“Every time I’ve played that guitar, people turn around”: Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley on his signature Gretsch and the music that shaped his life

Grammy-winning guitarist John Gourley has always done things his own way. Now he’s doing the same with a signature Broadkaster from Gretsch.

John Gourley playing his signature Gretsch Broadkaster

John Gourley playing his signature Gretsch Broadkaster

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John Gourley proves that there’s no right way to become a musician. Having grown up in a family of dog mushers and carpenters in Alaska, he was somewhat of a latecomer to finding bands like Nirvana and Oasis. He didn’t truly get into guitar until he started his band Portugal. The Man either, but if a Grammy Award and now a signature model with Gretsch doesn’t show that none of that stuff matters, we’re not sure what will.

“I remember I always thought that the best music had already been made,” he remembers, joining us on call from his tour bus amid a stint throughout the US. Gourley’s childhood was full of music from the 60s and 70s, which his father played around the house. “I never wanted to pick up a guitar because first of all, I’m not going to be as good as George Harrison. And second, the best songs have already been written.”

It wasn’t until Gourley began heading out into nearby towns and cities to play hockey that he began hearing the sounds of other artists, ones that made him stop in his tracks and reevaluate everything he thought he knew about what makes good music. “Nirvana is kind of like John Lennon, and Oasis is like The Beatles. If I’m being perfectly honest, they may have written a couple better songs than The Beatles have written, and that’s so wild. I remember hearing Champagne Supernova and Don’t Look Back In Anger and just thinking this is so incredible. It rivals great Beatles songs,” he says in a laid back manner, pausing often to reflect and ponder.

“[With] Nirvana, [it’s the] same thing. It has the energy [and] emotion of Lennon but it felt easy, like an introduction point, because there was somebody doing it today. Then I heard Wu-Tang, and they were sampling an era that I was really familiar with,” he adds. “It was a really beautiful thing hearing music from that era be repurposed in such a fresh way.”

John Gourley holding his Gretsch Broadkaster
John Gourley holding his Gretsch Broadkaster

Tactical Guitarist

Gourley’s own sonic footprint has probably made you stop in your tracks before too, because even if you think you don’t know any tracks from Portugal. The Man, you most definitely do. If you’ve not had Feel It Still with its earworm lyric melody, “Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now,” stuck in your head at some point, you probably haven’t turned on the radio or TV in the last five years.

The band now have nine albums under their wing – with their most recent being 2023’s Chris Black Changed My Life, a record dedicated to a friend and supporter of the group – and with such a progression of organic success behind him, the time feels right for Gourley to become one of a new breed of Gretsch signature artists. His brand new Electromatic Broadkaster is crafted for the tactical guitarist – the player who wants to slam on some trem, and throw their instrument around on stage.

It hosts a double-cutaway maple body with a chambered spruce centre block for enhanced resonance, a thin U-shaped maple neck with a laurel fingerboard, 22 medium jumbo frets and pearloid “cloud” inlays. It also comes equipped with USA Full’Tron humbucking pickups, and controls for master volume (with a treble bleed circuit), master tone, individual pickup volume controls, and a three-position pickup selector switch for “precise” tonal shaping.

“Man, every time I’ve played that guitar, people turn around to see what’s being played. And I’m just going to be real with you, I am not that guitarist!” He laughs. “Guitars play themselves to me. And they should. They all have their own life to them. But those pickups, I just really love the way it sounded. I wanted it to be a little bit lighter, to feel like something that you want to play live and not just be a piece of art on the wall.”

John Gourley holding his signature Gretsch Broadkaster
John Gourley holding his signature Gretsch Broadkaster

Although this Broadkaster is not intended as just a piece for your wall, it doesn’t compromise on looks either. It features artwork from Cleon Peterson, who Gourley has admired for many years, and from far away, you might just assume this model has a standard black finish. But closer up or when catching light, it reveals a stunning intergalactical iridescent look. The message of Portugal. The Man feels similar to that sentiment – it’s not just about the band, it’s about something much bigger.

The genre-fluid outfit founded the PTM Foundation in 2020 – an organisation which focuses on building community resilience, empathy and awareness through music, stories, art, education and connectivity – and Gourley also runs the Frances Changed My Life initiative with his wife and bandmate Zoe Manville, which honours his daughter Frances (who is also a very honest critic when it comes to his music and his biggest motivation), and aims to provide support for families who, similar to themselves, care for a child with a rare disease diagnosis. There’s much more to the music than meets the eye with this band, and it almost feels as if that energy is captured here.

“You’re definitely picking up on my thoughts in picking that colour,” he says, before reflecting on his own childhood. “I remember seeing those cars driving around for the first time with the iridescent chameleon paint job. I love how there’s so much depth to it. It could be anything. It could be whatever you want it to be, and that’s what music should be. I love that it presents as rock ‘n’ roll, and then you get a little bit closer and you’re like, ‘oh, there’s something else going on in there!’ That’s what makes rock ‘n’ roll fun.”

John Gourley’s signature Gretsch Broadkaster
John Gourley’s signature Gretsch Broadkaster

The Grail

Aside from its lighter weight, premium pickups, and its groovy finish, Gourley’s favourite feature by far is its Bigsby. “I remember watching Wayne’s World as a kid. You know when he sees the white Strat and it’s got the whammy bar? I’ve always liked some sort of arm on a guitar.

“The Bigsby though, it’s so robust. I can slam the hell out of that thing, I love just punching it down with my fists while I’m strumming a chord and letting it bounce back into place. And that is one of those beautiful things about Gretsch, [they] always bounce back into place,” he states. “It’s my most important piece of the guitar because I believe in the dynamics of the player. It’s probably the most important part of playing guitar, and I feel it’s so underappreciated as a skill.”

Gourley often plays through his 1964 Fender Super Reverb amp – “I’ve never played [through] another one like it,” he says. Aside from that, he assures he is “not a precious person” when it comes to gear: “I really don’t need a lot of pedals, but I use a Morley Wah. I use a [DigiTech] Whammy, just because of Dimebag Darrell. Dog, I gotta shout out the great. And then a [Electro-Harmonix] Big Muff.”

If you’d like to see Gourley’s simplistic guitar magic in action, you’ll be able to catch Portugal. The Man on the road until July, and he says they’ll offer you a taste from a variety of their records. Off stage, they’re also working on new music “which I’m really excited about. I’m excited to take this guitar in the studio and get songs out of it.”

John Gourley is an organic guitarist, for certain. No amount of fame or success appears to have changed him. It seems he has the true meaning of what it really means to be an artist down to a T: “We’re all nerds,” he says with a laugh. “I love listening to like black metal and going, ‘What nerds! These people are dorks.’ They’re writing their poetry about being dark and brooding. But really they’re people with humour and they’re people with depth.

“That’s one of my favourite aspects of music – we’re all just nerds writing our poetry and singing our songs and presenting it to people,” he says. “How cool that we have space to do it.”

Find out more about John Gourley’s signature Electromatic Broadkaster over at Gretsch. You can also head over to the official Portugal. The Man website to view their latest tour dates.

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