By Nick Millevoi
Parlor guitars are fun to play. Their small size makes them comfortable to hold and easy to pass around the parlor—or living room, backyard, or campfire. While I’ve found myself enamored of quite a few high-end parlor guitars, they tend to be more formal instruments that demand and deserve special care and attention. Sometimes it’s best just to have a guitar you can toss around without worrying about. That’s where Gretsch’s G9520E Gin Rickey comes in.
Based on the Rex guitars that Gretsch was making back in the 1930s through ’50s, the Gin Rickey is a low-cost offering ($249) that would serve as a cool entry-level instrument. And with a body length of 17.875 inches, a width of 13 inches, and a depth of 3.75 inches, it’s especially great for small hands. But Gretsch outfitted this guitar such that players of all levels can find something to love.
Easy to Dig
The Gin Rickey has a minimal retro look that’s easy to dig. It comes in a matte Smokestack Black finish with a graphic of a gold outline of the top, aged white binding, and a cream-colored plastic pickguard with a small “G” logo. The headstock features a throwback-style Gretsch logo and is equipped with open-gear tuners with cream-colored plastic buttons. The snazziest thing about the guitar is the chrome and pearloid Deltoluxe soundhole pickup that comes as standard hardware and is literally and figuratively the center of attention on the Gin Rickey.
Before I talk about the Gin Rickey’s amplified sound, it’s important to discuss how good it sounds acoustically. It’s easy to get a surprising amount of volume and bass response out of this small-bodied instrument, which sports an X-braced basswood top, as well as basswood back and sides. Notes sound evenly up and down the 24-inch-scale-length nato neck, but cowboy chords tend to really shine. Part of this may be due to the setup on our demo model, which arrived needing a little attention. A quick truss rod adjustment helped a bit, but the factory action was set a little high for my taste, which could be an issue, especially for some younger players. I decided to deal with the high action because, despite this hang-up, I started having fun with this guitar right out of the box and didn’t want to stop playing—a good sign!
A Bluesy Monster
As an acoustic instrument, the Gin Rickey would be a great guitar to have hanging around the house, and Gretsch also offers the G9500 Jim Dandy model, which is the acoustic version of this guitar that will save you $80 if that’s what you’re looking for. But the Gin Rickey really comes to life when you plug it in.
The Gretsch Deltoluxe pickup makes the Gin Rickey a secret tone weapon. I’ve long been a fan of the Deltoluxe pickup on other guitars—it’s a great, low-cost magnetic soundhole pickup inspired by vintage DeArmond pickups—so to see it as a standard feature had me excited. Of course, the Deltoluxe didn’t disappoint. Once electrified, the Gin Rickey can instantly transform from campfire accessory to bluesy monster. At low volumes, the tone is clear and the acoustic frequency range of the guitar is well represented with lots of bass and treble in the mix. At higher volumes the pickup really shines, and it sounds best when pushing a small tube combo amp, where the tone has an opportunity to blossom in the midrange and develop into a sound that’s more electric than acoustic but maintains the body and open character of an acoustic guitar.
This guitar/pickup combo sounds so great, it totally justifies the Gin Rickey as a useful utility instrument for the gigging and recording guitarist who needs to access a retro bluesy sound or wants to experiment with electric slide playing. I’m not much of a slide player, but I did find myself using the Gin Rickey to record some faux-Hawaiian guitar lines and it totally fit the bill.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the Gretsch G9520E Gin Rickey is exactly what it claims to be: a low-cost guitar that’s meant for fun, is comfortable to hold, and sounds great. The Deltoluxe pickup certainly elevates the guitar in both sound and appearance, but it still sounds great acoustically. It’s not only fun and practical, it’s a useful gigging tool, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gin Rickey find its way into the collections of players of all styles and skill levels.
Body Parlor size; basswood top, back, and sides; Smokestack Black finish with retro graphics and cream-colored pickguard
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Neck 12-fret C-shape nato neck with walnut fingerboard; 24″ scale length; 12″ radius; 1.6875″ synthetic bone nut; pearloid dots
Other Gretsch Deltoluxe soundhole pickup; walnut bridge; open-gear die-cast tuners with plastic buttons; D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.053)
Made In Indonesia
Price $249 street