Updated: Jul 18
When I found out about the Rancher Falcon 12-string from Gretsch I couldn't believe my eyes and my ears. We're talking about a 12-string acoustic-electric guitar with a spruce top, maple back/sides, a mahogany neck, and a rosewood fingerboard, a Fishman Isys+ preamp system and Sonicore undersaddle pickup and oh yeah - it costs less than $700!!!
With these specs alone, I would expect this to be a plus $1250 guitar. If that wasn't enough to wow me, I then got my hands on one. When I saw the guitar it was love at first sight. I'm talking about the kind of guitar love you have where you immediately get nervous and pray that the instrument plays and sounds as good as it looks. The first strum satisfied me. Now back to the design.
While it's a very bold design that you will either love or hate, you can count me in the love column. It's big and bawdy like a 12-string should be. It's white with lots of gold accents. The guitar was inspired by the early 50s models. It has a very odd, but in a cool way, triangular sound hole and a highly-stylized pick guard. And did I mention the pick guard has a bird on it? BONUS!
Because the guitar is large, it is by default, nice and loud, but that doesn't mean muddy. The tones you hear from this guitar are bright. The solid spruce top gives you vibrant harmonics and projection that will most likely only get better with age. The scalloped X-bracing delivers a super rich and resonant sound. The only other 12-string I've played that sounded this good was the venerable Guild F-512. I had one way back in the day that was stolen from me in the St. Louis bus station...but that's another story.
The only way I can think to describe the sound of the Rancher is BIG. It has a big, luscious, sound. I think the triangular sound hole adds to the quality of the sound this guitar produces.
The Gretsch G5022CWFE-12 sounds even better when plugged in thanks to the Fishman preamp. Depending on your amplifier and any effects that you may want to add, this thing just sounds like it was born to record. Just a slight amount of reverb is enough for me to be happy when playing plugged in. Add some basic chorus and it's downright superb.
I paid to have the guitar professionally set up and the action on my neck is as good as it gets. Read below to find out more about the setup.
The Rancher Falcon 12-string offers a cutaway body style that adds to playability (and looks.) The neck is smooth and the fretwork is first rate which translates to an easy-to-play guitar. The neck is also slim. I am not talking metal guitar neck shredder thin, but thinner than most 12-strings I've played and that too translates to better playability. It is easily the most playable 12-string I have ever touched.
Not everyone wants a flashy guitar. If that's you, then keep on moving. This guitar makes a bold statement with its attention-grabbing looks. But it's not just a pretty face. The workmanship on my copy was first rate and produced plenty of volume with what I'd call a flexible tone. I was particularly impressed with the fret work. Again, remember this is a sub-$700 guitar. I didn't expect perfect frets at this price but this guitar has darn near perfect frets anyway.
It's a really big guitar so unless you're a really big person, playing while sitting it on your lap could be challenging. It has a tangibility to it that I like given my 6'2" standing. In other words, I am a big guy and I like a big guitar. While it's purely vain, many guitars look like a ukulele when strapped to my big body, so the jumbo nature of this 12-string appeals to me.
CAVEATS & MODS
If you've ever owned a 12-string, then you know keeping them in tune can be difficult. I did my research on this guitar and made the decision to do some mods before taking it home.
The tuners seemed just OKAY to me. Nothing wrong with them, but not as standout as I would like. Some reviewers called them mushy. While I wouldn't go that far, I can see why they said that. To put all those considerations to rest, I decided to spring for some Grover tuners. Grover is one of the most respected names in the business and since having good tuners is the first step to having good tune, I spent the $135 (normal retail is $225) for a set of 205G12 - 12 String, Gold Tuners from Grover. I will have to pay my guitar setup guy another $90 to drill out the tuner peg holes to handle the installation of the Grovers but to me, it will be worth it. The guitar is so affordable, I figured setting aside some money to make it perfect (for me anyway) was worth it.
I also switched out the factory strings for a set of Elixir Strings Polyweb 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings. These are great strings with a coating that extends their playability.
I also dropped some serious coin for the Plek Pro Fret Tusq XL Nut setup. This will aide in both playability and the ability to keep the guitar in tune. The new nut is more stable than the one Gretsch includes with the guitar. Not that there's anything wrong with the stock nut, I just wanted to overdo it with this baby. I wanted to make it as playable as possible. So beyond a standard setup, I went with the Plek Pro set up. The Plek system is a state-of-the-art, computer-guided process that scans, levels, and dresses the guitar's frets to a microscopic level of accuracy for ideal action with no loss of sustain, minimized fret buzz, and no fretting out when bending strings, plus complete consistency whether you're playing low or high on the neck.
I also added the biggest jumbo case that Gretsch makes. I had a notch cut in it so that I could fit the guitar in easily. Otherwise, the fit is so tight you have to remove the guitar strap pin. I didn't want to be hassled with that every time so I simply had the case modified.
All told, I turned my $699 12-string into a $1381 12-string (after new parts, installation, setup fees and tax.)
Did I go too far? You bet. Was it really necessary? Nope. But if I do something I don't like to do it half way. This instrument will be with me until I die. I didn't want to go cheap and the low purchase price allowed me to do all the luxury add-ons.
The best way to sum up my thoughts on the big Gretsch 12-string is to say that this guitar is a very pleasant surprise. The big jumbo over-performed its price point in every possible way. It's gonna be a player for me and at this point in time, it's the only 12-string in my collection. I am sure I will smile every time I take it out of the case. Just looking at it does that for me. Then I strum it and my budgeted 15-min practice session turns into 45-minutes. That's the highest compliment I can pay any guitar.