Gretsch Rocked Nashville & Summer NAMM 2019
Temperatures were hot in Nashville, Tennessee this past July 18 through 20 when the music industry gathered for the annual Summer NAMM trade show. But excitement in the exhibit halls of Nashville’s Music City Center was even hotter, as attendees got a chance to check out thousands of new guitars and accessories, along with drums and percussion, band and orchestral instruments, and pro audio equipment.
Much of that excitement was directed at Gretsch guitars, Gretsch drums, and GretschGear logo wear. And there were also some very special appearances and performances to capture everyone’s attention. Here’s a look at what all the buzz was about.
As soon as the show opened on Thursday, July 18, Gretsch aficionados made their way to the GretschGear booth to check out the latest imprinted T-shirts, hats, and other apparel items as well as collectibles–not only for the Gretsch brand but also for Sho-Bud and Leedy!
Gretsch friend Heather Sabellico proudly displayed a Gretsch Drums hat while “holding down the fort” at the booth. And Heather’s shirt let everyone know that GretschGear.com is not just any Gretsch retail store but…#WEAREGRETSCH, family owned and operated and THE number one source for genuine Gretsch merchandise.
Also regulars at the GretschGear booth were the Gretsch Company’s Executive Vice President and CFO Dinah Gretsch (at left below), 5th generation daughter Lena Thomas, and Lena’s son, 6th generation Logan. Lena heads up GretschGear and is celebrating 25 years in the Gretsch family business this year, while Mrs. Gretsch is celebrating 40 years in the music industry having joined Gretsch in 1979!
Not far from the GretschGear booth was the exhibit of Hal Leonard. Formerly one of the biggest print publishing companies in the music industry, Leonard has now become one of the biggest distributors of musical instruments and accessories. They are the USA/Canada distributor for Gretsch “popular priced” drums: Renown, Catalina, and Energy. On display at this year’s Summer NAMM show were three attractive—and attractively priced—drumkits.
At the entry level is the Energy Street kit, shown below in Ruby Sparkle. A kit popular for its compact size, great looks, and pro-quality sound is this Catalina Club model, finished in eye-catching Blue Satin Flame. For drummers seeking the traditional sound of an all-maple kit, Gretsch offers the Catalina Maple series. This kit features a Black Stardust finish.
Ably representing the Gretsch drum operation at this year’s NAMM show was Andrew Shreve, who holds the title of Gretsch Drums Brand Manager. Andrew is a talented veteran of many years in the percussion industry, and he brings that experience—and loads of enthusiasm—to his position.
It happens that 2019 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of jazz drumming great Art Blakey. Art is best known for his many years as founder and drummer for the Jazz Messengers, a group that served as a springboard for two generations of stellar jazz instrumentalists. Messenger alumni include Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, and both Wynton and Branford Marsalis.
It also happens that in the “golden age” of jazz (the late 1940s through the early 1960s), Art was a leading light on the Gretsch artist roster. In fact, he appeared in no fewer than six high-visibility Gretsch advertisements during that period, making him one of the most visible jazz drummers of his day. To commemorate Art’s birthday and long-time association with Gretsch drums, Hal Leonard and Gretsch collaborated on a unique poster featuring those six ads.
As a special treat for Gretsch dealers attending the NAMM show, Fred and Dinah Gretsch personally signed 100 limited-edition posters. They did this under the watchful eye of Brad Smith, Hal Leonard’s vice president of musical instrument products, who helped to supervise the creation of the poster.
Speaking of signing things, Fred and Dinah Gretsch drew a crowd just outside the Gretsch Guitars booth early in the show. There they autographed photos and chatted with dozens of hardcore Gretsch fans. And since this was Nashville, there were lots of guitar pickers among those fans.
Once they stepped into the Gretsch Guitars booth, fans were awed by the “wall o’ guitars” display that they found there.
Of course, equally awe-inspiring was the lovely Dinah Gretsch, surrounded by guitars bearing her family name. How many ladies can make that claim?
To outline the new guitars on display, we’ll start with two Electromatic Double Jet models. Each features a Bigsby vibrato, Black Top Filter’Tron pickups, and a laurel fingerboard. And new in the Electromatic series are the Center Block Double-Cut models. They feature Black Top Broad’Tron humbucking pickups and laurel fingerboards and also come equipped with the famous Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. The guitar shown up close features a beautiful Georgia Green finish.
Gretsch didn’t introduce only electric guitars. For those who like to strum at home, there’s the new Limited-Edition Rancher Penguin acoustic parlor model. This one comes finished in a stunning Midnight Sapphire color.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the legendary rockabilly revival group, the Stray Cats. They’re led by guitar icon Brian Setzer, and Gretsch had new Brian Setzer Signature Nashville Hollow Body ’59 models on display at Summer NAMM. They’re equipped with Bigsby tailpieces and T.V. Jones pickups. The two guitars shown here feature Smoke Orange and Black finishes, respectively.
The amazing work of the Gretsch USA Custom Shop was represented by a unique guitar created for Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. Appropriately enough, it’s called the Magpie.
Steve Wariner, the Nashville Gentleman
Even amid all the other remarkable guitars on display, the unquestioned showpiece of the Gretsch booth was the new Steve Wariner Signature Nashville Gentleman guitar. It was designed with and named for the fingerpicking-style superstar.
Steve’s signature guitar was officially launched at the show with a concert appearance by him and his band on Friday, July 19 at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville. Sponsored by Gretsch Guitars, the concert was attended by invited guests from the industry, along with the entire Gretsch family, including Fred and Dinah Gretsch, daughter Lena Thomas and her son Logan, and Fred & Dinah’s grandson, Daniel Gretsch. (They’re shown here, along with Steve and his lovely wife, Caryn.)
The concert opened with a welcome from Joe Carducci (pictured below, right), Product Marketing Specialist for Gretsch Guitars. Joe, in turn, invited Fred Gretsch on stage to introduce Steve Wariner (video below).
Steve then offered heartfelt stories of how he began his playing career, how he dreamed of playing Gretsch guitars, and how he came to know, work for, and be mentored by the legendary Chet Atkins. And, of course, he then blew everyone away with his stellar playing abilities.
Steve performed several tunes—first solo, and then with his band: Mike Brignardello on bass, Shane Hicks on keyboard, and Tim Grogan on drums. Then he invited his son, Ryan, to join him on stage. A star player in his own right, Ryan has toured or recorded with Megadeth, Jewel, Gene Simmons, and a host of other artists. Father and son then played seamlessly together, to the delight of those in attendance.
Friday’s concert was followed by an intimate personal appearance by Steve at the Gretsch booth on Saturday, July 20. There, he described in detail how he, son Ryan, and skilled luthier Jeff Senn pooled their ideas to come up with a design for Steve’s signature guitar—which was then lovingly and skillfully realized by the craftspeople at Gretsch.
Of course, the crowd wouldn’t let Steve go until he’d played for them—which, in his genuinely gracious fashion—he was only too happy to do. Possibly to no one’s surprise, one of the tunes he played was titled, “I Let My Guitar Do The Talkin’.” And boy, did it have a lot to say.
(SEE MORE VIDEOS ON GRETSCH YOUTUBE!)
Friends & Family Gatherings
Ask anyone who knows the Gretsch brand, and they’ll tell you that it’s as much about family as it is about manufacturing. Of course, that’s because the Gretsch family and company together date back six generations, to when Friedrich Gretsch opened his shop in Brooklyn in 1883. So it’s not surprising that any musical industry event would also feature get-togethers with Gretsch family and friends.
Thursday afternoon at the Gretsch Guitars booth saw such a get-together between Dinah and Fred Gretsch; their grandson, Logan Thomas; Gretsch Guitars Product Marketing Specialist Joe Carducci; and Jared Andrews—who is the grandson of R&B legend Otis Redding. The Gretsches are long-time supporters of the Otis Redding Foundation, whose mission is to empower, enrich, and motivate youth through education in music.
Later that evening the Gretsches held a private reception (upstairs above Nashville’s famous Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum) to honor Mr. Masatoshi “Mack” Kojima. Mr. Kojima is president of the Kanda Shokai company, which distributes Gretsch guitars in Japan. In his introductory remarks, Fred Gretsch lauded Mr. Kojima as a “model of work and dedication,” and celebrated the long and mutually beneficial history that the two companies have enjoyed for over thirty years.
The Gretsch family considers long-time Gretsch players to be part of the family. A perfect example is Duane Eddy, who pioneered the “twangy” guitar sound of early rock ’n’ roll, and became the most successful instrumentalist in rock history. Duane has been a Gretsch family member for more than fifty years. He’s shown below in conversation with Fred Gretsch at the reception for “Mack” Kojima.
Slightly more recent family members include executives from the Fender Corporation. Fender has partnered with the Gretsch Family in the production of Gretsch guitars since 2002. At the reception were (from left below:) David Bell (director of international sales), Jason Barnes (VP of Gretsch operations), and Jeff Carey (senior VP of specialty brands).
Entertainment at the reception was provided by—what else?—a guitarist. In this case, it was talented Nashville-based guitarist Sean Weaver. And the reception itself came off without a hitch thanks to everyone involved at the Country Music Hall of Fame, another great partner of the Gretsch Family!
When you consider all of the people that Fred and Dinah Gretsch consider “family” (not to mention the members of their actual family), it’s a pretty big and happy group.
Nashville’s Unique Style
Lest we forget, the Summer NAMM show is held in Music City: Nashville, Tennessee. And Nashville has its own local color to boast of.
For example, there’s the legendary stretch of Broadway known simply as “The District.” (You really don’t have to say “music district.” That’s understood.) This area is teeming with side-by-side clubs, each of which boasts live music virtually day and night—often heard on the street through open windows behind the stages. Many a Nashville superstar has gotten his or her start playing for tips in The District.
And while you can find statues on street corners in many cities, it’s doubtful that you could find a statue of a musician inviting you to sit down and jam with him. But that’s exactly what this statue of guitar legend Chet Atkins does—and he thoughtfully provides a stool for you to sit on when you do.
As we said at the beginning, it was hot at Summer NAMM in Nashville. And it was exciting. It was also friendly, and it was incredibly musical. Gretsch Guitars, Gretsch Drums, Gretsch Gear, and the Gretsch Family were a big part of that, and they’re looking forward to doing it again next year!