That Great Gretsch Sound!

Since 1883, when 27-year-old Friedrich Gretsch founded his little shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., making banjos, drums and tambourines, The Gretsch Company has grown to produce some of the world’s greatest drums and guitars over the span of four generations.

With its emphasis on hand-craftsmanship and commitment to quality, Gretsch has pioneered new designs and manufacturing techniques, winning endorsements from some of the music industry’s most respected artists, including Chet Atkins, Bono, Charlie Watts, Brian Setzer, Steve Ferrone, Neil Young, and Phil Collins.

Gretsch also owns and manufactures some of the other most popular and historic music industry products and brands including Bigsby® Vibratos and Sho-Bud® Pedal Steel Guitars.

History of That Great Gretsch Sound

“That Great Gretsch Sound” is the anthem that began when Friedrich Gretsch, an immigrant from Mannheim, Germany, founded a small shop in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1883. Before dying unexpectedly in 1895, Friedrich Gretsch created a dynasty that would last to this day and beyond.

He passed away while on a trip to his homeland, leaving the company to the enterprising mind of his fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch, who was still in knickers at the time. Energetic as he was enterprising, Fred Gretsch, Sr. built the business on a reputation for precision and quality. Two decades after assuming direction as “the boy in knickers,” he moved the operation to a mammoth ten-story building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn. From the Brooklyn-based headquarters he responded to the growing demand for more specialized instruments.

In 1935 Duke Kramer joined the company. Kramer provided valued counsel to the company for 70 years as the “string” that tied the generations together. He recalled, “that distinctive sound was our product--the sound that energized the market for decades.”

Fred Gretsch, Sr. retired from the company in 1942, his attire now the pressed suits of a successful businessman. Gretsch’s sons Fred, Jr. and William “Bill” — both of whom had been active in the business since 1927 — were well prepared to assume leadership.

Fred Gretsch, Jr. managed the operations briefly before leaving the company to serve with distinction as a commander in the Navy. Bill Gretsch stayed to run the family business. Duke Kramer recalls that “Bill was a man with a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best and a genius when it came to constructive counsel. His sense of humor was irresistible. When he passed away in 1948, a legion of individuals felt they lost their best friend.”

Gretsch History

Command was again passed to Fred Gretsch, Jr. and the Navy veteran led the company into a new age of prosperity. It was the explosion of the rock ‘n’ roll music ushered in by Elvis Presley and continued by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many other artists of the day. The company’s popularity grew with the explosion of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and 60s, attracting famous endorsees like George Harrison, Bo Diddley, Chet Atkins, and Charlie Watts.

In 1967 the Gretsch Company was sold to Baldwin, a music industry giant. But without the family dedication that had driven the business for so many years, the company began to falter.

As a testament to his passion for the family business, the company’s current president, Fred W. Gretsch, vowed to one day regain control. In 1985, he made good on his promise and bought The Gretsch Company back from Baldwin. He moved operations to Savannah, Ga., where the revitalized company began to offer new, vintage-styled Gretsch guitars and classic Gretsch drums. The new products were immediately successful and The Gretsch Company once again became a leading force in the musical instrument industry.

Today, Gretsch drums and guitars are the preferred instruments of many studio musicians and recording artists looking for unique tonal quality and hand-made craftsmanship. We invite you to join us in celebrating our musical history as we look ahead to the next 100 years of “That Great Gretsch Sound!”

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For additional information about the little known history of the women in the Gretsch family visit lookingoppositely.com. This site is maintained by Gretchen Elsner-Sommer, great granddaughter of Friedrich and Rosa Behman Schnappauf Gretsch.

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On a recent visit to the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville, Dinah & Fred discovered a particular exhibit that immediately captured their attention: a classic 1950s-era Gretsch drumkit played during Johnny Cash’s early touring years by W.S. “Fluke” Holland.

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Before relocating to 60 Broadway in 1916, The Gretsch Company operated from this seven-story building at 104 South 4th Street in Brooklyn, N.Y.  

View timeline of milestones since 1883.