Gretsch Celebrates 140th Anniversary at The NAMM Show
The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show is America’s largest gathering of musical instrument manufacturers and related businesses. It’s staged at the Anaheim Convention Center, literally across the street from fabled Disneyland and its related theme parks. And while for years the NAMM show has been held in January, COVID-related issues moved this year’s show to April 13, 14, and 15.
The Gretsch Company took advantage of this year’s show to proudly celebrate its 140th anniversary. Founded in 1883, Gretsch is the oldest family-owned American drum company, and is second only to Martin guitars as the oldest instrument maker of any kind. Accordingly, the Gretsch booth focused on showcasing the company’s history—along with some exciting products designed to embody that history while offering unique contemporary features.
The following is an overview of the Gretsch Company’s activities and involvement at the 2023 NAMM show.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The Gretsch Company booth on Thursday morning, April 13, was ready to welcome the expected throng of show attendees. Gretsch drums and guitars were both represented, and the 140th Anniversary theme was prominently displayed with posters and banners. In fact, the backdrop for the entire booth was a huge blow-up of the 140th Anniversary timeline, which highlights notable people and events in Gretsch’s unrivaled history.
Gretsch is the quintessential family business, and the 2023 NAMM show became a family occasion with the presence of sixth-generation family members Will and Abbey Gretsch. The brother-and-sister pair were at the booth to celebrate the company’s 140th anniversary, and to personally represent the Gretsch Family legacy.
Also featured at the booth were displays from Georgia Southern University (GSU) and Elmhurst University. GSU is home to the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music, while Elmhurst (Fred Gretsch’s alma mater) enjoys support from Gretsch for its annual Jazz Festival, as well as for the Gretsch Recording Studio on campus. John Thompson (GSU) and John Towner (Elmhurst) were on hand as part of the Gretsch booth team, offering information on their respective schools’ programs. In addition, both schools brought music students to the show to enjoy all the educational and networking opportunities NAMM has to offer.
The NAMM show features its own event-oriented newspaper, called the UpBeat Daily. The Gretsch booth team made the front page on the very first day’s edition!
DRUMS ON DISPLAY
Some fabulous drums were featured as part of the Gretsch Company’s NAMM Show display.
Starting small and working up, here’s the 140th Anniversary Commemorative Snare Drum. It’s a 7×14 beauty, with our legendary 6-ply USA Custom Gretsch formula maple/gum shell featuring a special outer veneer of figured ash. The hardware is all nickel-plated, and each drum comes with a certificate of authenticity—as well as an internal label featuring the signature of the Gretsch craftsperson who made it. In addition, each drum will be protected by a special-edition 140th anniversary Commemorative bag.
One of the two drumkits on display was this Renown Limited Mahogany Drum Set. Created expressly to celebrate Gretsch’s 140th anniversary, it has lots of features that won’t be on any other Renown kits, and will only be available this year.
To begin with, the shells are 7-ply mahogany, producing a warm, fat sound. A white marine pearl inlay adds a distinctive look. All of the drums have Gretsch’s famous 30-degree bearing edges, which add cut and clarity. And the toms come fitted with die-cast hoops and shell-mount rack-tom holders, which are not standard on Renown kits. Also not standard is the 14×22 bass drum, a size unique to this kit. Other drum sizes include an 8×12 rack tom, a 16×16 floor tom, and a powerful 7×14 snare drum.
The centerpiece of the Gretsch booth was the amazing 140th Anniversary kit. The four-piece configuration shown below features a 14×18 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom with a direct-to-shell mount, a 14×14 floor tom, and a 5×14 snare. (A five-piece version is also available, with a 16×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare.)
Virtually everything about this kit is unique. The 6-ply hybrid shells are comprised of maple, gum, and poplar plies. And those shells are finished in a color called Ebony Stardust Gloss Lacquer, created exclusively for this kit series. The snare and toms are fitted with Gretsch’s famous die-cast hoops, and they (and the rest of the drum hardware) have been given a gleaming nickel-plated finish.
Each individual drum features an interior label with a serial number, as well as the signatures of every craftsperson who worked on the drum. Each kit comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Fred Gretsch. And all the drumheads are stamped with a special 140th Anniversary logo.
To make these kits even more special, they come with a full set of 140th Anniversary Commemorative drum bags.
For their 140th Anniversary, Gretsch is unveiling six limited-edition guitars as part of their Double Platinum Anniversary Collection. These delicious looking (and delicious playing) guitars are available in a range of Electromatic models up to the top-of-the-line Penguin and Falcon pro-level models.
Two of the new 140th Anniversary guitars—a solid body Electromatic Jet with Bigsby and an Electromatic Hollow Body with Bigsby (both finished in a stunning Two-Tone Stone Platinum over Pearl Platinum)—were on display at the Gretsch booth. Both Electromatic guitars feature two FT-5E Filter’Tron humbucking pickups, a laurel fingerboard with pearloid Hump Block inlays, anchored Adjusto-Matic bridge, Bigsby vibrato, chrome hardware, and body-color matching headstocks with a commemorative 140th Anniversary plaque. The Electromatic Jet features a chambered mahogany body with a maple top, and the Electromatic Hollow Body features a laminated maple body with vintage-inspired perimeters and refined arches, and trestle block bracing. It’s no surprise that they received a lot of attention (and a lot of audible oohs and ahhs). They are both drop-dead gorgeous guitars.
In a bit of music-industry karma, the Gretsch booth was located immediately beside the TV Jones guitar pickups booth. TV Jones and Gretsch have been partners for twenty-five years, starting with the introduction of the Brian Setzer Hot Rod Model guitar.
VISITORS TO THE BOOTH
Having a booth at a trade show is primarily an opportunity to display one’s wares. But it also affords a chance for interaction with visitors. Some come to get information, others come to socialize with industry colleagues and friends. Here’s a look at some of the folks who came to visit the Gretsch booth.
On Thursday, April 13, Will Gretsch was interviewed for Interactive Guitar and Ideate TV (two industry-related web sites). Naturally, the discussion focused on Gretsch’s 140-year history.
On Friday morning, April 14, the booth was graced by a visit from Gretsch artist Andrew Marshall, who drums for Billie Eilish (below).
Following a stellar post-show performance on the opening night of the 2023 NAMM show, Mike Stand dropped by the Gretsch booth on Saturday to visit, meet Will and Abbey, and check out the special 140th Anniversary guitars that were on display (photo below). Mike is a Gretsch guitar artist, playing classic rockabilly with the Altar Billies.
Later on Friday, long-time Gretsch drum artist Alvino Bennett stopped by the booth. In addition to congratulating Gretsch on its 140th anniversary, Alvino discussed drumhead choices with Andrew Shreve, Paul Cooper (Gretsch Drums director of operations, Ridgeland, SC), and Will Gretsch.
Also on Friday, the Gretsch team was pleased to have a visit from key members of the Drum Workshop staff. DW is partnered with Gretsch to manufacture and distribute many of Gretsch’s drum lines.
An historic event took place on Friday, when Max (below, left) and Ben (below, right) Ash visited the booth. The two brothers represent the fourth generation of the Ash family, proprietors of the well-known Sam Ash Music chain. This was the first time the two had met sixth-generation Gretsch family members Will and Abbey.
The inimitable Will Calhoun, of Living Colour, came by on Saturday, April 15, to offer his congratulations on Gretsch’s 140th anniversary. As it happens, Living Colour is celebrating an anniversary of their own, at thirty-five years. According to Will, he’s owned and played Gretsch drums for many years…he just “made it official” by becoming a Gretsch drum artist about three years ago.
Business met history on Saturday, when Christian Wissmuller, executive editor of Musical Merchandise Review (MMR), came to the Gretsch Company booth as part of his own coverage of the 2023 NAMM show. The parallel between Gretsch and MMR is striking: Gretsch is the oldest major American drum company (founded in 1883), and MMR is the oldest music industry publication (founded in 1879).
Drumming icon and long-time Gretsch drum artist Stephen Ferrone visited the booth on Saturday afternoon. The veteran of tours and recordings with Average White Band, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers related how he came to be a Gretsch endorser.
“It was in the late 1980s,” said Stephen, “shortly after Fred and Dinah Gretsch had bought the company back. It was at a trade show like this one. Dinah took me aside and said ‘Let’s get a cup of coffee’ We talked for a while, and we became friends. Of course, I loved the drums already, but that wasn’t the only reason I came aboard. If you were to ask me to describe Gretsch in one word, that word would be ‘family.’ When you’re with Gretsch, you’re part of the family. That’s something special.”
It’s always a pleasure when Gretsch family friend of over 30 years, jazz internationalist Drago Gajo of Slovenia, stops by! He took a look at the Gretsch 140th Anniversary kit and gave it two thumbs-up!
This youngster (below)—wide-eyed at the drums on display—was the last visitor to the booth as NAMM 2023 was coming to a close. And who knows? He might be the next Gretsch drum star.
A highlight of every NAMM gathering is the Chairman’s Global Reception, held on the first evening of the show. This year’s event was particularly special because it celebrated the inauguration of new NAMM CEO and President, John Mlynczak.
At the reception, Mlynczak pledged to focus NAMM’s energies on boosting public awareness and support of music-related careers—not only in performance—but in all aspects of the music business. This pledge dovetails perfectly with the Gretsch family’s philanthropic mission statement, which is to pursue and support activities that enrich people’s lives through participation in music.
With that in mind, sixth-generation family member Will Gretsch was on hand at the Global Reception to present a gift to the new NAMM CEO: a mounted version of the Gretsch 140th anniversary timeline (below).
Will congratulated John Mlynczak on his new position, and confirmed Gretsch’s agreement with, and support of, the new CEO’s stated agenda.
On Thursday, April 13, the Gretsch drum team was pleased to present a special plaque to Shane Kinney, of the Drum Center of Portsmouth, recognizing his store as the top Gretsch Drums dealer of 2022. The plaque featured a drum head signed by Fred Gretsch and all of the drum factory staff.
While the fundamental purpose of the NAMM show is to display musical products, there’s also an abundance of live performances, where those products get demonstrated to great effect. (And, of course, to the delight and entertainment of show-goers.) At the 2023 show, NAMM attendees were treated to memorable live performances by not one, but two Southern California bands featuring Gretsch guitar-endorsed artists.
On Wednesday night, April 12, The Altar Billies, featuring frontman Mike Stand and his trusty Gretsch Brian Setzer Hot Rod guitar (in beautiful Tangerine!) delivered their high-octane brand of rockabilly to an enthusiastic audience. The power trio, which also includes Johnny Hullings on standup bass and Chuck Cummings on drums, played a rollicking 40-minute set of original songs including “All In” and “Union Pacific Railroad,” as well as rockin’ versions of “Jump Jive an’ Wail” and the Carl Perkins classic, “Honey Don’t.”
On Friday night, April 14th, Minor Strut got the weekend off to a rockin’ start by nearly blowing the roof off the Hilton Hotel. The independent, alternative rock band includes a duo of Gretsch endorsed artists. Ethan “E” Nguyen handles rhythm and lead guitar duties on an Electromatic Center Block Double-Cut, and Marquis Miranda plays a Torino Green Junior Jet Bass. Charismatic lead vocalist Coryn Cahill and drummer Aiden Kunhardt round out the young, spunky rock band that has been playing professionally since 2014. A hard-driving version of their original single, “Gotta Tell You,” was one of many highlights of Minor Strut’s impressive, high-energy set.
The Gretsch family and team were jazzed to celebrate our 140th Anniversary with our music industry and music education partners at the 2023 NAMM Show, as well as with the worldwide community of musicians, music lovers, artists, and fans who stopped by the booth!
Stayed tuned for more anniversary celebration events this year. Up next: Gretsch Night in NYC on May 23. Hope to see you there!