll find for electric guitar strings, and they all sound great on solid-body instruments. 

Nickel-plated steel is a great all-around material. It offers a nicely-balanced tone and decent corrosion resistance. 

If you’re looking to keep things mellow, pure nickel is a good option. Nickel isn’t as easily picked up by magnets as pure steel, and is less likely to sound harsh. When paired with the low-output Gretsch pickups, you’ll get some of the smoothest tones you’ve ever heard.

If you’re looking to get a brasher sound, pure steel will be the way to go. Pure steel has better magnetism than nickel and will result in a hotter overall sound, as the pickups will be better able to detect the string movement.

As far as gauge goes, you can really go as heavy or as light as you like. Having the solid body mass really helps with volume and sustain, so a light string will sound much louder than it would on other styles, while still leaving lots of room for big bends and extended play comfort.

Semi-Hollow Body

Semi-hollow body players are fortunate to have the best of both worlds. The big center block running through the middle of their guitars allows their instruments to behave in much the same way as a solid body would, while still offering the weight savings and unique tones of an archtop.

Despite the vintage looks, semi-hollow guitars have become incredibly popular with guitarists in heavier genres. For example, one of Gretsch’s signature artists is Keeley Davis of post-hardcore group, At the Drive-In. Typically, heavy styles call for heavy gauges, which Gretsch semi-hollows handle very well. 

If you’re a fingerstyle player, you can go ahead and equip any Gretsch semi-hollow with lighter strings and it will still sound great. The center block adds the mass needed for great sustain, so even a set of 9s will still cut through a mix.

Hollow Body

Gretsch are also well known for their hollow body and jazz-box style guitars. They come from the factory equipped with nickel-plated steel strings in a heavy .011 gauge. These guitars tend to perform best when equipped with nickel-plated strings or pure nickel. Hollow bodies are prone to feedback, and the mellower tones of nickel can help to keep that in check.

A lack of sustain can also be an issue with true hollow-body guitars. Using a heavy gauge string is one way to compensate for the guitar’s inherent low mass and improve the perceived sustain. If you’re looking to keep the guitar’s original tone, look to restring with something in an 11 gauge.

Gretsch Pro vs Gretsch Electromatic Guitars

Best Replacement Gretsch Strings

As we’ve discussed, unless you’re able to get ahold of new-old-stock Gretsch Electromatic strings, you won’t be able to restring like-for-like. Even if you could get ahold of the stock strings, you might not want to. Electromatic strings were widely criticized for their poor packaging and tendency to corrode prematurely even when new, so a set that’s been sitting for 10+ years is unlikely to yield the tones you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for widely-available, reliable, and affordable strings, you really can’t go wrong with Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings. They are the same .010-.046 gauge as the stock Electromatic Strings, and are also made from nickel-plated steel. Despite not being the most high-tech strings on the market, they’re the go-to for countless guitar legends, and play really well on both solid body and semi-hollow Gretsch guitars.

Should you want to mix things up, Elixir Nanoweb Nickel-Plated Steel strings in .010-.046 feel fantastic, last a long time, and bring a beautiful warmth when paired with Gretsch pickups.

For hollow-body players, a close match to the original strings that I’d gladly recommend are the D’Addario EXL 115 medium gauge. They are sized from .011 to.049 (like the stock strings) and are made from nickel-plated steel. 

For a change of sound, consider a set of D’Addario EGC24 Flatwound Chromes in .011 to .050. They’re made with a stainless-steel wrap, but because of the flatwound finish, they have a warm and mellow tone that’s perfect for jazz.

Final Thoughts 

It might seem disappointing at first that it’s not easy to buy direct replacement strings for your Gretsch, but think of it as an opportunity to experiment with something new, and you’ll open up a world of tonal possibilities. Of course, if you really want to keep the sound as similar as possible, there are options on the market that offer almost identical specifications to the stock strings, and the difference might even be indistinguishable to the untrained ear.

main image courtesy of flickr user interestedbystandr under creative commons
  • Simon Morgan

    Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and played the local scene throughout his teen years before running away to work on ships. These days his passion is budget guitars, amps and pedals - though he's not afraid of the finer things.