Review: Gretsch Electromatic John Gourley Broadkaster Centre Block

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Review: Gretsch Electromatic John Gourley Broadkaster Centre Block

Gretsch John Gourley Broadkaster
Words by Christopher Hockey

Gretsch Electromatic John Gourley Broadkaster | Fender Music Australia | RRP $1999

A Gretsch signature model is quite an honour. After all, it was ‘Mr Guitar’ himself, Chet Atkins, that was bestowed with the first one back in the brand’s heyday in the 1950s. Seventy years later, John Gourley of the pop group Portugal The Man has been given the same honour, with his very own Broadkaster model now having been released. Much like Gourley himself, this instrument is unique, stylish and expressive, and it is sure to appeal to a wide audience regardless of their knowledge of his music. 

John Gourley

Featuring Gretsch’s classic semi-hollow centre block design, the John Gourley Broadkaster is a highly customised double cutaway smoke-show constructed from laminated maple. The first customisation one is likely to notice about this guitar is its slimmed down body. Thinner than its base model, the Broadkaster has been streamlined to cut down on unwanted feedback and to lighten the load for Gourley who is well known for his energetic, physical performances. 

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Central to this model’s aesthetic is its unbelievable Iridescent Black metallic finish. Whilst upon first glance it may look black flecked with a silver glitter effect, under stage lights it comes to life in a beautiful gradient of purple, morphing briefly into gold and then decidedly into blue. This stunning finish is accentuated even further by a unique silver sparkle binding, a one of a kind treat by Gretsch who are ever the masters of tasteful flamboyance. 

Gretsch Broadkaster

Adorning the Broadkaster’s iridescent body are classic Gretsch hardware appointments, in this case constructed with nickel. These include an anchored Adjusto-Matic bridge, a Bigsby B70 vibrato tailpiece, built-in strap locks and Gretsch’s familiar three volume, one tone control knob layout. Notably, the guitar’s silver pickguard features artwork by renowned artist Cleon Peterson, a close friend of Gourley’s and a collaborator in the design of this Broadkaster.

Another groovy addition to this guitar by Peterson are the lovely cloud inlays decorating its laurel fretboard. Adding to its unique aesthetic, these cloud inlays add another splash of personality to an instrument already glowing with energetic attitude. Matching the body, the fretboard is bound in sparkling silver, a great touch that ties the whole design together nicely. The laurel fretboard features 22 medium jumbo frets, a pleasantly flat radius of 12” and a Graph Tech NuBone nut with a width of 1.6875”, all specs that Gretsch fans will be right at home with.

The Broadkaster’s set-in neck is a speedy thin U-shape and is constructed with beloved tonewood maple. Featuring a nicely balanced scale length of 24.6”, the neck is also blessed with Gretsch’s Iridescent Black finish and has a smooth glossy feel. The Broadkaster is capped off by a headstock loaded with locking tuners, a custom rainbow design by Cleon Peterson and a truss rod cover inscribed with the words ‘It’s Grim Up North’, a tribute to the song of the same name by The JAMs and also potentially a reference to Gourley’s Alaskan roots.

Gourley’s Broadkaster is loaded with custom-wound, USA made Full’Tron pickups designed by the famed Tim Shaw. Designed to deliver full-spectrum sonic range with a distinctive snarl, these pickups offer a slightly more pronounced midrange that brings some serious tonal muscle to the table. When set clean, this guitar sounds warm, clear and full. The airy, open character of a semi-hollow body is definitely there, but it has a tight, firm attack and healthy sustain thanks to its centre block and thinner body. When affected with distortion, this guitar really screams. Prepare yourself to be struck by a crunchy wall of midrange goodness, with plenty of bite, punch and bottom end. 

USA made Full’Tron pickups

In the bridge position, the Full’Tron gleams with glossy, crystalline highs but never sounds unpleasantly piercing. With plenty of midrange grind and a solid bass response, this position is pure rock and roll, bright enough to slice through a dense mix but rounded enough to remain friendly to the ear even when really howling. 

The Broadkaster’s neck pickup sounds fat, with a sweet top end and a throaty midrange. When distorted, this pickup growls like hell and has an endless sustain perfect for smooth legato lead lines. Whilst this pickup is pretty hot and bottom-end heavy, it remains dynamic and bright enough to be heard in a band context. When set clean, it exhibits all the warmth and depth you’d ever want from a neck pickup, perfect for jazzy chords and whatever other lush clean tones your heart desires. 

The middle position, combining both pickups, adds a myriad of great tones to the Broadkaster’s arsenal. Thanks to independent volume controls working in unison with a master volume, players are able to blend the two pickups to suit themselves, carving out a specific frequency pocket to suit any musical situation. This method can be used almost like a toned down, half-cocked wah, ensuring you’ll be able to find a sweet spot in which your sound can shine through in a live context. 

The John Gourley Broadkaster is an explosive, attitude-driven instrument reflective of the nature of its namesake. With a focus on eye-popping design and a hot, rowdy sound, this guitar is everything you’d want in a Gretsch and more. From its uniquely gorgeous finish to its hot-rodded pickups, this is an instrument not to be underestimated. The thinner body of the Broadkaster as compared with its base model is a great customisation from Gourley, making the centre block design even more manageable, effective and powerful than ever before. 

With a double cutaway providing fantastic upper fret access, a Bigsby tailpiece for that classic Gretsch vibrato and all the other bells and whistles Gretsch fans have become accustomed to, this is a guitar for both Portugal The Man fanatics and guitar fanatics alike. Like all Gretsch guitars, the Broadkaster is visually striking, timeless in its design and utterly unique in its lush, deep, versatile sound. Gourley’s Broadkaster may be a modern, supercharged version of the centre block design but the fundamentals remain the same; great style, great feel and a hell of a great sound.

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