April 1, 2003

1956 Gretsch White Falcon & 1958 White Penguin

In their day, the hollowbody White Falcon and solidbody White Penguin were the top of the Gretsch line. The Penguin—as is typical of Gretsch’s other ’50s-era “solidbodies”—is actually heavily routed underneath the top, making it, in reality, a semi-hollow instrument. Both the Falcon and Penguin feature very distinctive pegheads, gold-sparkle bindings, white finishes, and gold-plated hardware. The early models have vertical peghead logos with gold wings, humptop engraved block inlays on ebony fretboards, single-coil DeArmond pickups, Melita bridges, and tubular “Cadillac” tailpieces with “G” logos. Double-coil Filter ’Tron pickups and thumbprint inlays were introduced in 1958, and a horizontal Gretsch logo appeared in 1959.

The White Falcon went to a double cutaway body shape in 1962, and the Penguin followed in 1963. The Falcon continued in the Gretsch line throughout the company’s history, but the Penguin was discontinued in 1964 with less than 100 instruments manufactured.

During the early ’70s, a stereo version of the 1959 Falcon was used onstage by Stephen Stills and Neil Young of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. During this period, I could get a higher price for a stereo 1959 Falcon than for an original 1959 sunburst Les Paul Standard. Today, however, a curly maple top sunburst Standard can bring well over $100,000, whereas the 1959 Falcon would probably not fetch more than $20,000.

The much more rare White Penguin has not been associated with any major artists, but these instruments are greatly sought by collectors. While I have heard of $80,000 being paid for a ’50s Penguin, a more realistic “going market rate” would be in the range of $50,000 to $60,000.

—George Gruhn,


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