The baseline SH550 costs considerably less than two grand–but lots of custom shop options are available, and our review instrument sports many of them. The most obvious upgrade on display is the gorgeous Honey Burst AAAA flame-maple top, matched by an equally beautiful back, both of which are complemented by the flame-maple sides, neck, and headstock, fitted with gold-plated hardware. Stainless-steel frets and abalone inlays grace the ebony fretboard. There’s even a 24-karat gold-plated headstock logo. Suffice to say, this is one snazzy guitar.

Upon closer examination, the excellent overall craftsmanship becomes apparent. The woodworking is superb, from the gently arching top with its binding-like exposed sides to the smoothly contoured edges along the back and the neck heel to the immaculate inlay work on the fretboard. The 22 medium-jumbo frets, too, are perfectly set and dressed. Attention to detail is obviously the name of the game here.

The SH550’s “Rapid Play” neck is relatively narrow and thin, which, combined with the guitar’s deep cutaway, makes for quick moves throughout the instrument’s full range. Straight out of the case the action was set very low, resulting in mild buzzing in a few spots and some choked notes when bending strings above the 10th fret–but both problems were easily remedied by adjusting the bridge slightly. Post-tweaking, the guitar played like a dream, with no dead spots anywhere on the fretboard, and even response across all strings. The intonation was also excellent, and the instrument retained its tuning even when played aggressively, due at least in part to the locking Sperzel machines.

Although the SH550 has only single Volume and Tone controls, when used in tandem with the pickup selector and the bridge pickup’s coil-splitting capabilities, the guitar proved surprisingly versatile (the $40 option provides two Volume and two Tone controls with individual push-pull coil splitting). When played through a Victoria Ivy League combo it produced big, round, warm tones suitable for traditional jazz and clean rhythm work, whereas it got down and dirty through a cranked Marshall JMP-1H, with all the requisite snarl and bite for classic rock sounds–from Page-like bridge-pickup squawk to sweet Claptonesque neck-pickup Woman Tone. Paired with a Rivera Venus 6 combo, it yielded an even wider variety of sounds–including bluesy crunch and searing fusion tones–proving that the SH550 has the flexibility to handle nearly any musical style other than, say, ultra-twangy old-school country on the one hand and supersaturated modern metal on the other.

I had so much fun playing the SH550 that I found it difficult to put down. The combination of physical beauty, inspiring tones, and appealing playability make for an alluring musical experience

I don’t often hold $12,000 guitars in my hands, and, as I have a completely innocent proclivity to, urn, “wound” instruments at gigs, I was pretty much fouling myself in fear while reviewing the CST 6120. Happily, for the sake of my intestines, the Gretsch family, and this fine guitar, the manufacturer needed the CST 6120 returned almost immediately, so all testing was done in the relative safety of the Guitar Player soundroom. I ran this custom-shop-crafted 6120 through a Marshall 50th Anniversary JMP-1H head and lx12 cabinet, a tweed Victoria combo (loaded with a 12″ Jensen), and a Fishman SA 220. For added fun, I tossed in a Hartmann Tommy Bolin Fuzz and a Boss RE-20 Space Echo.

The CST 6120 produces a full-bodied acoustic zing before you even go near an amplifier. There’s a nice chunk-and-shimmer to pick attacks, and fingerpicked parts are clear and articulate. If recorded with nothing but a decent microphone, this guitar could sub quite ably for a flat-top acoustic. It should be no surprise to Gretsch fans that, once plugged in, the CST 6120 delivers a beautiful and vibey Duane Eddy-style tone for single-note runs and bass-string riffs. You get that thick, low-midrange pop, along with a smooth treble. These tonal colors remained intact throughout clean to gritty settings on the test amps, but obviously compressed a bit for more saturated sounds (though no low-end mud was audible at any time). I preferred the bridge pickup for rockier sounds, and basked in that ballsy, punk-esque roar that The Living End’s Chris Cheney’s goes for. The tone still has some nice pop and thud, but the bridge pickup also produced a singing, stinging, edgy treble. I couldn’t bring myself to really bash on this posh jewel, but dynamic impact was excellent–both while adjusting Volume controls and easing up on pick and finger attacks.

Cosmetically, the CST 6120 is stunning. It’s hard not to be beguiled by the Lake Placid Blue finish, the gold hardware, and the cat’s eye f-holes. Workmanship is excellent, as it should be for this price. Playability is similarly outstanding for a hollowbody–although the placement and nature of the controls can take some getting used to, and for 12 grand, I’d prefer a 2-position, off/on kill switch, rather than the somewhat head-scratching 3-position switch offered here (on/off/on).

Ultimately, the CST 6120 is an exquisite example of the classic Gretsch hollowbody. But, at more than $12,000, I can’t imagine it as a gigging instrument. (I can’t even believe I held this beauty in my hands without turning to dust.) So if you’re into truly collectible 6120s, and want something spectacular to match your powder blue Bentley, this is definitely your go-to guitar.-