As a hot rod enthusiast, Brian Setzer loves to have his guitars customized to make them extra flashy and memorable. From his first Gretsch, the famous ‘59 6120 covered with cool stickers, to his Hot Rod series, Setzer has been playing cool unusual guitars for decades. When Gretsch made him a signature model, Setzer came up with the Hot Rod concept, basically a more reliable and roadworthy version of his trusty 6120, complete with TV Jones pickups, a pinned adjustable bridge and locking tuners.
And of course, the Hot Rods were presented in an array of flashy sparkle colors, including this gorgeous Lime Gold. But this Hot Rod has been hot rodded! What was originally a pretty showy guitar has gone completely over the top thanks to the artistic work of rock n’ roll painter Neal Hamilton. Hamilton has painted Brian Setzer’s back on the front and Brian’s face on the back. Brian circa 1979 that is, complete with skinny tie and pompadour. Spurts of red and blue à la action painting perfectly complement the gold finish, and the Brian Setzer red loho makes it even clearer in case you had a doubt.
Brian has played and signed this guitar above the upper f-hole, which makes it an even more desirable collector’s item for many Setzer fans.
Group : Stray Cats
Main guitar : Gretsch 6120 1959
An absolute “must-hear” track : Rock This Town
The Stray Cats’ first album struck the musical landscape of the 1980s like an earthquake. When the eponymous record was released in 1981, the tastes of the day tended towards convulsive drum machines and synthesisers. Going completely against the grain, Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker, and Slim Jim Phantom’s trio reminded the world of how much the primal energy of rockabilly could provide a thrill without resorting to such decorations.
Since then, the rockabilly revival has never entirely waned and even the roughest-edge punks still retain an unconditional respect for Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. All this is thanks to Brian Setzer and his radical, non-conformist, and brilliant vision. His energetic and raspy voice, his amazing guitar playing, and his stage presence won over even the most recalcitrant, without falling into easy nostalgia.
Setzer’s approach to the guitar is obviously inspired by great elders like Scotty Moore or Cliff Gallup, but he adds a more saturated sound, more fluid phrasing, and the omnipresent influence of Django.
Like any self-respecting meteorite, the Stray Cats’ life was very short, and they split up in 1984, although they have sometimes got together again in the years since. Despite myriad different signature models from Gretsch, Setzer’s sound recipe will always remain very close to the original, i.e. a 6120 plugged into a blonde Bandmaster stack via a Roland Space Echo effects unit.
Setzer then launched his solo career, later joined Robert Plant in The Honeydrippers, and—most importantly—in 1990 he took on his wildest and most ambitious project: the Brian Setzer Orchestra. This big band of 18 musicians—in theory impossible to make financially viable—will soon have been touring regularly for thirty years, often around the end-of-year celebrations. Setzer’s talent was needed to so brilliantly overcome that challenge.