Archive for the ‘Gretsch.com’ Category

Spotlight: Gretsch Bridges

Monday, August 20th, 2012

From the Gretsch Guitars Website:

Among their many distinctive features, Gretsch electric guitars have been known for decades for a variety of highly individual bridge designs. The history of these bridges is as colorful and interesting as the Gretsch instruments they’re part of, and many of the original-era designs live on today in modernized form.

Today’s four most prevalent bridge types for Gretsch electric guitars and basses are the Adjusto-Matic™, Space Control™, Rocking Bar and Synchro-Sonic™ bridges. There are other types here and there, but those are the big four. Here, in chronological order, is a look at each one:

Synchro-Sonic™ Bridge


Introduced on Gretsch guitars in 1951, the Synchro-Sonic bridge was a welcome innovation in that it was one of the first guitar bridges—if not the very first—to feature independent intonation adjustment for each string (it preceded the Gibson Tune-O-Matic bridge by about a year).

Back in the early 1950s, it was originally named the “Melita” Synchro-Sonic after its designer, Sebastiano “Johnny” Melita, who built the distinctive-looking bridges for Gretsch in his own workshop. The Synchro-Sonic’s elaborate design is described in 50 Years of Gretsch Electrics as a “complex mass of chrome-plated metal that looks like it might be more at home on a saxophone.” Nonetheless, the book continues, “Gretsch immediately realized the Melita’s potential to provide the more accurate intonation that was required on electric guitars.”

Such accurate intonation is enabled by a sliding saddle for each string that can easily be moved forward and backward. Each saddle is topped by a thumbscrew that is easily loosened to allow saddle adjustment and then tightened to lock the saddle in place. No tools are required; all adjustment can be made using only the fingers. The Melita Synchro-Sonic bridge was largely superseded in the late 1950s by the simpler Space Control bridge (see below), but was revived in Gretsch’s modern era as a classic feature and remains in use today on several Falcon™, Country Club™, Jet™ and Penguin™ models.

“Rocking” Bar Bridge


Fixed solid-bar bridges were common on early Gretsch guitars; these were simple chrome-, nickel- or gold-plated brass bars seated on ebony or rosewood bases, with the entire assembly held in place only by string tension. There were no light-gauge electric guitar strings in the 1950s, and while the design straightforwardness of these bridges offered good sustain and tone, there was no means of adjusting individual string intonation (other than the entire bridge being positioned at an angle).

With impetus and input from Chet Atkins, Gretsch developed a new design for these bar bridges in the mid-1950s that featured cone-shaped postholes. This allowed the bar to smoothly rock back and forth on guitars fitted with Bigsby® vibrato tailpieces while still offering solid sustain and great tone. These “Rocking” Bar bridges became a hit with players and have been a Gretsch staple ever since.

While only a very few Gretsch guitar models use a vintage-style non-rocking bar bridge today (i.e., the G6120EC Eddie Cochran Tribute Hollow Body and G6120DSW Chet Atkins Hollow Body), the modern version of the Rocking Bar bridge is found on many contemporary Gretsch guitars—especially various Chet Atkins Country Gentleman®, 6120 Hollow Body, 6121 Solid Body and Tennessee Rose™ models.

For information on the remaining bridge types, Space Control™ Bridge and Adjusto-Matic™ Bridge, visit the Gretsch Guitars website.


Spotlight: Gretsch Renown Purewood Hickory

Monday, August 6th, 2012

From the Gretsch Drums website:

The Gretsch Renown Purewood Limited series continues in 2012 with American hickory wood. Highly prized for its natural strength and density, hickory is a natural extension for the Purewood series. Tonal properties for the bass drum feature tremendous low end combined with punchy attack. Tom tones have an emphasis on the higher and lower frequencies to produce a focused, lively and controlled sound. The hardness of Hickory produces a solid wood tone and crack in the snare while retaining sensitivity for all styles of playing. Shell interiors are finished naturally and shell exteriors are finished in natural gloss lacquer to enhance the unique visual characteristics of hickory. Production is limited to 35 pieces of each configuration.

Features:

100% American Hickory
Die-cast Hoops
30-degree bearing edges
Natural gloss with natural shell interior

For more information including additional photos, specs, and how to buy, visit the Gretsch Drums website.

.

.

Great Gretsch Weekend in Nashville

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The weekend of this past July 13 and 14 saw a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events in Nashville, Tennessee, otherwise known as “Music City USA.” And Gretsch was an important participant in all of them.

NAMM In Nashville

To begin with, there was the summer NAMM show, an annual trade show conducted by The National Association of Music Merchants. That organization is a not-for-profit association created to strengthen the global musical instruments industry, while promoting the pleasures and benefits of making music to people of all ages. NAMM is comprised of more than 9,000 member companies in eighty-seven countries around the world.

Each summer’s NAMM show brings many of the world’s top musical instrument manufacturers to Nashville to display their wares. This year’s show, presented July 12 through July 14 at the city’s downtown convention center, featured 372 exhibitors from across the globe.

As you might expect from its Nashville setting, the summer NAMM show tends to be heavily populated by manufacturers of guitars and guitar accessories—and heavily attended by guitar aficionados. So it was the perfect place for The Gretsch Company to showcase its Bigsby brand of True Vibratos.

Paul Bigsby was a musician, a guitar-maker, and an inventor. In 1951 he presented the first Bigsby True Vibrato to guitar pioneer Merle Travis—immediately revolutionizing guitar design. From that day to this, Bigsby Vibratos have been making major contributions to guitar history.

They’ve been featured continuously on Gretsch guitars since 1955, and they’ve been heard on recordings in almost every musical genre from punk to folk and from country to rock. Versions are now available to fit almost every brand and model of guitar on the market.

Visitors to the Gretsch/Bigsby booth during the three days of the summer NAMM show had the opportunity to examine all of the Bigsby True Vibratos first-hand. But visitors on Friday, July 13 got a special treat: the opportunity to meet and speak with Fred W. Gretsch himself. Representing the fourth generation of Gretsch musical instrument makers, Fred greeted and signed autographs for Gretsch fans from across the country.

Also on hand at the booth was Gene Haugh, a long-time Gretsch guitar craftsman who was instrumental in the development of the famous Chet Atkins “Super Chet” signature guitar model.

Gretsch guitar craftsman Gene Haugh (left) and Gretsch Company representative Adam Seutter (center) were joined by Fred W. Gretsch at the Gretsch Company booth at the summer NAMM show in Nashville.

These Bigsby True Vibrato tailpieces were the focal point of the Gretsch Company booth.

Gretsch drums were at the show in spirit if not in fact, as represented by this T-shirt sporting the classic Gretsch drum logo.

The Gretsch Company also holds title on another classic American drum brand: Leedy. This custom-crafted Leedy snare drum is a faithful reproduction of a vintage Leedy model.

For more information about Bigsby True Vibratos visit www.bigsby.com. For more information about NAMM visit www.namm.org.

Closing Ceremonies For The Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player Exhibit At The Country Music Hall of Fame® & Museum

Just three blocks away from the Nashville Convention Center is the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, which is home to a variety of unique historic exhibits.

On this particular weekend the Hall was holding a series of events to mark the closing of one such exhibit: a fond and fascinating look at the life and career of Chet Atkins. Titled Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, it paid tribute to the versatility and vision of the legendary guitar artist, with historic information, personal memorabilia, performance clips, and guitars of all descriptions on display.

After opening on August 12, 2011, the exhibit was originally scheduled to run through June 11, 2012 but was extended due to popular demand. Throughout its duration it was accompanied by an ongoing series of educational and performance programs. By the time of its closing on July 15, 2012 it had hosted more than 300,000 visitors.

The Gretsch Company was the title sponsor for the Chet Atkins exhibit. Gretsch enjoyed a long and fruitful association with Chet, during which he helped design and popularize several guitar models that are still best-sellers today.

At a reception held prior to the public opening of the Chet Atkins exhibit in August of 2011, Fred Gretsch, said, “As a guitar manufacturer Gretsch is proud of its long association with Chet. As a family, we cherish the special relationship that we had with such a fine individual. We’re honored to be the title sponsor for the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s tribute to Chet, and we share the Hall’s commitment to ensuring that his unrivaled legacy will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.”

A highlight of the exhibition’s opening weekend came on Saturday, August 13, 2011, when Steve Wariner and Chet Atkins’ daughter Merle read a proclamation bestowing the final “Certified Guitar Player” honor on Paul Yandell, who was Chet Atkins’ bandleader, friend, and confidant for more than thirty years. Chet coined the term “Certified Guitar Player” to describe an artist who personified the ultimate in performance skill and musical quality. Only four other guitarists—Wariner, Jerry Reed, Tommy Emmanuel, and John Knowles—had received such recognition from Chet. It was a bittersweet tribute, as Yandell was ill and would pass away only a few months later.

A Quick Walk Through The Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player Exhibit

The exhibit featured multiple screens showing clips of Chet from throughout his career.

By the mid-1950s Chet had established himself as one of the most successful guitar soloists of all time—earning him the name of “Mr. Guitar.” And in 1954 he began his long association with the Gretsch company.

Pictured below and on the left is a 1959 Gretsch Country Gentleman that was one of Chet’s primary guitars throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Chet modified it with a Super ’Tron neck pickup and an internal phase shifter. On the right is a 1954 Streamliner special-order model that became the basis for the legendary Gretsch Chet Atkins Signature (6120) hollow-body guitar.

In addition to his performing skills, Chet enjoyed success as an executive with RCA Records. Below is a letter written to Chet in 1968 by then-Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch Jr., congratulating Chet on his appointment as vice president at RCA.

Chet was a skillful and talented producer. In addition to signing and producing many top country artists, he also branched out into the pop field. This photo below shows him in the studio with crooner Perry Como in 1973.

Of course, it was as a performer that Chet made his greatest impact…and earned his greatest rewards. Below are the Grammys he won in 1967 for his Chet Atkins Picks The Best album and in 1971 for his recording of “Snowbird.”

Chet was an inveterate “tinkerer” whose hobbies included photography and ham radio in addition to electronics and recording. The exhibit included a faithful display of Chet’s home workshop, just as it was left upon his passing in 2001.

Closing Luncheon

To commemorate the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit at its closing, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum hosted two special events. The first was a private luncheon held on Friday, July 13, 2012 and attended by a select group of individuals who had been instrumental in the establishment of the exhibit.

Attendees included Hall board chairman Steve Turner and museum director Kyle Young, as well as exhibit sponsors Fred and Dinah Gretsch (and their grandson Logan Thomas), Merle Atkins Russell (Chet’s daughter), Marie Yandell (widow of Paul Yandell), and CGP guitarist John Knowles.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch and grandson Logan with Merle Atkins Russell, daughter of Chet Atkins.

As a gesture of thanks for the Gretsch Company’s support of the exhibit, Kyle Young presented Fred and Dinah Gretsch with a scrapbook containing photos and other material documenting every stage of the exhibit’s creation.

Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum director Kyle Young (left) and board chairman Steve Turner (rear) presented Fred and Dinah Gretsch with a scrapbook documenting every step of the creation of the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit.


Friends & Flamekeepers Concert

The second special closing event took place on Saturday, July 14 in the Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater. A concert “Chet Atkins: Friends And Flame Keepers,” featured a stellar group of performers. Some were veteran artists who had enjoyed personal relationships with Chet; others were rising stars who were influenced by Chet and are carrying on and expanding his unique fingerstyle guitar technique. The lineup included John Knowles, Muriel Anderson, Meagan Taylor (great-niece of Chet Atkins), Ben Hall, Thom Bresh, Brooks Robertson, and Gretsch guitar artists Guy Van Duser and Joe Robinson.

Anecdotes and stories about Chet Atkins were plentiful, and the musical performances were heartfelt and beautiful. It was an amazing—and entirely appropriate—tribute to the memory of a man who had such an important impact on guitarists everywhere.

A full-length performance video of the Friends & Flamekeepers concert may be viewed HERE.

For additional information on the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum visit Countrymusichalloffame.org. For more information on Gretsch and its association with Chet Atkins, visit gretsch.com.

Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention

While the Summer NAMM show and the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum events were taking place in downtown Nashville, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society was holding its 28th annual convention at the Music City Sheraton Hotel & Convention Center just outside of town. From July 11 through 14 attendees enjoyed fully-packed days and nights of the music of the legendary guitarist.

Through 2000, Chet Atkins himself participated in the CAAS conventions, and his presence was warmly appreciated by the members. Since his passing in 2001, the Society has continued to preserve his legacy and to encourage young and old alike to keep his music alive and appreciate the many contributions he made to the guitar and the music of America.

Current CAAS president Dr. Mark Pritcher, his wife Carol, and an able staff of dedicated volunteers keep the organization running and growing. Although membership is around 1,000, this year’s CAAS convention welcomed over 1,500 avid Chet Atkins fans.

The convention hosted a variety of guest artists who performed concerts, played at intimate close-up sessions, and conducted top-notch workshops for attendees. Performances ran concurrently on two stages and in nearby meeting rooms. The main stage hosted concerts each night until late evening. In between all of these activities, retailers, collectors, and guitar makers displayed instruments, recordings, and memorabilia for sale. Personal interaction between established artists, professional and hobbyist musicians, and just plain fans was a great part of the fun for everyone in attendance.

A particularly popular feature at the convention was the Gretsch guitar display (presented in cooperation with Broadway Music of Nashville.) Not only did the display showcase a bevy of beautiful instruments, it also presented ongoing performances by great Gretsch guitar artists including Pat Corn, Bobby Gibson, and Richard Kiser. And, to the delight of convention goers, Fred W. Gretsch dropped by the display on Friday, July 13 to introduce some of the performers. Fred then stayed to chat with fans and sign autographs—which he did on programs, T-shirts . . . and one brand-new Gretsch guitar!

From left: Pat Corn, Bobby Gibson, and Richard Kiser performed at the Gretsch Guitars display.

Fred Gretsch was on hand to autograph programs, T-shirts...and this Gretsch guitar.

Veteran Gretsch guitar craftsman Gene Haugh (who helped develop the “Super Chet” model) admired the display of beautiful new Gretsch guitars.

The Gretsch Family and Gretsch Guitars have been major supporters of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society for many years. As a result, coming to the CAAS convention has become a regular family event for Fred and Dinah Gretsch—as well as for their grandson Logan, who was at the show this year.

Logan Thomas, grandson of Fred and Dinah Gretsch

When asked how he was enjoying the convention, the articulate twelve-year-old replied, “This is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve come here, and it’s always great. But it’s especially great for me this year, because I’ve been studying the guitar myself for the past year. One of my favorite players is Joe Robinson, and he’s playing at the convention, which is really cool.”

In addition to pursuing his musical goals, Logan is also an athlete, playing quarterback for his team at Thomas Heyward Academy in his home town of Ridgeland, South Carolina. Ridgeland is also home to the Gretsch USA drum manufacturing operation. As a sixth-generation member of the Gretsch family, Logan occasionally helps out at the factory. As he proudly explained, “I’ve been helping move things around to make more space for The Vineyard.” Logan’s reference is to Gretsch’s unique collection of vintage drum shells from the 1980s and earlier, which are used to create historically authentic custom drumkits.

Chet Atkins Tribute Concert

The CAAS convention came to a rousing conclusion on Saturday, July 14 with a gala Chet Atkins tribute concert. This show featured special guests from the Nashville pantheon of performers, as well as international guest artists. Most of these had taken part in earlier convention activities, and many had also appeared at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s “Friends & Flamekeepers” tribute concert. Like that earlier event, this concert showcased fingerstyle guitar playing by newcomers and established stars alike.

The evening’s many fond recollections of Chet Atkins were joined by remembrances of Paul Yandell, whose long association with Chet—as well as his own noteworthy musical accomplishments—had made him an important figure on the Nashville scene for decades. The verbal and musical tributes offered to these two guitar giants gave a very personal quality to each performance.

Family and friends at the CAAS closing concert, from left: Judy Edwards, Nokie Edwards, Deed Eddy, Gretsch guitar great Duane Eddy, Dinah and Fred Gretsch, and Logan Thomas.

Special moments abounded during the concert. Just a few of those included:

The introduction of Fred Gretsch by CAAS president Mark Pritcher, and Fred’s comments regarding Paul Yandell and Chet Atkins, both of whom had long associations with Gretsch guitars.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch and grandson Logan presenting a 1959 Gretsch 6119 guitar to lucky raffle winner Jimmy Lapham, who came to the CAAS convention from Camilla, Georgia.

Fifteen-year-old Australian phenom Josh Needs playing an original composition on a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar that had been given to the CAAS by guitar great Scotty Moore—who had himself been given the guitar by Chet Atkins.

Gretsch artist and guitar icon Duane Eddy presenting a custom replica of Buddy Holly’s guitar to long-time Ventures lead guitarist Nokie Edwards. Nokie was being honored with the Buddy Holly Legacy Award, presented by the Buddy Holly Education Foundation in recognition of outstanding artistry.

Rising Gretsch guitar star Joe Robinson wowing the crowd with his unique combination of blazing technique and musical creativity on an original tune appropriately titled “It’s Not Easy.”

After relating how they each had learned Chet Atkins’ “Happy Again,” a moving trio performance of the tune by John Knowles, Thom Bresh, and Brooks Robertson.

Gretsch artist Guy Van Duser—and the entire concert audience—performing “We Love You Chet,” an original tune composed in tribute to the guitar great.

In addition to the artists named above, the roster of performers at the CAAS closing concert included Shane Adkins, Rick Allred, Craig Dobbins, Phil Hunt & Eddie Estes, Pat Kirtley, Jimmy, John, and Morning Nichols, Ben Owings, Eddie Pennington & Paul Moseley, and Sean Weaver.

For more information on the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, go to ChetSociety.com.

.

.

.

Gretsch Helps Celebrate Sam Ulano’s Birthday

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Teaching Legend Is Going Strong At Ninety-Two

Sam Ulano

The New York City drumming community came together this past July 10 to honor and enjoy the wit and wisdom of drum teacher and icon Sam Ulano. The event—hosted by DrumSummit.com’s Peter Greco and held at Sam Ash Music on 48th Street—combined a clinic by Sam with a celebration of his August 12 birthday, when he’ll turn ninety-two.

With sixty years as a performer and teacher to his credit, Sam is equally revered and controversial. Besides his private teaching practice, the drum studio he founded in the 1950s hosted such guest artist/instructors as Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Papa Jo Jones. Sam also had the first-ever drum-oriented cable TV program, which ran from 1975 to 1981. And he’s released literally dozens of self-produced books and CDs, along with over 2,500 pamphlets that he calls “Foldys.”

Sam’s publications are almost comically “lo-fi” in production values, but they’re nonetheless high in informational content. In what is perhaps his most controversial teaching philosophy, Sam denounces rudiments as having nothing to do with playing a drumset. Instead, Sam focuses on reading, timekeeping, and providing the foundation for a band in a musical situation. “Your hands can’t see, hear, or think,” Sam declared at his clinic. “You do that all with your brain. That’s where you learn to play the drums. And that’s the only way you’re going to be successful as a player in the music industry.”

Sam’s philosophy may not be for everyone, but it’s been enough for some pretty stellar former students including Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Tony “Thunder” Smith, Allen Schwartzberg, and Art Taylor. These drummers—and dozens like them—have benefited from Sam’s major premise, which is that reading is the means to success. According to Sam, drummers who can read—and who can play in many styles as a result—are more likely to get work than are drummers with great rudimental technique or blazing speed.

Another controversial recommendation from Sam is regular practicing with metal sticks to improve hand and arm strength. If metal sticks aren’t available, short lengths of copper pipe will do, as Sam demonstrated at his clinic. “If I hadn’t practiced with metal sticks all these years,” he said, “there’s no way I could still be playing at ninety-two years old.”

And play he does. Sam still gigs regularly in Manhattan clubs, focusing primarily on swing and Dixieland music. To demonstrate his playing skills, Sam was accompanied at his clinic by keyboardist Les Kurtz, saxophonist Tom Olin, and vocalists Michelle Zelkin and Diana Nikolos.

ENJOY A SHORT VIDEO OF THE SKILLFUL SAM ULANO IN ACTION

The combined clinic/birthday celebration at Sam Ash Music drew many of Sam’s current and former students, as well as professional drummers who cite Sam as an inspiration. Key among those was veteran TV and Broadway drummer Ray Marchica, who’s currently in his eighth year of drumming for the Broadway production of Mamma Mia. Ray told the audience that he’d been inspired to play the drums as a youngster, after seeing Sam perform one of his “drum stories” at a clinic presented at Ray’s elementary school.

Sam has proudly played Gretsch drums since 1947—quite possibly making him the oldest and longest-running Gretsch drummer currently active. To commemorate this long association, Dinah and Fred Gretsch sent a personal birthday card to Sam, offering the good wishes of everyone at the Gretsch Company. Dinah and Fred also sent a number of souvenir Gretsch coin banks as giveaways. The banks are reproductions of models that date back more than seventy-five years to the Great Depression, when Gretsch encouraged people to save in order to purchase musical instruments.

Also on hand was Modern Drummer magazine’s ad director Bob Berenson. Bob informed the audience that Sam’s feature in the September 2011 MD had helped to make that issue a quick and total sellout.

In addition to Gretsch Drums, Sam’s clinic was co-sponsored by Sabian Cymbals, Remo Heads, Sam Ash Music, and DrumSummit.com. For more information on Sam, visit samulano.com.

SAM ULANO SHARES HIS PHILOSOPHY ON RUDIMENTS AND A HINT ABOUT DRUM SOLOS

.

.

The Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Elmhurst College’s Unique Musical Endeavor

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

Ensembles of various descriptions are a staple of music education programs at colleges and universities across the country. Most tend to be based on stylistic or ethnic themes, such as big band ensembles, classical string ensembles, Latin jazz ensembles, etc. But the music program at Elmhurst College in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, Illinois boasts an ensemble based on a rather unusual instrumental grouping. This is the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble.

While virtually all other ensemble opportunities for electric guitarists have only one guitar chair, the GEGE features five electric guitarists, a bass guitarist, and a drummer. This provides a unique opportunity for guitarists to learn to play with each other, emphasizing blend, balance, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation.

There are actually two electric guitar ensembles at Elmhurst, and they date back to 1992. Through an audition process at the start of each academic year, the top five guitarists are placed in the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble—so named in 1993 to honor the support and contributions of Gretsch Company president (and Elmhurst College alum) Fred W. Gretsch. Since the early 1990s the Gretsch Family has generously funded student scholarships in music and music business, as well as the development of the Gretsch Recording Studio at the college.

The GEGE has had four directors since its founding. Current director Mike Pinto has led the group since 2007. The Ensemble is part of the jazz department, and while the repertoire certainly includes jazz, it also includes fusion, rock, blues, and pop. Says Pinto, “I feel that electric guitar students studying jazz here at the college need to be versatile and learn to apply jazz skills to other electric guitar-oriented styles. We play only arrangements written specifically for five guitars, bass, and drums. Charts of this type are available for sale, but there aren’t a ton of them. So I write many arrangements for the group, and students are encouraged to write arrangements as well. We’ve performed many student charts over the years that I’ve directed the group.”

Students register for the Ensemble as a class, and it is an educational experience for them. But with an eye to “the real world,” Mike Pinto teaches and directs the group within the context of preparing for professional performances. To support this approach the Ensemble performs three to five times per semester, both on- and off-campus.

After the Ensemble was named in his honor, Fred Gretsch donated a Gretsch Country Gentleman Junior guitar to the group. Mike Pinto is now entrusted with that guitar, and he uses it to teach with. It’s also occasionally played by students in the Ensemble.

Speaking of students, the current roster of the GEGE includes five very talented young guitarists, along with equally talented gentlemen on bass and drums. Most are seniors who are concluding their tenure in the group…and at the college. Individually, they are:

Andrew Ecklund (guitar). A senior music business and jazz studies major at Elmhurst, Andrew has been a member of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, and jazz combo. His talent and dedication earned him the Gretsch music scholarship for the 2011/2012 school year. Andrew is also active in the Chicago music scene, playing with numerous rock bands and big bands. He appreciates the opportunities that music gives him to share and teach, and he does so as a member of the GRAMMY Foundation team.

Peter Jump (guitar). Peter holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree and a Performance Certificate from Elmhurst College. He’s a composer and arranger of a number of works for solo guitar, guitar quartet, and various types of ensembles. He has composed music for several student films and video games, which is his primary career interest. Some significant influences to his guitar playing are David Gilmour, Buckethead, and Greg Howe.

Matt Richter (guitar) Matt is a senior who’ll be graduating with a degree in Music Business. His involvement in music includes playing classical and jazz guitar, as well teaching students of various skill levels at a local music store. Matt plans to go on to graduate school to obtain his masters degree in classical guitar performance.

Owen Szorc (guitar). Owen is a senior in his third year with the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble. He’ll be graduating from Elmhurst College with joint degrees in Music Business and Jazz Studies.

Dan Weiss (guitar). Dan is an exercise science major (with minors in music and business administration) who played his first two years at Elmhurst in another one of Mike Pinto’s electric guitar ensembles, and the most recent two in the Gretsch Ensemble. Dan is also passionate about drums and percussion, as well as tinkering with any kind of instrument he can get his hands on.

Richard Stancato (bass). Richard is a senior Music Business major. He’s been playing bass with the Gretsch Guitar Ensemble for one semester. He cites his main influences on the bass as including Jaco Pastorius, Les Claypool, and Stanley Clarke.

Joel Baer
(drums). A senior and a jazz studies major, Joel began playing and learning drums from his father Jeff. He alater became interested in jazz while studying with Jack Brand. Joel works regularly around Chicago, playing with bluesman Pistol Pete, progressive rock guitarist Clark Colborn, and several jazz groups.

To document the talents of the current edition of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, the group has produced a professional recording of one of their unique arrangements.

Click below to check out the video and enjoy the sounds of this exceptional musical group.

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

.

.

The Great Gretsch Jazz Drummers Summit of 1973

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

An Audio Portrait of Four Percussive Legends

by Fred Gretsch

On July 7, 1973 the Gretsch Drum Company sponsored a unique musical event: A live concert that brought together a bevy of the company’s top artists. This “summit” of Great Gretsch Drummers featured the cream of the jazz drumming world.

The host for this historic event was promoter/producer George Wein, who has been called “the most famous jazz impresario” and “the most important non-player” in jazz history. Among his many accomplishments, Wein founded the Newport Jazz Festival—probably the best-known jazz festival in America—as well as the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles and the  New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. But in 1973 Wein was at the Wollman Amphitheater in New York’s Central Park, acting as emcee for the Great Gretsch Drummers summit.

The full roster included performances by virtually all of the top jazz drummers of the day. These included established star Max Roach, the then-young-phenomenon Tony Williams, and the unique drum-and-percussion collective led by Roach called M’Boom. Regrettably, those performances were not captured for posterity.

However, four other Great Gretsch Drummers on the bill were recorded. That stellar group included Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, Freddie Waits, and “Papa” Jo Jones.  Their remarkable presentations have been made available for listening at Wolfgang’s Vault HERE.

ELVIN JONES: FIRE AND PASSION

Elvin Jones

The first recorded performance is by Elvin Jones, who, by 1973, had already set the jazz world on its ear during his six-year stint in the John Coltrane Quartet. In fact, many music critics regard Elvin as the most influential drummer in the history of jazz. His revolutionary multilayered rhythmic approach transformed the drums as a traditional time-keeping instrument, serving as an inspiration for drummers seeking greater improvisational freedom.

Critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Elvin’s significance this way: “His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group.” With this freewheeling approach Elvin helped lay the foundation for the avant-garde and fusion jazz movements.

For his Gretsch Summit performance Elvin begins with a polyrhythmic exploration of the kit. Then he’s joined by Moog synthesizer player Joe Galavant and wah-wah-inflected guitarist Paul Mitsky. Their far-out, futuristic fusion jam—fueled by Elvin’s signature rolling thunder on the kit—is the edgiest and most freewheeling of the day’s performances. At the climax of the jam, Elvin lashes into the toms, driving the electronic mix to Hendrixian heights and prompting emcee George Wein to announce: “Elvin Jones, ladies and gentlemen! Strange things are happening!”

Wein then presents Elvin with his award as #1 drummer in the Down Beat International Critics Poll for 1973. In his unmistakable basso croak, Elvin responds with a gracious speech of acceptance.

MEL LEWIS: TASTE AND MUSICALITY

Mel Lewis

As co-leader of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mel Lewis was widely recognized for bringing a tasteful, small-group approach to his big-band drumming. In an interview, Mel once described his subtle but highly musical style as “not pushing or pulling, but supporting.”

Mel didn’t lack for technique; he could play at break-neck tempos for lengthy periods and hardly break a sweat. But he was never one for blazing fills around the drums. For him, chops had to do with control of the instrument, a sense of color, and, above all, the ability to swing. “I learned that the power of the drums was in this smooth glide of rhythm,” he once told Stanley Crouch. “It wasn’t the volume.” So Mel wasn’t flashy or loud—just tasteful, and highly musical.

When it came to sound, Mel was a purist. He insisted on playing genuine Turkish-made cymbals, favoring lightweight models that were dark and rich with overtones. His standard setup included a 21″ ride, a 19″ crash-ride, and a 22″ “swish-knocker” with rivets. The sound of these cymbals, combined with the rich, warm sound of his wood-shell Gretsch drums equipped with natural calfskin top heads produced a sonic identity that was uniquely Mel’s.

Mel opens up his Great Gretsch Summit performance slowly, using mallets and sticks to play deliberate strokes on his toms and cymbals. Extending the solo musically as well as rhythmically, he artfully orchestrates a thoughtful and dramatic piece that highlights the melodic potential of the complete drumkit.

FREDDIE WAITS: POWER AND INTENSITY

Freddie Waits

Next up was Freddie Waits. While never the jazz superstar that Elvin Jones was or that Tony Williams would become, Freddie was the embodiment of the solid, in-demand working drummer during the late 1960s and early ’70s. While in college Freddie played blues with Ivory Joe Hunter and Percy Mayfield. Later he became a “house drummer” for Motown Recording Studios in Detroit, where he worked with such legendary artists as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder. (Freddie drummed on Stevie’s first hit Fingertips.)

Freddie entered the jazz scene after moving to New York, where he became a member of the original New York Jazz Sextet. He went on to tour with Ella Fitzgerald, and to work with such other greats as Betty Carter, Donald Byrd, Nancy Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Johnny Hodges.

Freddie also devoted a great deal of his time and energy to the versatile percussion group M’Boom. The ensemble featured Max Roach, Omar Clay, Roy Brooks, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Fred King, and Ray Mantilla, all of whom contributed a tremendously wide range of ideas and influences to the group’s collective percussive identity.

For his part of the Summit, Freddie opens with an audacious eruption on the kit. Employing a take-no-prisoners approach from the outset he dives in headfirst and continues to blaze unabated over the course of eight minutes. Midway through this dynamic percussive deluge Freddie is joined by fellow M’Boom member Joe Chambers on marimba and assorted hand percussion. Together they bring the intensity of the performance to a breathtaking crescendo.

PAPA JO JONES: A SIGNATURE APPROACH

Papa Jo Jones

When Papa Jo Jones took the stage, he was the acknowledged elder statesman among the drummers on the bill—and among jazz drummers worldwide. As one-fourth of the legendary All-American Rhythm Section in the Count Basie band (with Basie on piano, Freddie Green on guitar, and Walter Page on bass) from 1936 through 1948, Papa Jo provided the swinging momentum for that legendary musical organization. In so doing, he established a standard for style and taste on the drums that influenced drummers for generations to come.

More than any other drummer in history, Papa Jo Jones developed the hi-hat into an instrument of great rhythmic and tonal variety. His hi-hat style has been characterized as swinging and driving, but never obtrusive. So it isn’t surprising that Papa Jo’s Great Gretsch Drum Summit solo spot features the hi-hat—only the hi-hat.

According to jazz author and historian Michael Steinman, “Legend has it that the young Tony Williams and the middle-aged Max Roach came out and did their best to show all the ways in which they could make sounds by using every part of their drum kits. Sly and subversive, Papa Jo came out with only his hi-hat cymbals and a pair of sticks and ‘washed them all away.’” The sixty-two-year-old drumming great held the crowd spellbound with his myriad of hip approaches to playing his signature instrument.

It’s a shame that these classic performances were not filmed so that we could have a visual as well as an audio record. But if you’re a drummer—or even just a drumming aficionado—it’s really not hard to imagine what it might have been like to witness these Great Gretsch Drummers in action. Just listen…close your eyes . . . and enjoy!

Gretsch Remembers Louie Bellson

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Story reposted from 2009:

Gretsch Salutes Louie Bellson and Gretsch Drums, “Partners in Innovation”

By Fred Gretsch, 4th Generation Drum Maker

Louie Bellson’s career was remarkable for many reasons. In musical terms, few, if any drummers, could match his achievements. He began playing with Ted Fio Rito, and he replaced Gene Krupa in Benny Goodman’s band by the time he was seventeen years old. He performed and recorded with such jazz legends as Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, as well as with great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Mel Torme’, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, and Tony Bennett. Louie also led his own successful big bands and small groups for more than forty years.

In addition, Louie established himself as a gifted composer. He wrote and arranged more than a thousand tunes, including the drum-feature classic “Skin Deep,” which he made famous with the Ellington orchestra.

Louie was also a legendary clinician and educator. The eternal student himself, he was always eager to share his knowledge and his skills with young drummers.

And on top of everything else, Louie was an innovator. His vision of what a drumset could be literally revolutionized the design of the instrument, blazing a trail that would be followed by generations of creative drummers. And when Louie first sought to turn his vision into reality, he turned to the Gretsch Drum Company.

Bellson Beginnings

Gretsch Advertisement with Louie Bellson and Dick Shanahan

Gretsch Advertisement with Louie Bellson and Dick Shanahan

Louie established his lifelong pattern of constant study and self-improvement at a very early age. Besides taking lessons from the top teachers in his hometown of Moline, Illinois, as well as in Chicago, Louie played regularly with his high school big band. He also kept abreast of what the top bands in the country were playing by studying the records that were sold in his father’s music store.

In 1980, Louie told Modern Drummer author Robyn Flans, “I was aware of all the bands that were coming into the picture, like Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Harry James, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. I was very fortunate to sit in with those guys when they came to town-partly because they’d heard that I’d won the Gene Krupa Drum Contest [Louie won that contest in 1941 at the age of 16], and partly because my friends would yell, ‘Hey! Get my friend up there to play!’”

One such incident proved to be the turning point in Bellson’s career. When Ted Fio Rito’s band came into town, seventeen-year-old Louie sat in with the band. Fio Rito’s drummer was leaving, and the bandleader offered Louie a job on the spot. Louie opted to finish high school first, but joined the band immediately after graduating. His first job was in California, at the Florentine Gardens on Hollywood Boulevard, in 1942.

Three months later Benny Goodman heard Louie playing with Fio Rito’s band, and invited the youngster to audition for him. The next day Louie went to Paramount Studios, where Benny was doing a movie, and sat in with the Goodman Sextet. After playing only one number, Louie had the job. The seventeen-year-old wunderkind quickly established himself as a drummer to watch-no small feat considering that he was following in the footsteps of Gene Krupa.

After a year with Goodman, Louie was called into service in World War II. He was sent to the Walter Reed Hospital Annex in Washington, D.C., which had a large orchestra, a concert band, and a jazz band. These bands performed for wounded soldiers being treated at the hospital. After serving three years in the Army, Louie returned to Ted Fio Rito’s band for three months. That three-month period saw yet another historic development in Louie’s career.

It Started as an Idea

Louie Bellson with his 1946 double bass kit

Louie Bellson with his 1946 double bass kit

Louie’s return to the Ted Fio Rito band in 1946 marked his first use of two bass drums. But he’d actually had the idea back in 1938, when he was still in high school. That idea was at least partly prompted by the fact that Louie was completely ambidextrous.

“One thing in the drummer’s favor,” Louie told Robyn Flans in 1980, “is to be able to manipulate the right hand or the left hand equally as well, and vice versa with the legs. I didn’t go out for sports much because they kept me so busy in bands while I was in school. But I did go out for track. I was an exceptionally fast runner, and my track coach, who was also the football coach, said I’d be a great halfback. I couldn’t leave band to do that, but I did fool around some with a football, and I discovered that I could kick with either foot. This caused me to sit down one day and think, ‘How would it be to have another drum over there . . . to still utilize the hi-hat, but have another bass drum?’ So I drew up a design of the double bass drumset.”

When Louie first took his design to various drum companies in 1939 and 1940, they were-to put it mildly-not very receptive. “I was just getting started as a player,” Louie told Robyn Flans in 2004. “When I approached one drum company, they told me, ‘You and Buck Rogers ought to go to the moon. You’re crazy.’”

The Gretsch Connection

It took a few years, but eventually Louie found one drum company that didn’t think he was crazy. In fact, when he approached the Gretsch Company in 1946, their craftsmen took his design as a challenge.

Gretsch’s effort to help Louie realize his vision was spearheaded by drum promotion and sales manager Phil Grant. A former percussionist with the Goldman Band in New York, Grant was also an inventor. He was as knowledgeable about drum construction as he was about drumming.

“Phil Grant was the right man for Gretsch to hire,” Louie Bellson told Chet Falzerano in his book, Gretsch Drums: The Legacy Of That Great Gretsch Sound. “He was a very fine drummer himself, and he was sympathetic to all the artists who were using Gretsch drums. He listened to what all of us had to say, and then he’d ask ‘What can we do to make the drumset better?’”

For his part, Grant had this to say about Bellson: “Louie was a great innovator and an excellent drummer. Regardless of what phase of drumming you were in, you looked up to Louie because he had hands and feet that wouldn’t stop. He was way ahead of his time with that double bass set. Since then, quite a few big band drummers have used two bass drums. But most of them didn’t know why the second one was there. It just looked good.”

A Drum Kit Is Born

Louie Bellson with a later double bass kit

Louie Bellson with a later double bass kit

The kit that Grant and the Gretsch team created with Louie in 1946 featured two 20×20 bass drums, in accordance with Louie’s original concept. But it went further than that. It also featured a unique combination of tom-toms. The center tom was a 26×18 floor tom placed directly in front of the snare drum. Symmetrically mounted on either side were 9×13 and 7×11 toms, with the whole assembly connected and supported on legs. The floor toms were 16×16 and 16×18.

The drums on the kit featured Gretsch’s cross-laminated three-ply shells, with 1/16″-thick veneers of maple on the inside and outside, with a 1/8″-thick middle layer of poplar. Gretsch laminated the plies as they molded the shell, joining them in three different places. This eliminated the need for reinforcing rings, which the craftsmen at Gretsch believed “broke up the sound waves” inside the drum. The thin shells also allowed for a very thin bearing edge, which promoted projection and resonance.

Jazz drumming great Charlie Persip was a contemporary of Louie Bellson’s, though a few years younger. Commenting on the construction of Gretsch drums in Chet Falzerano’s book, he said, “Gretsch really came up with a drum that had the right sound for the music of the day. That’s why everybody went with them. Gretsch toms sang like a mockingbird.”

The Kit on Stage

Louie Bellson with Duke Ellington
Louie Bellson with Duke Ellington

Louie’s futuristic configuration would be right at home on many stages today. But it didn’t catch on immediately in the big band era. Louie debuted the kit with Ted Fio Rito’s band in 1946, but the bandleader didn’t choose to feature it. And Benny Goodman, with whom Louie next worked, preferred a more standard drum kit. But when Louie joined the Tommy Dorsey orchestra in 1947, things were different.

“Tommy made a big thing out of the kit,” Louie told Robyn Flans, “because Tommy liked drummers. He had had Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and he wanted a guy who could swing with the band and yet be a soloist. When he saw my two-bass drum idea, he flipped out. We came up with the idea of a revolving platform. Tommy would press a button and the platform would go around in the middle of my solo. That way, people could see and understand what I was doing.”

Louie’s revolutionary kit established him as one of the most creative and imaginative drummers on the big-band scene. It also launched a twenty-year association with Gretsch Drums. Over those years Louie would continue to develop as a drum superstar, and his drum kit would continue to evolve. When he played with Duke Ellington, the bass drums were bigger, and the toms were fewer. By the advent of the bebop era in the early 1950s, the bass drums were smaller, and the toms fewer still. But he always retained the double bass design that had become his trademark.

“I had a wonderful relationship with Gretsch,” Louie told Chet Falzerano. “Twenty years, that’s a long time! Their drums always had a great sound.”

A Musical Philosophy

Speaking with Robyn Flans in 1986, Louie summed up his philosophy regarding the “big kit” design that he maintained throughout his career. “I always go by what I’m doing musically,” he said. “If I hear something, then I want to put it in.”

In 1991 Louie reminisced a bit, this time with Modern Drummer author Rick Mattingly. “When Buddy Rich first saw my 1946 set, with all those drums surrounding me, he looked at me and made a classic remark. He had his hand on his chin, like a Jack Benny pose, and he said, ‘Are you having a baby?’ But I told Buddy, ‘You know, I use all this stuff.’”

Truer words were never spoken.

Charlie Watts Will Boogie Down In New York This Weekend

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

New York City music fans, you’re in for a treat!  Great Gretsch drummer Charlie Watts is coming to town with the unique jazz instrumental group The ABC&D of Boogie Woogie. The band gets its moniker from the first-name initials of its members: pianists Axel Zwingenberger and Ben Waters, drummer Charlie Watts, and bassist Dave Green.

The band will be appearing Thursday, June 28 at Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center, in Damrosch Park, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza. Ticket info is available at  www.midsummernightswing.org and www.lincolncenter.org. They’ll then do a four-night stand at New York’s famed Iridium jazz club, running from Friday, June 29 through Monday, July 2, with two shows each night. The Iridium is at 1650 Broadway (at 51st Street). Ticket info for the shows there is available by phone at   (212) 582-2121, or at www.theiridium.com.

Boogie woogie music has been fascinating audiences with its youthful freshness for more than 100 years, making it uniquely appealing to new generations of enthusiastic musicians. But there’s more to it than that: Boogie woogie is one of the most important roots of modern popular music—especially rock ‘n’ roll. Charlie Watts himself has mentioned boogie woogie as a foundation of the Rolling Stones’ music.

Alex Zwingenberger is the key figure of the boogie woogie revival. He and his bandmates toured Europe this past March. They played several dates in Germany and in Austria, along with a memorable show at London’s Pizza Express Soho. Regarding that show, Times critic Clive Davis raved, “Jazz lover Charlie Watts looked more than happy to be sandwiched between the pianos of his old friend (and German boogiemeister) Axel Zwingenberger and our own Ben Waters. Watts has rightly won praise for his previous forays into bebop, but the visceral roar of a boogie-woogie riff is even more intoxicating.”

Charlie Watts with Fred Gretsch in Vienna

My wife Dinah and I had the great pleasure of visiting with Charlie and the band prior to one of their performances at the Weiner Metropole in Vienna. Charlie and I chatted about the 125th Anniversary Gretsch poster, and we had a good time looking at old Gretsch photos and catalogs dating back to 1912. Charlie then mentioned that he planned to call noted vintage drum dealer Steve Maxwell to arrange for a loaner Gretsch kit for the ABC&D of Boogie Woogie’s New York City dates. So look for that kit if you go to one of the group’s shows.

And by the way, if you do plan to go, get your tickets right away. When I saw the band play in Vienna, the club was literally packed with boogie woogie fans.  I’ve no doubt it’ll be the same in New York!