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This Is A Story About A Very Special 7-String Guitar



Our story is about the passion and the men who went to extraordinary lengths to bring a beautiful guitar back to life.  

JGT Editor Bob Bakert: In 1970 I was playing in a trio in Buffalo NY.  I decided I needed to be a better guitar player and was told Andy Roemer was my guy.  Andy was a student and disciple of the great George van Epps and a retired studio player in NYC. For various reasons he moved back home to Buffalo and started teaching.  

Andy Roemer

Andy was eccentric… He taught with a 59 “Burst” that he had drilled “dowels” into to accept a knee appendage to make the guitar sit on your knee like a full-size archtop… It was god-awful ugly but functional and in those days before the vintage craze, those guitars were cheap.  Fast forward 50 years, I was in touch with Andy’s son Drew about some of Andy’s charts and arrangements.  He had mentioned the guitars he had but sadly the burst had been gone for years (damn)…  

Next thing I know Steve Herberman has acquired the 7-string Gretsch and told me it was with master luthier Gary Zimnicki for a complete restoration.  Little did I know the guitar was beyond anything anyone would consider a “restoration” it was an unbelievable mess.  Andy had worked his “magic” on it and contained in 18 YouTube videos stating HERE you can follow the complete restoration process.  It’s crazy!!! For me, it is meaningful as I remember my time with Andy Roemer, my first teacher. 

Guitarist Steve Herberman Discusses Andy Roemer’s 1975 Gretsch Van Eps 7-String Restoration Project

Steve Herberman: In 1983 I made one of my regular trips over to the American Guitar Center in Rockville MD where I saw a late 60’s Gretsch Van Eps 7 string hanging on the wall. I was aware of George Van Van Eps and his Gretsch model through the 1981 cover feature in Guitar Player magazine. I had been playing jazz for a couple of years but had never played a 7-string. Initially, I found playing the 7 string very confusing, and after a few minutes put the guitar down.  I’ve never stopped thinking about that early experience. In 1993 I bought my first 7-string guitar and have been playing them exclusively ever since.  

Fast forward to May of 2021 when a post on a 7-string Facebook group caught my eye. Drew Roemer, the son of guitar guru Andy Roemer, was giving away two of his father’s guitars that had been in a Florida garage for over 25 years. After conversing with Drew I became the lucky recipient of the Gretsch 7 string. The guitar was in very rough shape but after a brief conversation with the master luthier Gary Zimnicki, I realized that it likely could be restored and that Gary was the right person to do it. 

The tailpiece attached to the soundboard, the funky bridge, and the cover that was screwed on where the pickup should have been.

The final restored Gretsch 7-string by Gary Zimnicky

The final restored Gretsch 7-String
The final restored Gretsch 7-String back

There are connections leading directly to George Van Eps with this instrument. Andy Roemer was one of Van Eps’ students and a fine teacher and player in his own right. The tailpiece on my restored Gretsch came directly from the Van Eps family via master luthier Kirk Sand, who worked on George’s guitars in California. 

I’m very happy with the instrument and decided to record a short demo video of “I’m All Smiles” which sums up the experience of finally getting to see and play the instrument some 10 months after my first conversations with Drew and Gary. I’ll always be grateful to the Roemer family and to Gary Zimnicki and Jeff Kline who assisted Gary in the restoration of the guitar. 40 years after playing that first Gretsch Van Eps 7 string, I’m delighted to finally have one in my small collection of 7-string guitars. 

Find out more about the restoration process from master luthier Gary Zimnicki.

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