If there's one section of the acoustic guitar market that could definitely use a nice dose of bolstering, its most definitely the entry level range. Luckily for all of us out there looking for a solid acoustic that won't thin out that wallet, Gretsch has the created the G9500 Jim Dandy as part of their Roots Collection. This line swaps Gretsch's tried and true sharp, classic '50s Americana feel for a more grassroots, home-town country look consisting of acoustics, mandolins, resonators and other folk-minded instruments. And it comes as no surprise that this new line happens to coincide at a time when these roots instruments are enjoying a new resurgence in popular music. Miniature acoustics, like the G9500 Jim Dandy in particular, are attracting players looking for some Delta blues and old-school country tones, but is this $150 guitar worth the cash?
The G9500 Jim Dandy acoustic specifically pays homage to the long forgotten line of Rex-Branded guitars that were produced by Gretsch during the 20s and 30s. Much like many of the acoustics produced by Stella, Gibson and Martin – not to mention all of those notoriously cheap models sold through Montgomery Ward catalogues along with Sears & Roebuck – Rex instruments helped quell the overwhelming dominance of banjos in popular music at the time.
Unlike the original Rex guitars which were manufactured in Kalamazoo,Michigan, the Jim Dandy is fully built in Indonesia and features an agathis body that measures 13 inches (330mm) across its lower end. The guitar also features its predecessors’ compact feel with its 24-inch scale neck.
The chubby, glued-in nato neck features a 12-inch radius rosewood fingerboard studded with 18 vintage profile frets, 12 of which are free from the body. You’ll be glad to know that the fretwork on the Jim Dandy is pretty much the best I’ve seen on an entry-market acoustic. With that said, the guitar definitely has a distinctive old-school vibe which is expertly emphasized with a semi-gloss Sunburst finish, hugged by a silk- screened body binding and effortless sound-hole rosette. The jumbo pearloid dot fingerboard inlays, white- buttoned nickel-plated open- gear tuners along with the 'Steel Reinforced Neck' legend and 'Gretsch,’ 'Jim Dandy' logos printed on the headstock certainly add extra accent to the vintage feel.
For those of you unfamiliar with old-timey country slang, ‘Jim Dandy’ essentially means something extremely ‘spiffy’ or ‘neat,’ and so far – its definitely living up to its name from the looks alone! But how does it play? To give it to you straight – if you’re looking for an inexpensive acoustic to take with you down to those crossroads that harkens the old-school tone of Robert Johnson, the Jim Dandy is by-far your best bet. It has a nice bright voice with just enough bass to balance it out a bit, although it must be said that I found the guitar better suited for fingerpicking (unsurprisingly) than strumming as fingertips instead of a pick help to simmer down the top-end and show off some of the Jim Dandy’s natural sweetness.
The stock D'Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze 0.012 to 0.053 strings help get the instrument's top feel more alive, and work pretty good for slide guitar. Meanwhile, the fat C profile neck is strong enough to support open tunings without the need for truss rod tweaks; the action is low enough to comfortably play chords and licks, yet can still accommodate rattle-free slide work, again showing off the guitar’s particular leanings.
Sure, no one is ever going to confuse the Jim Dandy for high-tier Martin or Taylor, but that’s not what this guitar was ever meant to be. But with that said, it’s definitely one of the best bang-for-your-buck entry-level acoustics that’s a blast to play. And it should definitely be mentioned that the Jim Dandy records very well and actually sounds fuller on ‘tape’ than I initially suspected. This well-built guitar instills some much needed character and variety to the typically stale entry-level acoustic market and is a great indicator that you shouldn’t have to shell out thousands of dollars for a solid instrument. Definitely worth every penny!