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Gretsch Guitars was founded by Friedrich Gretsch (c.1856-1895). Gretsch arrived as a 17‑year old German immigrant to the United States in 1872. By 1883, aged 27, Gretsch was manufacturing banjos, tambourines, and drums from a modest shop in Brooklyn, New York. When Friedrich died unexpectedly while visiting Germany in 1895 aged 39, the business passed to his teenage son, Fred Senior, the eldest of 7 children. The company continued to grow and, in 1916, manufacturing and offices moved to larger premises, still in Brooklyn.

Friedrich Gretsch
Friedrich Gretsch

 

Guitars didn’t become part of the core business until the big-band era of the early 1930s, which led to increased demand for archtop guitars. The Synchromatic line was introduced in 1939, followed by the Electromatic and Hawaiian lap steel guitars. Fred Senior retired in 1942 and was succeeded by his son, William (‘Bill’) and then by Fred Junior from 1948 following Bill’s death, thereby keeping Gretsch as a family business.

In 1954, Gretsch began a ‘golden era’ which coincided with the explosion of country and rock ‘n’ roll music. A rapid growth in demand enabled Gretsch to compete head‑to‑head with the likes of Fender and Gibson. Gretcsh developed the Country Club (6196) archtop, the Jet solid body guitars and, most significantly 2 key instruments, the 6120 Chet Atkins and the flamboyant White Falcon (6136). From 1955, other hollow models included the Convertible and the Streamliner, while the solid body instruments included the Corvette, Duo-Jet, Silver Jet, and the Round‑Up. The successful Chet Atkins hollow body range was extended to include the Country Gentleman (6122) and the Tennessean (6119).

The mid-1960s was a difficult period for many distinguished guitar manufacturers, with several big names, including Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker, Danelectro and Gretsch, being acquired other companies. Fred Gretsch sold the family business to the Baldwin Piano Company in early 1967. As a consequence of the change in ownership, guitar production was moved to Arkansas in 1970 and the head office was moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1972. Many skilled and loyal employees did not make the move to new locations and vital expertise was lost. Manufacturing facilities also suffered 2 major fires in 1973, hitting output. With no Gretsch family involvement, both brand image and instrument quality declined significantly during the 1970s. Gretsch introduced new models in an attempt to stimulate sales, such as the Roc Jet. Chet Atkins withdrew his support for the ailing brand in 1979 following Fred Junior’s death. Finally, with declining fortunes, parent company Baldwin finally ceased production of Gretsch instruments in 1981.

In 1985, Fred W. Gretsch, the original founder’s great grandson and nephew of Fred Junior, acquired the Gretsch brand name, although there was little in the way of an actual business to back it up. By 1989, guitar production resumed in Japan, using American and European parts. Major expansion occurred in 1999 with affordable Electromatic and Synchromatic ranges manufactured in Korea. A limited number of premium USA-made ‘custom shop’ guitars were made available to musicians and collectors prepared to pay a high price for top quality American-built instruments. Rockabilly legend Brian Setzer became associated with the brand and was honoured with a signature 6120 model in 1990 (the first since Chet Atkins), which helped to raise the revitalised brand’s profile considerably.

In 2002, Fender (FMIC) gained control of Gretsch development, manufacturing, distribution and sales of guitars, basses and drums. 2007 saw the re-introduction of Chet Atkins’ name endorsing iconic Gretsch guitars alongside Setzer. Gretsch continues to grow and thrive in partnership with Fender. Fred Gretsch III continued as president of the company that carries his family’s proud name. Gretsch’s operations are run from Savannah, Georgia and its headquarters are in Ridgeland, South Carolina, USA.

1965 Gretsch 6135 Corvette
1965 Gretsch 6135 Corvette

 

Gretsch’s official website is… Gretsch.com

Check out the Gretsch page on Wikipedia… Wikipedia.org

Famous Gretsch instruments include… Electromatic, Synchromatic, Clipper, Country Club, Country Gentleman (6122), Chet Atkins Hollowbody/Nashville (6120), Tennessean (6119), Duo-Jet (6128), Silver Jet (6129), Corvette (6135), New Yorker, White Falcon (6136), Black Falcon (6136), Anniversary (6118), Viking, Round-Up

Some famous Gretsch guitar players include… Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day), Chet Atkins, Bono (U2), Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, Micky Dolenz (The Monkees), Duane Eddy, Rory Gallagher, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), George Harrison (The Beatles), Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age), Steve Marriott (Small Faces), Russell Marsden (Band Of Skulls), Brian Setzer, Pete Townshend (The Who), Malcolm Young (AC/DC), Neil Young

Parent Company… Fender Musical Instrument Company (FMIC)

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