“That Great Gretsch Sound” is the saying that began when Friedrich Gretsch, an immigrant from Mannheim, Germany, founded a small shop in Brooklyn, NY in 1883. Before he died suddenly in 1895, Friedrich Gretsch already had laid the foundations to create a dynasty that would last until today and beyond.
Friedrich died during a journey home, leaving the company in the hands of his fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch, who was still inexperienced at the time. Fred was nevertheless an enterprising boy, and he immediately aimed to base the business on a reputation for precision and quality. Two decades after taking over, he has still nicknamed “the boy in his underwear”, and moved the production to a ten-story 60 Broadway building, trying to make up for the ever-increasing demand for musical instruments from all over America.
In 1935 Duke Kramer joined the company. Kramer had the merit of providing very valuable tips for the company for 70 years, acting as a glue between the various generations, thus allowing everyone to stay together. Kramer loved to remember how “distinctive sound was our product, the sound that has energized the market for decades”
Fred Gretsch, Sr. retired from the company in 1942, was now considered a successful entrepreneur by all. His sons Fred Gretsch, Jr. and William “Bill” both of whom had been active in the industry since 1927 had been well-prepared to take the lead and were ready.
FRED GRETSCH JR.
Fred Gretsch, Jr. only handled the operations for a short time before leaving the company to serve the state as commander of the Navy. Bill Gretsch instead remained to run the family business. Duke Kramer recalls that “Bill was a man with a subtle talent to inspire people to do their best and a genius when it came to constructive advice. His sense of humor was irresistible. When he died in 1948, many people in the company felt they had lost their best friend. “
The command at this point went back to Fred Gretsch, Jr. and the Navy veteran took the company to a new era of prosperity. It was the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll inaugurated by Elvis Presley and continued by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and many other artists. The company’s popularity grew with the explosion of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and 60s, attracting famous musicians such as George Harrison, Bo Diddley, Chet Atkins, and Charlie Watts.
In 1967 the Society Gretsch was sold to Baldwin, a giant of the music industry. But without the dedication with which the family had led the company for so many years, it began its decline.
In 1985 Fred Gretsch Jr. kept his promise to recover, the company re-acquired the Gretsch company from Baldwin. The production was moved to Savannah, where the company has in fact revitalized production to offer new vintage-style Gretsch guitars and classic drums. The new products were immediately a success and the Gretsch company once again became a driving force in the musical instrument industry.
Currently, Gretsch batteries and guitars are the favorite instruments of many musicians in the recording studio who are looking for tonal quality and craftsmanship worthy of handmade instruments.