Gretsch’s reaction to the Les Paul led to the development of the Duo Jet in 1953, one year after the Les Paul entered the market. It was their first solid body electric. Well, technically speaking the body is chambered, therefore putting it into a category of "semi-solid" as described by Gretsch.
Sales of the Duo Jet were solid and there were several iterations as the decade progressed.
About the same time Gretsch introduced their “concept guitar”, a showpiece meant to attract attention at the summer NAMM show in 1954. Inspired by the same marketing technique employed by auto-makers at car shows this beast was not meant to go into production. It was meant to generate buzz.
Enter the Gretsch White Falcon. It featured show-stopping 24-karat gold hardware on top of a solid white body. The choice of white not only made the gold appointments “pop”, it may have been the first time anyone had seen a solid white guitar before.
Other aesthetics included a sparkle gold binding, feather-engraved fret inlays, gold tailpiece, and a fancy winged headstock.
Enough buzz was generated at the show that Gretsch was literally forced to bring it into production.
The White Falcon was the brainchild of Jimmie Webster who was a demo-guy for Gretsch and traveled around promoting Gretsch guitars to dealers and media outlets. He was a great marketer and was responsible for signing Chet Atkins as an endorser and getting his signature guitar created.
Additionally, Jimmie was a great player and innovated a certain technique he called the “Touch System”. It’s now called finger tapping.
Jimmie went on to have a long-lived career with Gretsch that included many style and hardware introductions beyond his marketing and playing pizazz.
The White Falcon went on to have a number of changes through the latter half of the 1950s including inlay changes, pickups, and a different bridge. The Bigsby didn’t show up as a standard feature until 1962.
Original 1955 White Falcon specs: Spruce top, Maple body & neck, Madagascar ebony fretboard, Pearloid and gold fret inlays, Grover tuners, Dual Gretsch-Dynasonic pickups, ALL metal hardware plated in 24k gold.
The White Falcon retailed for $600 back in ‘55.