Gretsch Centennial Series

Not So Modern Drummer Feature Article by Keith Fisher

Reposted with Permission

There have been some musical instruments produced over the years that could lay claim to being “a work of art”, but I suspect the eye of the beholder invariably belonged to the musician – the beauty largely unrecognised by the general public… not so this Gretsch Centennial.  Never had I heard comments from women in the audience about ‘that beautiful drum-kit’ or praise from guitarists and pianists about how incredible it sounded until I took the ridiculous decision to gig this rarest of rare and finest of fine gold and Elm-Burr masterpiece in the pubs and clubs of my home town.  For the first fifteen years it never left my house – except to make its perilous journey from Los Angeles to England – and sat in glorious silence, hidden from the world, untouched by stick in anger.  Now, because real glory belongs to the people who crafted this instrument to such a monumental standard and to the man who conceived of such a fitting testament to a company that led the world of drums for so many decades, I decided that by far the greatest tribute I could pay to those people was to play the kit.  I am further obliged however, to explain how such a rare and valuable instrument came to exist, and furthermore, came into my possession.  So, let me start at the beginning and explain briefly why these drums were made and why there is so much mystery concerning them.

In 1967 Fred Gretsch Junior was sixty years old and without an heir.  The company his grandfather had started – family run for eighty-four successful years – was about to be sold!  The ‘Sixties music scene was happening and the Baldwin Piano Company was knocking at his door: they needed drums and guitars to expand their market.  Twelve years later they bought Kustom Amplifiers and with that company came Mr. Charlie Roy, who set about reviving a drum company that had not even produced a new catalogue in seven years.  So profound was his involvement in revitalising the company that in 1982, Baldwin, who were obviously totally out of their depth, offered to sell it to him.  The story up to this point is well documented history, now we enter the twilight zone.

In 1983, on their stand at the Frankfurt Trade Fair, in stark contrast to the majority of drum manufacturers – who in Tama’s case had three floors of displays – Gretsch had one drum kit!  A jazz kit, finished in Bird’s Eye Maple with gold plated fittings.  A numbered, limited edition with a special new badge and every drum personally signed by Charlie Roy as part of a series of one hundred kits to celebrate the hundredth birthday of the company.  According to the Gretsch staff, this was not a production run: every kit would be ‘made to order’ to the specifications of the customer.  No brochure was produced, all that was shown to the dealers of the world were photographs of the three wood veneers available and after that it was up to the customer to say what sizes were required.  The other two woods were Burl Walnut and Elm Burr.  The drums were fitted with specially commissioned heads from Evans in a mirror gold finish.  Even the snare wires and the drum key were gold plated.  Any of the three finishes were available with chrome-plated hardware if desired.  Each of the drums was given a special silver badge inside the shell that identified it with the set: in the case of my seven-piece kit (set #19) the bass drum was 1 of 7, while the snare drum was 7 of 7.  The new outer badge featured the set number and also Charlie Roy’s signature in gold on bronze.  Alongside all of this a customised satin tour-jacket was included, and it featured your name under the Gretsch logo on the front, and on the back was “THE CENTENNIAL” and an embroidered depiction of the kit.  This meant you could flaunt ownership while the kit stayed safely in the house.    Truly a collectors dream!

The entire article and more photos can be found on Not So Modern Drummer under Featured Articles.

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