Pros: Highly stylized recreation of a unique guitar (and it's sound).
Cons: Not for mass tastes (which may not be a con for some).
Gretsch dares you to be different with this pretty close approximation of the original Bo Diddley guitar. Before Brian May of Queen, Bo made his own guitar using Gretsch electronics and neck and mated those to a rectangular piece of wood and a floating bridge and tailpiece. Also, there were no synthesizers on his records either.
Square guitars aren't an orignal idea, incidently. Both Leo Fender and Les Paul made their prototypes with simple chunks of wood.
However, Bo Diddley's contribution to the minimalist school of guitar design is that his didn't need a bench and could be played like a regular guitar. He later had two separate custom designs made by an independent luthier, and one by Gretsch. The former was named the "Mean Machine," and the latter, "Big B."
What makes this guitar unique in the Gretsch product line is that it's been issued in a few different versions. Two were issued as part of the ill-fated Historic series (one full size, and another a 3/4 model). An expensive limited edition was created, and this G5810, which is part of the Electromatic line. That's a lot of square guitars.
Except for the limited edition, these guitars are quite inexpensive, both new and used. Which makes sense, it's really just a wooden rectangle with a bolt-on neck, with a modern bridge substituted for the old tailpiece assembly. Add some decent Gretsch humbuckers and you have a pretty good screamer in the 300-400 dollar range (thanks to Asian manufacture).
Which makes one wonder why even an American made Telecaster (which is only a little more complex in construction) hits the 900.00 mark for an American Standard. That point is made rhetorically, as we all know that Teles cost that much because people will pay it.
In spite of the love-it-or-hate-it design, the Bo guitar is certainly a classic. As much so as the Flying V and the Explorer designs, as it really should be judged in that class of guitar. It was made to be different than the mainstream and make a statement, and it did that as much as any other design.
This guitar has the two main strengths inherent in a classic Bo Diddley song. One, it's a cut and slash rhythm guitar with that metallic Gretsch bottom that will dominate the mid and upper ranges in any band. This isn't a Gibson.
Secondly, it's lead voice is sharp and piercing at it's best, like in Bo's "Who Do You Love," which wasn't anything like George Thorogood's well known version. If you listen to Bo's "I'm A Man," or the immortal "Mumbling Guitar" (you'll see where the Yardbirds came from), you'll have here the instrument that will take you to that place.
There are some aspects of the guitar worth noting. You do have to be a little careful with it. I did bang my leg with one of the corners of this plank when sitting down. Luckily, it's not as heavy as it looks. The balance is OK, but with no sculpting, it is like having a straight edged plank on your leg. Like the V, it's probably at it's best as a stage guitar.
Also, the plain finish emphasizes the minimalist look of the guitar a little too much. To the point where it makes it look cheaper than it is, or worse, less cool than it could be. A nice glossy finish in candy apple red or some spectacular graphic would raise the cool quotient tenfold.
Given it's flat surface, the owner could find this a nice blank canvas for the usual decals, interesting stencil work, etc. Certainly a refinishing job wouldn't be all that expensive given how simple the surface is.
The reason I'm focusing so much on the looks is that in terms of the electronics, this guitar really doesn't need the usual pickup and wiring upgrade. If this guitar is about anything, it's style, or anti-style.
If you're buying this guitar to emulate the classic Bo Diddley sound, it's more than good enough if you crank up the reverb, mid and treble. This is as specialized a guitar as an archtop or twelve string.
The old Bo Diddley records were classics of the 50's rhythm and blues sound. Lots of echo, reverb, cheap sounding tremelo, and plenty of that Gretsch treble attack. For that, you don't need an expensive guitar, just one that can recreate that feel. Remember, that sound was created by a homemade guitar.
This one does the job just fine and at a realistic price. A great second or third guitar.
In this case, being square does mean diddley.