For a long time, the acoustic guitar market has been dominated by big jumbos and dreadnoughts. While these big boxes have lush bass tones and plenty of volume, they also have several drawbacks, with the first and foremost being that their size can be unwieldy for some.
Smaller-bodied and parlor-sized guitars are a lot more popular these days, which is a good thing, but not surprisingly, there are a few trade-offs. Smaller guitars won’t have the pronounced volume or full tones of some larger guitars. However, with so many smaller guitars on the market, you can be more discriminating in what you look for in a compact size. The new low-cost Gretsch G9511 Single-0 Parlor is one such small-bodied guitar that has a refined tone and can be a lot of fun.
The Indonesian-made Gretsch sports excellent craftsmanship. The “Appalachia Cloudburst” finish has been applied to a solid Sitka spruce top, giving the Gretsch a warm, smoky allure. A thin gloss over the top and laminated mahogany back and sides provides a nice sheen. The mahogany neck has a matte finish that gives a silky feel that many guitarists—including myself—prefer. The butter-bean open-geared tuners throw off a vintage vibe and the bone nut and saddle complete a classy and understated portrait. There are no sharp edges on the frets, and the guitar is set up to be a quick player with low action and no fret buzzes. Except for a tiny bit of underspray around the soundhole, I could spot no flaws.
My review G9511 responded best to a light touch. I normally play with either a flatpick or thumbpick when I’m fingerpicking, but I really enjoyed playing this guitar with naked fingers. A sweet tone is produced with a soft touch and speaks to my jazzier side. Although I don’t consider myself a jazz player, I am attracted to the plush sounds of major 7th and 13 chords on the Gretsch.
Blues fingerpicking is my bread-and-butter, so I put on my thumbpick to play my way through John Hurt’s “Stagolee.” The Gretsch had a fuller sound than I expected, with a nice balance between bass and treble. Next, I tuned the 6th string down to D and played through William Moore’s “Old Country Rock.” One concern I have with small-bodied guitars with light gauge strings (.012–.053), low action, and a short scale (24.875 inches), is that they usually don’t handle tuning down very well. But, the Gretsch surprised me by sounding great in drop-D tuning. The low D stills retains some snap and didn’t sound flaccid or warbly.
Inspired, I progress down to open D (D A D F# A D) and am again surprised how well the Gretsch takes the lower tuning as I play through “Vestapol.” There is a lovely self-contained intimate quality to the sound—think warm mids and clear but not overly glassy or harsh trebles.
The neck’s matte finish is easy to navigate and the 1.73-inch nut—and 2-3/8-inch string spacing at the bridge—provided ample room for flatpicking and fingerpicking alike. Gretsch calls the neck shape a slim “C”. Back in standard tuning, I flatpicked my way through the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” with the Gretsch producing a nice, crispy—almost electric guitar—sound, with single-string lines standing out. The only place I found the Gretsch lacking is as a bold strummer. Playing a big, open G-chord just doesn’t sound as warm and inviting as they do on a big guitar. The harder I hit the strings the more harsh it sounds. I should also note that the neck joins the body at the 12th fret, which may impede your high-fret excursions.
These days, if you are looking for a small–bodied acoustic, you are presented with tons of options. But for a $299 street price, you probably won’t find many guitars that match the Gretsch’s tonal complexity and playability.
Gretsch G9511 Style 1 Single-0
Body Parlor-sized body with X-braced solid-spruce top and laminated mahogany back and sides; aged white binding; rosewood bridge with bone saddle; Appalachia cloudburst gloss urethane finish
Neck 24.875″-scale mahogany neck with slim-C shape, 19-fret rosewood fingerboard with 12.6″ radius, 1.73″-wide bone nut, vintage-style open geared tuners, matte finish
Other D’Addario EXP16–coated phosphor bronze, light gauge (.012-.053); optional gig bag or hardshell case
Price $499 list/$299 street
Made in Indonesia gretschguitars.com
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.