But they're also pretty pricey. Musician's Friend offers the 6120 DSV for around $2,300.00.
So when someone says they want the 6120 feel, but can't swing the cost, I direct them to the 6118. The 6118 is often ignored but shouldn't be. Spec-wise it's VERY close to a 6120 and used they usually go for about $1,200-1,500.00 on the used market. You could potentially save a thousand bucks over a new 6120 if you purchased a 6118 instead. When buying new, you'll save less but a new 6118 (no Bigsby) goes for $1,750.00 but there's still a substantial saving.
I have a 6118T. It's even closer to the specs of a 6120 because of the "T" which stands for "tremolo." I know, I know, it's a vibrato, but still, the designator is "T." I upgraded the pickups to TV Jones Classics which are my favorite pickups this side of a Telecaster, and everything else is stock.
I've played more than few 6120s in my life and will never pass up an opportunity to play another. The same goes for ANY Gretsch. I just think they're really cool guitars.
Anyway, I directed Dave to the sale and he snatched it up. Jokingly, I said he should send it my way for quality control, since he's all the way in England. He said that since the seller was offering free shipping in the States, it would probably cost the same to ship it from the seller's house as it would to ship it from mine, and I could indeed look over it for a couple of weeks.
"Sure," I say. No problem. I'll look after your guitar, play it thoroughly, note my experiences, and publish them on the Fret.
Well, here they are!
There are only 20 black stock 6120DSVs in the world at this time. Dave has one of them. Most 6120s are in some sort of orange with a few exceptions being black (but not a DSV), blue burst, natural, Setzer Hot Rod colors, his SSUGR green finish, and perhaps a few other colors I'm forgetting to mention here right now. My point is that the overwhelming majority of 6120s are orange.
There are a slew of little differences in the 6120 line. Locking tuners, bracing, knobs and switches, Bigsby vibrato or no, Dynasonic pickups or FilterTron pickups, headstock inlays, fretboard inlays, etc. etc.
The 6118T is much more stripped down with less binding and less offerings in the Gretsch catalog.
Dave's 6120DSV is based on early Chet Atkins 6120s that came out just after he eschewed the western appointments you can find the 6120 DSW ("W" in this case stands for "Western"). It's understated and classy. All tone, very little flash.
So let's see how they compare!
These pickups are both great, but definitely different from each other. The FilterTron does a pretty decent job of TRYING to sound like a single coil while being silent, and the Dyna has a more pronounced single-coil tone (because it's a single-coil) but it's a much fatter tone than, say, a Telecaster. Listen to any Duane Eddy song to get a good vibe for how Dynasonics sound.
The thing about Dynas though is that they're picky and each player is going to have a different tonal goal and this will require some work adjusting the pickup casing and the individual magnets (as well as the tone knob), but once you get it set up, it will sound amazing.
In contrast the FilterTron is much more "plug and play" and requires little, if any, adjustments.
6120DSV: Soundpost bracing
6118T: It depends. The norm is supposed to be soundpost bracing as well but there have been more and more reports of the heavier trestle bracing coming out of the factory and the 125th 6118T-LTV (which is the same cost as a 6120) features a hybrid soundpost/trestle bracing known as "ML Bracing."
Regarding bracing, the general rule of thumb is that the less bracing inside the guitar, the more open, airy, and acoustic the guitar will sound. This leads to less note definition, but that's also the traditional "hollowbody" tone. I prefer the additional tightness and definition the 6118T's sometimes-trestle bracing offers, even if it means less acoustic resonance.
6120DSV: Very nice Duane Eddy handle which has a very solid and responsive feel to it.
6118T: "Butter knife" Bigsby arm which is thin and flat. It gets the job done, but doesn't look or feel nearly as nice.
6120DSV: 1 Pickup switch, 1 Tone knob, 2 Volume knobs (1 for each pickup), 1 Master Volume knob
6118T: 1 Pickup switch, 1 Tone switch (also known as a "mud switch"), 2 Volume knobs, 1 Master Volume Knob
6120DSV: Bar Bridge - They say mass is everything and nothing is more comfortable to palm mute on than a bar bridge.
6118T: Space Control Bridge - Lighter than a bar and features the ability to space your strings individually on a threaded rail. Some people have complaints about this bridge as a "tone sucker" but I have zero complaints and prefer it to any other bridge.
6120DSV: Humpblock "Alamo" inlays - Fantastic looking!
6118T: Neo-classical "Thumbnail" inlays - underwhelming, compared to the humpblock inlays.
6120DSV: Outer edges of body, f-holes, neck, headstock - The cream color of the binding plays really, REALLY well with the black and the f-hole binding lends a lot of class to the guitar without being overwhelming (read: ESP/LTD's obsession with trying to transplant all abalone from nature to guitars to "class it up").
6118T: Outer edges of body - The lack of binding and the thumbnail inlays actually play together in a great exercise of practicality because the inlays you see on the top of the fretboard carry over to the side as well so instead of covering the edge of the inlay and putting a dot on it like you would expect on a guitar neck, you just have these big dashes helping guide your way to the destined notes.
Generally Gretsch offers guitars that feature Dynasonics with rosewood fretboards and guitars offered with FilterTron pickups with ebony fretboards. I don't think one is particularly "better." The solid black fretboard looks nice and creates a good contrast with the thumbnail inlays, but the rosewood fretboard has some really nice figuring and just looks classy.
6120DSV: Grover Sta-Tites
6118T: Grover Sta-Tites
What can I say? They're great tuners. Gretsch fans will swear up and down locking tuners are convenient to have but not because of tuning stability but because it helps out a lot with restringing the guitar. Restringing a guitar with a Bigsby is... tricky and you'll think more than once that it would be SUPER awesome if you had three arms.
6120DSV: Horseshoe Inlay
6118T: Chrome "Anniversary" plate
I'm not a fan of the looks of a plate. I feel like it looks a lot cheaper than a proper inlay, but the savings have to come from somewhere, right?
6120DSV: 2.75" at its deepest
6118T: 2.5" at its deepest
So many 6120s feature a 2.75" depth, so I really thought there would be more to it tone-wise, but I couldn't hear a difference (or it was lost in all the different variables). I could FEEL a definite difference though, particularly while playing on the couch and can safely say that the quarter-inch is noticeable and I prefer the 2.5" depth instead.
6120DSV BLK: Gold
The gold hardware looks amazing on the black 6120, but would look awful on the 6118T. Meanwhile if the 6120 had chrome hardware, I think it would definitely look like a cheaper version of itself.
It was interesting being able to compare these two guitars side by side and through the same equipment for an extended period of time and I thank Dave MacLeod for letting me do it. I had a lot of questions regarding bracings and their effects on tone and questions about Dynasonics and this little adventure answered them all.
It also made me much happier with my 6118T. Previously I had been thinking about swapping out the pickups, and I occasionally get all lusty for a 6120 of some sort, but overall I think the 6118T is more up my personal alley.
The 6120 outclasses the 6118T in just about every way (I think the green of the 6118 is unbeatable though), from the inlays to the binding to the headstock and I'll always appreciate that fact, but the 6118T is no slouch either and I think tone-wise if you had a Filter 6118 and a Filter 6120, there would be minimal difference. Even feel between these two guitars are remarkably similar (my neck features a bit more of a "soft V" to it but the necks are hand-carved and no two are EXACTLY the same).
In the end I think you're paying for the options you don't get with a 6118 when you buy a 6120. If you want the fabulous binding, better-looking headstock, different inlay options, and the ability to get Dynasonics instead of FilterTrons, you're pretty much forced to look at a 6120. If you're looking for Filters in a guitar though, the 6118 should probably be your first step to see what you think.
You could be saving yourself some money.
If you decide that the 6120 is more up your alley, that's great. These two instruments are great and there are no losers here. Either way, you're getting a Gretsch!