A Gretsch Guitar Story
Gretsch Guest Blogger John Standefer tells the story of his recent travel woes involving his Gretsch G6120T-55 guitar.
I have owned several Gretsch guitars in my life, most of them back in the ‘60s when I was just getting started. My guitar “mentor” in those days was Chet Atkins and I still enjoy that vintage Gretsch sound he made popular back then. I was absolutely delighted when I found that the current Gretsch lineup included the 6120T-55, a remarkable composite of Chet’s own guitars from the mid ‘50s. The main feature I really like is the DynaSonic pickups. These babies really produce the classic “Chet tone” I’ve always wanted. I ended up buying one in early March of this year (2018)…with a specific plan in mind.
I have been a featured performer and teacher at the annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in Nashville for nearly 20 years now. At these shows I have always played an acoustic guitar. This year I wanted to work up some great old-school Chet arrangements and play them on the “orange Gretsch” as a sort of surprise for everyone. For the next few months I worked up a number of pieces for the show. As July was approaching I then began to wonder how I was going to fly with the new guitar. On every flight for years I’ve always carried my acoustic guitar onboard and I have curb-checked my suitcase and amp (in a flight case). This time, however, I had an extra guitar. The only option was to check it in as baggage. The 6120 is a sturdy guitar and it comes in a nice hardshell case so I figured I’d be safe this once.
[Let me take a moment at this point to describe my “flight mentality.”]
For around 18 years now I have flown exclusively with Southwest Airlines – and for good reasons. I always check 2 pieces of luggage everywhere I go (Southwest doesn’t charge a dime extra for them). And, more importantly, I carry an expensive guitar onboard (I have never had a problem doing this with Southwest when other airlines have historically been difficult to deal with). Southwest also seems to always have flights to wherever I’m going and at a reasonable price. I have become a loyal customer. Anyway, back to the story at hand…
In July I had a house concert in Michigan and one in West Virginia before heading to Nashville. When I landed at the airport in Detroit my Gretsch didn’t show up on the carousel. It also wasn’t in “oversized baggage”. When I found it, it was sitting outside the door of the baggage office. The case was smashed in at the neck from what looked like a blow from a softball bat. It turned out that the neck was split right down the middle (about 12 inches) and the fingerboard had been jarred loose. Making a long story short, it was destroyed and not usable for the upcoming gigs at all.
From a personal and musical perspective I was, of course, sick over the thing and I had to completely revamp my set lists and quickly rehearse a bunch of new material just to be able to play. It’s always devastating to lose an instrument that you prize and especially one that you had geared your shows around. Nevertheless, I had to carry on.
The good news is that the Southwest staff were very understanding and supportive all along the way and, after about a month of filling out forms and sending in photos and paperwork, they simply wrote me a check for a new guitar–without a single discouraging word. This is the way customer service should work and it actually reinforced my loyalty to Southwest. I ordered the replacement guitar and it just arrived at my house. I’m really looking forward to getting back at it on the Gretsch and I really appreciate Gretsch’s commitment to making super high-quality instruments and providing such a great variety of historically-significant upper end guitars for guys like me who appreciate them.
Lastly, just a word about how I could have possibly bettered my chances with the handling of a second guitar on a flight. Instead of just checking it in at the curb, I could have carried both guitars through security and then gate-checked the Gretsch. That could have very well ensured safer handling. I could have also gotten a flight case. I have done this in the past but I do have to say that a good fitting ATA flight case can run $1,000, so it’s a serious investment. If my wife or a friend had been traveling with me, someone else could have carried the other guitar on board. Even with all those precautions, however, bad things can happen in baggage. And I know that my experience of getting a check for full replacement cost is not always the end scenario either. I’m very fortunate.
So…I guess my advice to others would have be this: (#1) Don’t take more than one instrument when you fly or (#2) Buy a flight case – or else your own “tour bus” to cut the airlines out altogether! Ha! Anyway, it’s been a whirlwind of excitement for me for these past few months and I’m looking forward now to some sense of normalcy–and the chance to get better acquainted with my new guitar! Happy pickin’!
— John Standefer
John Standefer in a national fingerstyle guitar champion and has been playing and teaching guitar professionally for over 50 years. Learn more about him by visiting his website and watch John as he tips his hat to Chet Atkins on the Gretsch G6120T-55 he lost in this video: