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Gretsch — A Legacy of Family Spanning 141 Years

Gretsch — A Legacy of Family Spanning 141 Years

The year 2024 marks Gretsch’s 141st year of being a manufacturer of the world’s finest drums and guitars for generations of musicians, music lovers, artists, and fans. These 141 years also represent a family legacy unlike any other in the music industry.  Today—as it has been throughout the company’s history—Gretsch is all about family.

Gretsch Founding Fathers. Top: Friedrich Gretsch, Fred Gretsch Sr. Bottom: Fred Gretsch Jr., William Walter “Bill” Gretsch.

The Gretsch Company was founded in 1883 when a German immigrant named Friedrich Gretsch opened a small musical instrument shop in Brooklyn, New York.  When Friedrich died suddenly in 1895, his fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over the company.  Initially he was aided by his mother, Rosa, who was by all accounts a remarkable woman.  By the turn of the 20th century, young Fred had expanded the business significantly.  In 1916 he built a ten-story building at 60 Broadway, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  Though the factory is no longer in operation, the building remains as a neighborhood landmark—and a continuing tie between the Gretsch family and its Brooklyn roots.

“We’re one of the few remaining musical instrument manufacturers that is still family owned,” said current president, Fred W. Gretsch.  I’m the fourth generation and am delighted to have the fifth and sixth generations of family members involved in the business my great-grandfather started in 1883.  He would be proud that his entrepreneurial gene continues to be passed down to each generation.”

Fred Gretsch is the son of William Walter “Bill” Gretsch and the nephew of Fred Gretsch Jr.  He began working in the family business in the 1960s, and as a young man he looked forward to taking his place as the fourth generation to run the Gretsch Company.  But in 1967, amid widespread change in the industry, Fred’s uncle sold the Gretsch operation to the Baldwin Piano Company upon his retirement.  After that sale, Fred continued working for the company, relocating to suburban Chicago from Brooklyn.  Later he founded his own business as a wholesaler of musical instruments.  But he vowed that he would one day make Gretsch a family business again.  Fred was able to make good on that vow in 1984, when he and Dinah brought the company back into family ownership.

Dinah Gretsch, remarkable businesswoman in her own right, has worked alongside Fred for forty-four years.  She is the company’s CFO and Executive Vice President and oversees the extensive educational and philanthropic initiatives that the Gretsch family supports, including the Gretsch Foundation, the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, and scholarships and facilities funding at schools across the country.  Dinah remarked, “The Gretsch Company takes pride in our family, our history, our relationships, and the fact that we have been in business for 141 years.”

Dinah and Fred Gretsch. Photo: Stephen Morton.

Commenting on the Gretsch family continuity over 141 years, Fred has said, “When you add it all up, it’s a whole lot of years, with the company guided by a series of exceptional leaders starting with my great-grandfather Friedrich, our founder, who worked a dozen years in the music business, my grandfather Fred Sr. who worked for forty-seven years, dad Bill Gretsch for twenty-two, and Uncle Fred Jr. for forty-nine.  And now there’s me with fifty-nine years in the business this year, my wife Dinah with forty-five, and our daughter Lena with thirty.”

Dinah added, “When I’m asked what the most important aspect of the Gretsch family’s connection to the business is, I always say that Fred and I have ‘the three Ps’:  passion, pride, and persistence.  We have such passion for the business, and we’re so proud of it.  But perhaps persistence is the key…because we know that we always have to be the best.  And no one can ever tell us we cannot do something.  As an example, look at Fred’s dream of wanting to buy the Gretsch business back from Baldwin. It was his persistence in pursuing that dream that ultimately made it a reality.”

Gretsch 140th edition House Telegram with timeline poster on reverse produced in 2023.

“Today’s Gretsch guitars and drums are the finest and most consistently built instruments in our 141-year history,” added Fred. “The recipes my father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather used in creating ‘That Great Gretsch Sound’ generations ago are still used today.  And we have partnered with the industry’s best to ensure Gretsch remains one of the world’s premier brands.  This is truly the second Golden Age for Gretsch.”

Finally, there are the thousands of Gretsch guitar and drum owners around the world, who quite correctly consider themselves part of the Gretsch family. These musicians know and value the history behind their instruments, as well as the unique personal connection that they share with Fred and Dinah Gretsch, and with the 141-year-old Gretsch family legacy.