Posts Tagged ‘Chet Atkins’

Today’s Tech and Young Thumbs

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Today’s technology helps Millennials discover – and learn – fingerstyle guitar playing.

By Fred W. Gretsch

Today’s young guitarists are taking advantage of the thousands of guitar and recording app options they can download onto their smartphones and tablets. Without a doubt, digital technology has played–and will continue to play–a huge role in the day-to-day lives of these young musicians. The rise and success of these young guitarists can still be attributed to good, old-fashioned drive, hard work, and hours upon hours of practice…but with some help from today’s technology to boot.

Okay, now about these “Young Thumbs”…

“Who are these kids, and why are they winning these awards?” That was the question fingerstyle guitar fans were asking back in 2013 and 2014, as a wave of young guitarists – many of them barely teenagers – were not only competing against adults in national guitar competitions, they were also winning.

Young Thumb members pose for a group photo at the 2015 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention. From left: Evan Twitty, Gracie Constable, Chelsea Constable, Samuel Grounds, Parker Hastings, Kirby Jane, Tanner Duckworth, Sojourner McClure, and mentor John Knowles CPG. Photo: Jennifer Keller Easler.

John Knowles CGP (left) and Parker Hastings performing together at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN. Photo courtesy of Parker Hastings.

Sixteen-year-old Sojourner McClure placed first in the Traditional Category at the 2013 International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Championship, held annually at the Merle Travis Music Center in Powderly, Kentucky. The following year, history was made at the competition when 14-year-old Parker Hastings won BOTH the traditional and the contemporary thumbpicking categories (and history would be made again two years later when two young ladies swept the thumbpicking event for the first time).

In Nashville, the same youth movement was being noticed at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) Convention. Although not a competition, the largest gathering of fingerstyle guitar fans and performers in the country saw an increase of young attendees who were jamming with each other in the hotel lobby, and signing up for as many Open Mic slots as possible at the four-day event. Older, more established performers were noticing too, with several of them inviting these young up-and-comers onstage to play and get exposure.

At the 2014 CAAS Convention, John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel, two legendary master guitarists who were both awarded Certified Guitar Player (CGP) honors from their mentor, Chet Atkins, were impressed and excited with this infusion of new talent at the Convention. John and Tommy decided the time was right to gather these teenagers in a room and have them perform for each other for the first time. The result was magical. The room was packed, the young players were jaw-dropping good, and the older players realized the future of fingerstyle playing was in very good hands. As a result, a new club was formed: The Young Thumbs. “At some point, someone suggested calling the players the Young Guns,” said John Knowles. “But I said, no, this isn’t a shootout. It’s a family. What about the Young Thumbs? It was a paraphrase of Young Guns and everyone liked it.”

The original goals of the Young Thumbs were to get them noticed at the CAAS Convention so they could perform their own sets onstage; help them make connections with the older, established guitarists and find a mentor; and encourage them to connect with each other. Two years later, these initial goals have been met. The Young Thumbs currently total about 25 male and female members up to the age of 21, with some residing as far away as New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, and Australia. In addition to the invaluable advice and encouragement they receive from John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel, there’s also a small support group of adults volunteering their time to manage the Young Thumbs’ Facebook page and assist them with basic marketing and promotion.

When talking with these young guitarists and asking them about influences, two answers come up regularly: Tommy Emmanuel and YouTube. “I think it’s Tommy’s world travels and YouTube that are the two biggest factors,” said John. “Tommy is the gateway to this style of guitar playing now because there’s more people hearing him and there’s an electrifying energy in what he does. They’ll find Tommy on YouTube, then click on the recommended links and discover who came before Tommy and influenced his playing: Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and Merle Travis.”

Katelyn Prieboy, Grand Champion (left), and Bella Speelman, Runner-Up, with mentor John Knowles CGP, after receiving their Gretsch guitars for being the first females to sweep the Legends Thumbpicking Championship. Photo by Ron Denny.

Two Young Thumbs members, Katelyn Prieboy and Bella Speelman, made history at the recent 2016 International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Competition in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, by being the first females to place first and second in the 28-year history of the event. And, both credit YouTube as being their primary teacher.

“YouTube has been simply invaluable. I don’t know how many hours a week I’m on it,” shared 19-year-old Grand Champion Katelyn Prieboy. “There’s so much music for this genre available that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s such a great resource for watching videos of your guitar heroes and learning from them.”

Runner-Up Bella Speelman, 17, and a senior in high school added, “My teacher didn’t know this style, so YouTube played a big role in me finding Chet Atkins and learning how to play like him. Although I’ve listened a ton to Chet and I’ll listen to a song at least 50 times before I try to learn it, it’s so helpful watching a video of Chet; seeing where he played things and learning by watching his movements on the fretboard.”

Fellow Young Thumbs member Parker Hastings added, “YouTube is a pretty powerful tool to see footage of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Jerry Reed, Lenny Breau and other artists. Literally with a click, it is all at your fingertips; an endless supply of visual inspiration. Plus, YouTube now has a feature that lets you slow the video down if you’re trying to learn or steal a lick without affecting the song’s pitch. A far superior method to how the older pickers learned back in the day: loading a turntable with coins or weights to slow the record down.”

Kirby Jane

Kirby Jane, 22 and a Young Thumbs “Alum,” is one of several female fingerstyle guitarists making a name for herself in Nashville. When asked about the importance of YouTube, Kirby shared, “I was one of those kids that started with YouTube. Joe Robinson is one of the first guitar stars of the YouTube generation. He taught himself primarily through YouTube because, like me, he lived in a small town. Joe’s videos on ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ led me to Tommy Emmanuel’s music, then Tommy’s music lead me to John Knowles. I can still remember watching Edgar Cruz’s `Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Tommy Emmanuel’s ‘Beatles Medley’ videos on YouTube. They’re the two videos that lit a spark and led me down this road to learning fingerstyle playing.”

In addition to YouTube, today’s young guitarists also take advantage of the thousands of guitar and recording app options they can download onto their smartphones and tablets. GarageBand and JamUp are two apps that give them access to dozens of stompbox effects and amps and makes recording easy. GuitarToolkit is a popular app containing scales, chords, a metronome and a tuner, and Audacity TempoSloMo, and BestPractice are apps that let them import and export audio files and slow songs down for practicing and learning. Many Young Thumb artists also use OnSong, an app that replaces binders and paper, and digitally stores music and set lists. And, Skype is a very popular tool these young musicians use for staying in touch, sharing songs they’re working on, and swapping guitar licks back and forth in real time from practically anywhere in the world.

Without a doubt, digital technology has played – and will continue to play – a huge role in the day-to-day lives of these young musicians.  And, with one hour of video being uploaded onto YouTube every second, (that’s right, every second!), it will continue to be the primary site musicians go to for learning and inspiration. But, these young musicians are quick to point out that technology is only a tool. The human element of playing together with other people, jamming, sharing guitar licks, and getting feedback and encouragement from fellow musicians is still vital to their growth and development as artists. John Knowles, the main mentor of the Young Thumbs, shared, “I haven’t seen any parents pushing their kids to play like Chet Atkins. Each of these Young Thumbs found this fingerstyle playing in their own way, but once they heard it, something clicked, and from then on they were relentless like I was, like Tommy was, like Chet was, like all of us were. The Young Thumbs are all self-motivated, and they’ve gotten this far by being self-learners, self-motivated learners.”

Check out these great videos from these fantastic Young Thumbs:

Bella Speelman performing “Black Mountain Rag” at the 2016 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in Nashville, TN:

Parker Hastings performs an original composition “Looking for Licks” at 2016 CAAS Convention:

Katelyn Prieboy performing one of her favorite Chet Atkins arrangements, “Swedish Rhapsody,” from Atkins’ 1956 “Finger-Style Guitar” album:

Kirby Jane performing her arrangement of Randy Newman’s “Lonely at the Top”:

Parker Hastings and John Knowles CGP, performing “Cold, Cold Heart” at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN:

More videos from the 2016 CAAS Convention can be enjoyed on The Gretsch Company’s YouTube Channel.
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Young Thumbs Keep Chet Atkins’ Music and Legacy Alive

Monday, August 1st, 2016

By Fred W. Gretsch

There was a noticeable and refreshing youth movement at this year’s 32nd annual CAAS (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society) Convention held July 13-16 in Nashville. According to John Knowles CGP, there was one young performer at last year’s event, but this year’s lineup expanded to more than eight young performers on stage – some not even old enough to drive.

Many of these young men and women, who came from all over the U.S. – as well as Denmark, New Zealand, and Japan – visited the Gretsch Room to plug in and play a Gretsch Chet Atkins model guitar. Not only was I impressed with their mastery of Chet’s fingerstyle playing technique, I was also impressed by their deep knowledge of Chet Atkins’ music and legacy. Many of them even include Chet quotes on their business cards and websites.

Parker Hastings

One Young Thumb who caught my eye and ear was Parker Hastings from Richmond, Kentucky. Parker, who turned 16 during the CAAS event, has won not one, but two Gretsch guitars through the International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Competition, which is held each year in Powderly, Kentucky. In 2014, he was the youngest person to be crowned Grand Champion, winning both traditional and contemporary categories, and won a Chet Atkins 6120 electric guitar. Parker was also inducted into the National Thumbpickers Hall of Fame in 2014 by winning their “Horizon Award” and recently received their “Thumbpicker of the Year” Award in 2015. He has played at numerous Chet Atkins Tributes and recently performed a fingerstyle guitar demonstration with John Knowles at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that explored the acoustic and electric guitar styles of Chet Atkins. (Read a special Gretsch interview conducted with Parker during the CAAS event. I know you’ll be impressed with this rising young guitar star.)

Katelyn Prieboy

Another Young Thumb, 19-year-old Katelyn Prieboy, performed for the first time at CAAS and delivered an impressive “Chet Set” on her Gretsch 6120. The Belmont University student was inspired to play the guitar by Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley. Paisley led her to discover Garth Brooks, whose duets with Steve Wariner opened her eyes to Steve’s music and, according to Katelyn, used Google and YouTube to discover this guy named Chet that Steve Wariner was always talking about. Once Katelyn found her way to Chet Atkins, she was hooked. She got her first thumbpick and a Gretsch guitar, because she says that’s the way to get Chet’s tone, and has been working the past four to five years to learn Chet’s technique and style.

So, why the increase of young guitar players performing at CAAS this year? You can start with two of Chet’s CGP award recipients: John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel. In an effort to fill the CAAS pipeline with young, teenage pickers and introduce them to the music of Chet Atkins, they formed the Young Thumbs group. Through a dedicated Facebook page, social media, and events like CAAS, these young musicians can meet and connect with other young guitarists. It was cool seeing these Young Thumbs socializing, jamming, and exchanging guitar licks and tips in the hotel lobby over the four-day event. Chet would’ve loved seeing that.

Kirby Easler

In addition to talented teenagers, there were plenty of young “twenty-something” performers that impressed me as well, including Kirby Easler, Brooks Robertson, Dan Bankhurst, and my and Dinah’s friend, Joe Robinson, who showed up with his Gretsch Country Gentleman and wowed the audience with a terrific 45-minute set. While in Nashville, Joe also participated in the Gretsch Sounds/Guitar Pull performance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Joe was onstage with Tommy Emmanuel (playing Chet’s famous “Dark Eyes” prototype Gretsch guitar), fingerstyle legend Eddie Pennington, and Striking Matches, the impressive guitar duo of Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman. The artists performed a superb mix of Chet songs, thumbpicking classics, and fresh, original songs. It was a classy way to bring the “American Sound and Beauty: Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection” exhibit to a close.

Joe Robinson

All told, it was a great week in Nashville for fans of Chet Atkins and Gretsch guitars. I believe Chet would be pleased that his music and fingerpicking style of guitar is being passed down to so many young, talented players today. He would also be happy that many of his friends – especially John Knowles and Tommy Emmanuel – are investing so much of their time to mentor, guide, and help these young artists succeed. After all, Chet did the same for John and Tommy years ago. They obviously learned from the best and are now “paying it forward” to the next generation of guitar players. That’s how Chet would want it.

Evan Twitty

Tanner Duckworth

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Chet Atkins’ Little Black Book (of Songs)

Monday, June 27th, 2016

By Fred W. Gretsch

From the outside, it looks like an everyday, ordinary pocket-sized memo book. The kind you can still buy at any office supply store. Its black leather cover is worn around the edges and it’s scuffed from years of being put in coat pockets, briefcases, suitcases – and even guitar cases. Just like the man who bought it, the book’s cover is understated and unassuming. But once opened, you’re given a fascinating glimpse into the musical journey of the book’s original owner: Chet Atkins.

Chet bought this memo book in 1950 when he played with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters act on KWTO, a radio station in Springfield, Missouri. You see “Chester A. Atkins, Feb. 12, 1950, Springfield” written in pencil on the first page. Chet started out using this book to select songs for the daily morning radio show, and the many public appearances Chet and the Carter family made across Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

When Chet first created his list, the songs were typed on loose-leaf paper and organized in alphabetical order. Many included the songwriter and if it was licensed through BMI or ASCAP. As new songs were added, Chet wrote them down by hand with whatever ink pen or pencil he had on him at the time. Some of the songs were written neatly, others hurriedly, and some included the key they were played in. It’s also heartwarming to see several scribbled pencil drawings throughout the book made by Chet’s young daughter, Merle.

“Caravan” and “Country Gentleman” were two popular songs Chet added; young daughter, Merle, made the pencil drawing. Photo by Ron Denny.

In addition to being a master guitarist, Chet was famous for the vast number of songs and song styles he could play. There are 475 songs listed in this book alone. 475! And they include a wide range of genres: classical, blues, country, ragtime, bluegrass, pop, and even Spanish-influenced. It’s mind blowing.

It’s also a treat seeing songs listed that played a part in launching the successful Gretsch – Chet Atkins guitar endorsement in the mid-1950s. “Mr. Sandman” and “Silver Bell,” two instrumental hit singles from 1955, were hand-written in the book along with “Country Gentleman,” a signature song that became both Chet’s nickname and the name of his top-of-the-line Gretsch guitar model introduced in 1958.

You also recognize dozens of songs in the book that made their way onto Chet’s RCA Victor albums of the 1950s and early 1960s. These songs would have been recorded on a variety of Gretsch Chet Atkins Model guitars built at our Brooklyn factory: 6120s, prototype 6120s custom-built for Chet, and, of course, his iconic 1959 Country Gentleman, considered the most recorded guitar in music history.

Chet liked surprising his friends with little gifts and tokens of appreciation, and no one was more surprised than his longtime bandleader and confidant, Paul Yandell, at the 1996 Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention. After awarding John Knowles with a CGP (Certified Guitar Player) Award, Chet pulled the black book out of a hat, which had been placed on a stool onstage, and presented it to an unsuspecting Paul.

Paul’s wife, Marie, and son, Micah, have been friends of mine for years, and shared that Paul had no knowledge of the song book until Chet gave it to him and told him the story behind it. When Paul got home that night, he sat down and looked through the book page-by-page, astonished at all the songs Chet had played through the years.

Marie also shared that the book was a sentimental treasure to Paul, and felt Chet gave it to her husband in appreciation of the deep friendship the two guitarists had formed from playing together for more than 20 years. Micah added that it represented the bond, respect, and love his father and Chet had for each other. They were as close as two brothers, and his father always looked up to Chet and considered him a father figure.

Chet Atkins and Paul Yandell performing together in 1979.

The book is an interesting diary of the most important decade in Chet Atkins’ musical career. In the summer of 1950, just a few months after creating his song book, Chet was lured to Nashville and never looked back. In the 10 years that followed, Chet established himself as a successful recording artist, producer, and record executive; created the sophisticated “Nashville Sound;” and had his name on a popular line of Gretsch guitars. He also earned the nickname of “Mr. Guitar.”

Chet influenced and inspired thousands of young guitarists. In fact one of the songs Chet typed in the book, “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Guitar,” was heard on the radio one night by a young guitarist in Kentucky. Chet’s song changed the teenager’s life, and he became obsessed with Chet’s trademark fingerpicking style and bought as many Chet Atkins records as he could afford. The name of that Kentucky teenager was Paul Yandell.

How fitting that 40 years later, Chet would entrust Paul with his old song book which included not only “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Guitar,” but dozens of other songs Chet and Paul had performed together for decades. What a gesture of friendship and love to the man Chet described as not only a great guitar player, but also someone who knew everything Chet had done and could do it better. Classic Chet.

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Great Gretsch Guitarists: Joe Robinson

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Multi-talented Wonder From Down Under

By Fred W. Gretsch

In 2001, the Gretsch family lost a dear friend with the passing of Chet Atkins, one of the most talented guitarists and influential musicians of a generation. That same year, a 10-year-old boy named Joe Robinson, living half a world away in Australia, was jumping on a trampoline one day, heard Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” on his Dad’s stereo, and decided it was time to stop the piano lessons and start playing a much cooler instrument: the guitar.

A young Joe at home in Australia doing what else? Playing guitar!

I’d like to thank Joe’s parents (and Eric Clapton) for their roles in that pivotal moment. As many of you know, Joe was a quick learner for his age. The 10-year-old soon outgrew his guitar teacher, and because he lived in a small, remote town in Australia, taught himself primarily through online lessons and YouTube videos. A year later, an 11-year-old Joe was being mentored  – and playing onstage – with fellow Australian (and Chet Atkins CGP Award winner) Tommy Emmanuel, one of the world’s pre-eminent fingerpicker guitarists.

The prodigy picker’s teenage years were just as eventful. There are too many highlights, awards, and accolades to list, but here are a few: Joe won the Australian National Songwriting Competition at 13, recorded his first album at 15, won Australia’s Got Talent grand finale (playing a blistering Tommy Emmanuel-inspired version of “Classical Gas”), and recorded his second critically-acclaimed album “Time Jumpin’” at 17. He was also named “Best New Talent” in Guitar Player magazine’s reader poll, and toured extensively across Europe, Japan, Australia, and America, impressing audiences and winning over new fans with his jaw-dropping guitar chops and intense, energetic live shows.

And Joe hasn’t stopped evolving or showing any signs of slowing down in his 20s. He released a breakthrough album, “Let Me Introduce You” in 2012 that featured one of Joe’s best-kept secrets: his smooth, soulful voice.  The five-star album was an impressive mix of mature, melodic songwriting, superb acoustic and electric guitar playing, and a voice that complimented his own style of blues, rock, jazz and R&B.

The Guitar Army Tour featuring Robben Ford (left), Joe Robinson, and Lee Roy Parnell.

The Guitar Army Tour featuring Robben Ford (left), Joe Robinson, and Lee Roy Parnell.

Now a resident of Nashville, Joe has continued his growth and evolution as an artist by honing his singing, songwriting, and composing skills. He recently released three highly-rated EPs and is a current member of the Guitar Army Tour, sharing the stage with legendary guitarists and musicians Robben Ford and Lee Roy Parnell. Dinah and I had the pleasure of visiting with Joe recently and attending a show in Virginia. It was an amazing performance by this trio of superb musicians. What a show!

Dinah and I are so proud to have Joe in the Gretsch family of artists, and were happy to learn that one of Joe’s heroes and early influences was Chet Atkins. Joe’s parents were amateur musicians and had a lot of musician friends at their home, especially on weekends, jamming into the wee hours of the morning. According to Joe, one group of friends lived and breathed Chet Atkins. They played Chet’s songs on a Gretsch Country Gentleman and even showed young Joe how to play with a thumbpick. Through Chet’s music, Joe learned a wide range of styles, the importance of a good melody, and how to fingerpick. It also exposed him to fellow Australian and Chet disciple, Tommy Emmanuel, and Joe said he continued to “absorb Chet Atkins” through playing and mentoring with Tommy.

Joe with a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.

It’s appropriate that one of Joe’s main guitars onstage and in the studio is a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. He plays both a full-sized 6122 and a Country Gentleman Junior. And, it’s even more appropriate that Joe first fell in love with his Country Gent at the Gretsch display at a Chet Atkins Appreciation Society event in Nashville. Although he thinks of himself as an acoustic player first, Joe was drawn to his Gretsch because of its fingerpicking-friendly feel and its versatility when plugged in. He also loves his Country Gentleman for what Joe calls its “big, fat sound.”

Dinah and I also appreciate Joe’s willingness to share his love of music with students. Joe has made three visits to Thomas Heyward Academy in Ridgeland, S.C. as part of Dinah’s Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, which supports music education in rural schools. Joe said he remembers musicians visiting his rural high school in Australia and encouraging and inspiring him, so he jumps at any chance to get in front of children and teenagers to do the same. Joe’s friendly, down-to-earth personality and his own inspiring story of hard work and determination really help him connect with the students. Plus, Joe uses the opportunity to try out new songs, because he says kids will give you honest feedback and tell you exactly what they think, which he finds refreshing.

If Chet Atkins were here today, he would undoubtedly like Joe Robinson and enjoy trading licks, playing, and recording with this young Australian virtuoso. He would approve of his work ethic (Joe woke up at 4 a.m. and practiced four hours before school, then practiced four hours after school), the level head on his shoulders, his drive to grow and explore new musical directions, and his total love for the guitar (like Chet, Joe often falls asleep with his guitar).  I also think Mr. Guitar would approve of Joe representing Gretsch and playing one of his signature guitars onstage and in the studio, because like Chet, Joe is also a gentleman. He just happens to be from another country.

Joe Robinson and Pat Bergeson performing their Salute to Chet Atkins at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2011.

YouTube Clips:

This clip of 16-year-old “Smokin’Joe” Robinson performing his “Day Tripper/Lady Madonna” instrumental on Australia’s Got Talent TV Show has had over 3 million views.

Joe performing “Lethal Injection” with Bernard Harris on bass and Marcus Hill on drums.

Joe obliges Fred Gretsch’s request from the audience to play “Adelaide” at the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration in 2013.

Joe and Richard Smith (right) honoring Merle Travis and Chet Atkins by performing an impromptu fingerpicking classic, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” at the Gretsch 130th Anniversary Celebration in 2013.

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Seventy-five Vintage Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection Sparkle and Shine at Nashville Museum Exhibit

Monday, January 18th, 2016

A historical collection of vintage, rare, and one-of-a-kind Gretsch guitars is now on display at The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. The new exhibit, American Sound and Beauty: Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection, features 75 of the more than 300 Gretsch guitars amassed by Canadian musician Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive fame. It is the largest collection of guitars ever displayed at the Museum and marks the first time the public has seen a part of Bachman’s extensive Gretsch collection, considered the largest in the world. The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, purchased the collection in 2008.

Several rare and one-of-a-kind vintage Gretsch guitars from the 1960s on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo by Ron Denny/The Gretsch Company.

Fred Gretsch, fourth generation Gretsch Company president, and wife Dinah, CFO and executive vice president, were joined by family, friends, and legendary musicians at a special preview and reception hosted by the Museum on Thursday night, January 14.

Gretsch President Fred Gretsch sharing remarks about the Bachman-Gretsch Collection. Ben Hall, Major Gifts Manager at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum, holds the Gretsch Company’s 130th Anniversary history poster. Photo by Ron Denny/The Gretsch Company.

Gretsch shared that he never imagined a phone call made to Randy Bachman more than 30 years ago asking for his help would lead to this special exhibit. After buying back the family business from the Baldwin Company in 1984, Gretsch needed vintage Gretsch guitars to use as prototypes. “Randy was kind enough to share several of his guitars from his collection,” said Gretsch. “We are forever grateful for his assistance in helping launch that first generation of new Gretsch guitars.”

Gretsch also thinks “American Sound and Beauty” is an appropriate name for the exhibit. “The guitars on display are as American as it gets,” said Gretsch. “Most were built in Brooklyn, New York at The Gretsch Building, a building my grandfather Fred Gretsch Sr. constructed and opened 100 years ago in 1916.”

“These guitars also contributed their unique sound to the evolution of popular American music, including jazz, country, and of course, rock ‘n’ roll,” continued Gretsch, “Plus, Gretsch ushered in a new era of colorful and sparkly guitar finishes in the 1950s. The guitars on display are just beautiful and look like true works of art in the Museum.”

Gretsch closed his remarks at the reception by honoring Chet Atkins, the most important endorser of Gretsch electric guitars, and the musician that influenced a long list of artists including Duane Eddy, Paul Yandell, George Harrison, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Brian Setzer, Steve Wariner, Joe Robinson, Tommy Emmanuel, and Randy Bachman. (Fred Gretsch’s remarks in their entirety can be seen below.)

Steve Wariner Performs at Exhibit Opening Reception.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy followed Gretsch on the program and shared the important role Gretsch guitars had in developing his legendary “twangy” sound. Eddy bought his first Gretsch Chet Atkins Model 6120 in 1957, and Gretsch offers a current Duane Eddy Signature Model almost 60 years later. Country Music singer, songwriter, and guitarist Steve Wariner closed the program with a tasteful instrument tribute to his late friend and mentor, Chet Atkins.

During the exhibit’s opening weekend on Friday, January 15, and Saturday, January 16, Gretsch guitar expert and author Edward Ball conducted Gallery Talkback sessions entitled “The Gretsch Legacy” in the Museum’s Taylor Swift Education Center.  A variety of special programs will be scheduled throughout the length of the exhibit.

American Sound and Beauty: Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection will be on display through July 10, 2016. For more information about the exhibit, visit countrymusichalloffame.org. To learn more about Gretsch guitars, visit gretschguitars.com.

Fred Gretsch’s Reception Remarks:

On behalf of five generations of the Gretsch Family, it is my honor to welcome you as we celebrate the opening of the Exhibition titled:  American Sound and Beauty, Guitars from the Bachman-Gretsch Collection.  Thank you for joining us this evening.

We never imagined a phone call made to Randy Bachman 30 years ago asking for his help would lead to this special exhibit. After buying back the family business from Baldwin in the mid-80s, we had to literally start from scratch in developing the new line of Gretsch guitars. We had heard of Randy’s vast collection and asked him if we could borrow several of his vintage Gretsch’s so we could measure them, spec them, and use them to build prototypes as close to the original formula as possible. Randy was kind enough to say “Yes” and we are forever grateful for his assistance in helping launch that first generation of new Gretsch guitars.

We think “American Sound and Beauty” is an appropriate name for this exhibit. The guitars displayed here are as AMERICAN as it gets.  They were built in Brooklyn, New York, on the seventh floor of The Gretsch Building. A building my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., constructed & opened 100 years ago in 1916 and it still stands today. (But instead of making guitars and drums that look like a million bucks, The Gretsch Building now is condos you can buy for a million bucks…)

And SOUND. These vintage guitars on display – as well as new Gretsch guitars that were shipped out today – have a special SOUND that is “Uniquely Gretsch”. It’s part of the recipe we want to preserve so “That Great Gretsch Sound” will continue for future generations to discover and enjoy.

And BEAUTY. Gretsch guitars have a long reputation for their cool, colorful looks. We were pioneers in the 1950s that added new palettes of colors and two-tones and sparkle to the guitar world that had long been dominated by natural and sunburst finishes. One of my memories of working at The Gretsch Building were seeing all the racks of finished, gleaming, and beautiful Gretsch guitars. They were handsome indeed.

It’s also ironic that 75 Gretsch guitars out of a collection of more than 300 instruments were selected to be on display for this exhibit. When I joined the Gretsch Company full-time in 1965, it was at the height of the guitar boom (thanks to Chet Atkins, George Harrison, and The Beatles), and we were scrambling to build and ship out our new goal of 75 guitars a day.

We are here tonight because of exceptional people – giants in my mind – that were and are exceptional influencers. My great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, my grandfather, Fred Gretsch, Sr., my father, Bill Gretsch, my uncle, Fred Gretsch, Jr., Jimmie Webster, Duke Kramer, Phil Grant, and Dinah Gretsch; exceptional leaders all on behalf of the Gretsch business just to name a few.

Equally as tall are our artist partnerships that started with Billy Gladstone back in the 1930s. We think you will agree the most important partnership – and the one that put Gretsch guitars on the map – was our endorsement with Chet Atkins. A partnership that endures 60+ years later.

The 130 year Gretsch history poster I have here lets me use pictures to say a thousand words. The left half of the poster from your perspective is popular music from the 1880s until Rock and Roll was born. Think even before radio when the player piano and the phonograph were the high tech products of their day.  The Gretsch business in that era was primarily all about supplying instruments for music education, marching bands, and making banjos and parlor guitars.

Chet Atkins stands out right in the middle of this poster. He ushers in a new era of popular music at the forefront of Rock and Roll when the electric guitar was now becoming the star, both in the recording studio and on stage. His partnership with the Gretsch family was to influence a long list of artists including Duane Eddy, Paul Yandell, George Harrison, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Brian Setzer, Steve Wariner, Joe Robinson, a six-year-old boy in Australia named Tommy Emmanuel, a teenager in Canada named Randy Bachman, and thousands more.

In closing, it all comes full circle now in our celebration here this evening.  We are reminded how important it is for us to welcome and encourage new generations of musicians & their music to keep the circle unbroken.  How important it is to be a positive influence to others, and how important it is to support music education – something that is very near and dear to Dinah and me, and is the primary mission of the Gretsch Foundation, who incidentally has owned the Bachman-Gretsch Collection since 2008.

And speaking of music education, I would be remiss by not recognizing Andy Mooney, the new CEO of Fender Musical Instruments who is here with us this evening.  He is our partner in the worldwide marketing and distribution of Gretsch guitars. Andy not only leads the number one guitar company in the world, but has initiated a new digital products division dedicated to making it easier and more fun to play the guitar, to help players connect with other players, and to help beginners who pick up a guitar get through the crucial first 12 months of the learning cycle to make a lifelong commitment to enjoying the guitar. Thank you, Andy.

On behalf of Dinah and me, we would like to congratulate our partners, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, for their world-class presentation of this historic exhibit.  Special thanks also go out to Carolyn Tate, Kyle Young, Steve Turner, Mick Buck, and John Reed.  And just as important, we salute their work on behalf of musicians of all ages showcased in their distance learning programs and in the work of the Taylor Swift Educational Center.

Thanks again for joining us this evening.

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Chet and Paul: Playing Side-By-Side for 25 Years

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Remembering the 40th Anniversary of Paul Yandell becoming Chet Atkins’ right hand man

By Fred Gretsch

Forty years ago, three of the finest fingerpickers–Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and Paul Yandell–participated in a friendly band member swap. Yandell, a guitar virtuoso and the consummate sideman, had been in Jerry Reed’s band for nearly five years. By 1975 though, Jerry was focused more on growing his acting career than recording and touring, and no longer needed a band.

Chet Atkins

Paul visited his friend and mentor, Chet Atkins, and asked if he needed a guitar player. Chet said he might, but would need Jerry’s permission first before hiring him. Fortunately, Jerry gave Chet his blessing and told Chet something Mr. Guitar already knew: Paul Yandell was the best rhythm guitarist and accompanist in the business.

A week later, Paul was in a rented tuxedo and playing onstage alongside his guitar hero, Chet Atkins, with The Jackson Symphony in Mississippi. It would be the first of countless shows Chet and Paul would play together over the next 25 years.

I was fortunate to be friends with both Chet Atkins and Paul Yandell. It was amazing how similar their backgrounds, interests, and personalities were. They could have easily been brothers. Like Chet, Paul came from a humble, rural upbringing and had a passion–some might call it an obsession–for guitars, music, and electronics. In fact when Paul was a teenager, he built his own radio device and first heard Chet Atkins playing “I’ve Been Working On The Guitar” on a Cincinnati radio station. Chet’s fingerstyle playing had a huge impact on Paul and he started buying as many Chet Atkins records as he could afford.

Paul’s dream of being a professional musician came true when he joined the Louvin Brothers in the mid-1950s. He was an accomplished guitarist with a style similar to the popular Chet Atkins. Paul even played a Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Hollow Body electric in honor of his guitar hero.

After a brief stint in the Army, Paul joined the Kitty Wells band in the early 1960s and even wrote her 1965 hit “I’ll Repossess My Heart.” By 1970, Paul was tired of the road, burned out, and looking for a new musical challenge. That challenge came from Jerry “Guitar Man” Reed. Jerry and Paul were Army buddies and Jerry was a rising guitar and singing star whose biggest admirer was Chet Atkins.

Joining Jerry Reed’s band turned out to be an important career move for Paul. In addition to learning new guitar techniques from the second best fingerpicker alive, Jerry also taught Paul the art of recording and engineering, and helped Paul get session work in Nashville. The biggest prize Paul received from being in Jerry Reed’s band was the opportunity to be around and become better friends with Chet Atkins. Jerry and Chet were very close and Chet produced several of Jerry’s albums and the two also recorded together. Paul said he “went to college” working for Jerry Reed, and all he learned from Jerry helped qualify him to work for Chet.

About the only difference between Paul and Chet was that Paul didn’t want the spotlight or the fame; he preferred being a sideman and just playing music. That was the role he loved. Paul had outstanding rhythm and timing and was a good improviser. He knew exactly what to play and was there to complement Chet onstage or in the studio, not to get in his way or upstage him. Paul said many times that working for Chet Atkins was a dream job. He said he never got over the thrill of going out on stage with Chet and that no one had a better job or worked for a nicer, more caring person. In their 25 years together, Paul and Chet became very close friends, as did their families. Chet was quoted as saying that next to his wife, Leona, Paul probably knew him better than anybody.

Paul Yandell

Being Chet Atkins’ right hand man required Paul to have many valuable roles: accompanist, bandleader, songwriter, guitar technician, guitar and amp repairman, and more. Like Chet, Paul was self-taught and very knowledgeable of electronics and enjoyed tinkering with guitars and amplifiers at his home workbench. Paul and Chet spent countless hours exploring ways to improve the sound and playability of the electric guitar. Paul always carried tools with him whenever he and Chet toured and fixed many amps and guitars that were damaged inflight. Paul even built Chet a solid body guitar he called “The Peaver”, and when Chet wanted his priceless 1950 D’Angelico guitar restored back to an electric, he trusted his friend Paul Yandell with the project because he knew it would be done right.

After Chet passed away in 2001, I wanted to honor Chet’s legacy by working with Paul to faithfully recreate Chet’s famous 1959 Country Gentleman, the guitar on which he recorded most of his RCA hits. Paul loved the idea because he thought it was a great way to remember Chet and also gave guitar players a chance to own a copy of one of the world’s most historic guitars. Paul worked diligently to measure Chet’s original guitar, read the pickups, and spec everything for the Gretsch production team. The result was the G6122-1959 Nashville Classic, a name Paul suggested. We were both very satisfied with the end result.

Chets Guitars. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

We are forever grateful to Paul for his important role in bringing Chet Atkins’ name back to Gretsch guitars. Chet’s family trusted Paul’s advice and like many music fans, Paul believed Chet’s best work was performed on Gretsch guitars and that Chet and Gretsch should be reunited. Announcing the release of new Gretsch Chet Atkins signature guitars in 2007 was one of my personal career highlights.

It was fitting that Paul received the fifth and final Chet Atkins CGP Award in 2011, only a few months before he passed away. Chet’s family presented the award to Paul during a ceremony at the Gretsch-sponsored Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. With Paul’s passing, we lost a good friend, and the music world said goodbye to one of the most unassuming master guitarists that ever put on a thumb pick.

From left: Fred Gretsch, Paul Yandell, and Dinah Gretsch together at the August 10th reception celebrating the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s new tribute exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player. (Donn Jones Photography)

Webster-Designed Gretsch White Falcon Turns 60

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Gretsch Remembers Jimmie Webster, the Musician, Inventor, and Traveling Ambassador for Gretsch Guitars who, among many other important contributions, designed the Gretsch White Falcon.

Jimmie Webster

The Early Days.

Jimmie Webster was born on August 11, 1908 in Van Wert, Ohio into a very musical family. Both parents played as well as taught piano and his sister, Virginia, became a well-respected jazz pianist. Keeping the family tradition alive, Webster excelled at piano but also had a passion for the guitar.

In the 1930s Webster was a professional musician in the New York City area and married L’Ana Hyams, one of the first women jazz bandleaders. Webster was also an in-demand professional piano tuner, ran a small music store, and began doing a little consulting work for the Gretsch Company.

During World War II Webster served as a musician in the U.S. Air Corps in Iceland. After the war, Webster moved to Long Island, N.Y. where he became more involved with the Gretsch Company. Webster’s long association with Gretsch guitars would span four decades.

The 1950s: A Golden Decade for Jimmie Webster and Gretsch Guitars.

In 1951 Gretsch informed the music industry (and market leader Gibson) it was serious about manufacturing a professional line of electric guitars. Webster led a successful, three-day promotional show for music dealers and professional musicians at New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel. Webster demonstrated the new Gretsch single cutaway Electromatic and Electro II hollow body electric guitars. Based on industry trade journals, the event was well attended and very successful in getting Gretsch the awareness and exposure the company needed.

Throughout the decade, Webster proved to be Gretsch’s main “idea man” in his quest to distinguish Gretsch guitars from the competition. Webster and Gretsch led an industry “color revolution” and took guitars beyond their conservative natural or sunburst finishes. It was Webster’s idea to cover the top of the solid body Silver Jet guitar with a flashy, sparkle drum finish from Gretsch’s drum department. He also took marketing cues from the auto industry by introducing guitars finished in Cadillac Green, Jaguar Tan, and Copper Mist and conducting traveling “Guitarama” shows and demonstrations around the country.

1954 was truly a banner year for Gretsch and Jimmie Webster. At the July Summer NAMM Show Webster unveiled the ultimate “dream guitar”, the opulent White Falcon. Designed more as a concept “guitar of the future” than an actual production guitar, Webster’s stunning white and gold beauty caused such a stir with sales reps that Gretsch had no choice but to offer it in their 1955 lineup. It was-and remains today-the “Cadillac of Guitars”.

In an effort to match Gibson’s recent endorsement of Les Paul, Webster set his sights in 1954 on landing Gretsch’s first signature guitar with one of the industry’s most talented guitarists, Chet Atkins. Although he resisted at first (Atkins was happy with his self-modified D’Angelico), Atkins finally agreed once Webster told him he could design his own signature guitar. The result was the legendary Chet Atkins Hollow Body Model 6120. Launched in 1955, this milestone electric guitar with its distinctive orange finish, fire-branded “G”, and western-themed appointments put Gretsch on the map and forever changed the company’s fortunes and popularity.

Ever the inventor and in search of the next innovation, Webster patented and introduced a line of Project-O-Sonic stereo guitars in 1958. With split Filter’Tron pickups and dual amplifiers, Webster proclaimed it to be the biggest revolution in guitar engineering since electrification.

Jimmie's Album, Wester's Unabridged, Was Produced by Chet Atkins.

The stereo guitar sounded impressive when played by a talented guitarist and Webster proved that with his landmark Webster’s Unabridged LP. Not only did it showcase his Project-O-Sonic stereo guitar, but it also captured his revolutionary two-handed tapping technique. Webster is known as the “Father of the Touch System” and transferred his piano playing abilities to the guitar by developing a two-handed tapping technique. Webster played guitar with both hands producing bass lines, chords, and melodies simultaneously. Webster even wrote an illustrated instruction book entitled Touch System for Electric and Amplified Spanish Guitar that was published in 1952. Those fortunate to have seen and heard demonstrations of Webster’s unique Touch System were left amazed and impressed.

Space Control Bridges, String Mutes, and Tone Twisters

As Gretsch’s main guitar sales and marketing man, Webster had an endless imagination for new gadgets, inventions, and innovations. Many of Webster’s ideas were granted patents. During the 1950s and 1960s Webster was responsible for such memorable Gretsch features as the Space Control Bridge, String Mutes, Padded Backs, the Standby Switch, Project-O-Sonic stereo guitar, the Tone Twister, the Floating Sound Unit, and one of his most bizarre: the T Zone Tempered Treble slanted fret experiment.

Throughout the 1960s, Webster was the primary force behind many of Gretsch’s product changes and new model introductions. In 1961 and 1962, Gretsch guitars drastically changed into thinner, twin-cutaway models with sealed bodies and stencil-painted fake f-holes. Webster even created a new name for their new line of guitars: Electrotone. He also was responsible for some of the more unusual products to be introduced including the unconventional-looking Astro Jet and the seven-string George Van Eps signature model guitar.

After Gretsch was sold to Baldwin in 1967, Webster continued working and even conducted some of his famous Gretsch Guitarama shows across the country. Over time though, Webster worked less and less and eventually stopped working altogether for the company he had helped establish and promote. Although Webster died in 1978 at the age of 69, many of the guitars he designed and launched-the White Falcon, Silver Jet, Chet Atkins 6120, and many more-are still being admired and produced over fifty years later. This is a true testament to the genius, vision, and imagination of one of the guitar’s more colorful ambassadors: Jimmie Webster.

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Gretsch Highlights From NAMM 2014

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

From January 23 to 26 the music-products industry gathered at the Anaheim, California convention center for the annual winter NAMM trade show. It’s the largest display of instruments and related items in America, and it draws thousands of attendees each year. As usual, Gretsch drums and guitars figured prominently among the must-see items for those in attendance—and there were plenty of new and exciting introductions from both lines for them to check out.

In addition to the products on display, the NAMM show is also an occasion for awards and concert events—and Gretsch figured prominently there, too. So join us for a look at all things Gretsch at NAMM 2014.

A Tour of The Gretsch Drums Display

Matt Sorum's Kit

The Gretsch Drums display actually started outside the door to the exhibition room, where visitors were met with a Red Glass Glitter USA Custom kit created expressly for veteran rocker Matt Sorum. With credits that include The Cult, Guns ’N’ Roses, and Velvet Revolver, Matt is now touring with Kings of Chaos.

Immediately inside the exhibit was yet another artist’s kit—in fact, a truly iconic one. This was the classic left-handed Black Nitron setup used by Phil Collins on tours and recordings with Genesis and on his solo projects between 1989 and 2007.

Phil Collins' Kit

Appearances on seven albums with sales totaling 40 million units make this one of the world’s most listened-to drumsets.

The incredible variety of available Gretsch drum finishes was illustrated by dozens of rack toms stacked atop Phil Collins’ drumkit road cases from the last Genesis tour.

The USA Custom Ltd. jazz configuration (right) featured a 14×18 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, a 14×14 floor tom, and a 5×14 10-lug snare, all done in Ribbon Mahogany.

From the Brooklyn series was a classic setup in Black Oyster wrap. It included a 14×22 bass drum, 8×12 rack tom, 14×16 floor tom, and a 5½x14 snare. The drums were fitted with unique Brooklyn series 3-mm double-flanged “Stick Chopper” steel hoops, which bridge the gap between the open sound of rolled steel hoops and the rigidity and tuneability of die-cast hoops.

A sizeable Catalina outfit (left) was fitted with a new style of drum hardware for the series, including a distinctive new “gas cap” tom mount. The kit included an 18×22 bass drum, a free 7×8 rack tom along with 7×10 and 8×12 toms, 14×14 and 16×16 floor toms, and a 6×14 snare, all in a Satin Deep Cherry Burst finish.

The new Marquee series fits into Gretsch’s drum line just below the Renown series. Marquee drums feature 100% maple shells with tinted exteriors that are given a special poly finish that produces deep colors but still lets the wood grain show through. The drums come fitted with 2.3mm triple-flanged hoops. This kit includes an 18×22 bass drum, a free 7×8 rack tom along with 7×10 and 8×12 toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare, all finished in Satin Indigo.

Pictured to the right is a Catalina Club Rock kit with a classic shallow-depth/large-diameter 14×24 bass drum, matched with an 8×12 rack tom, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare. The mahogany shells are fitted with newly designed drum hardware and are finished in Satin Walnut Glaze. For display purposes the kit was tricked out with a Sabian Hoop Crasher atop the snare and an LP Americana Series Octo Snare Cajon on a side stand.

The Brooklyn Ltd. Vintage White kit was on display and had a classic look with a 14×22 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare. And it truly is a “limited edition” since only thirty will be sold world-wide.

This kit on the left was just to see what kind of craziness the USA Custom drum builders could come up with. Starting with the configuration: 20×20 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 12×14 floor tom fitted with snares, a regular 16×16 floor tom, and a 7×13 snare. The deep black finish is set off by two different sparkle inlays. Definitely one of a kind.

On the opposite end of the design spectrum was a USA Custom prototype vintage kit. Inspired by the great Gretsch kits of the 1940s, it featured 3-ply 9×13 and 16×16 toms, with a 6-ply bass drum and snare, all with round-over bearing edges. The hardware fittings are authentic to the period, including a rail consolette tom holder, vintage spurs, internal drum mufflers, and T-rods on the bass drum. The finish is called Capri Pearl.

The striking look of this Renown series kit (right) was created by a new Jumbo Flake vintage pearl finish combined with contrasting dark walnut bass drum hoops. The configuration included a 16×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms equipped with special Renown suspension mounts, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 6½x14 snare.

The Catalina Ash series was re-introduced with new Catalina series drum hardware including the “gas cap” tom mount. This kit had an 18×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 16×16 floor tom, and a 5½x14 snare—all given a Black-Natural Burst finish.

Gretsch Energy

Gretsch’s entry-level series is called Energy, and it’s been given new drum and hardware specs. The Grey Steel-wrapped kit comes with an 18×22 bass drum, 7×10 and 8×12 rack toms, a 14×16 floor tom, and a 5½x14 snare. Also included with the kit is a selection of Sabian SBR cymbals.

Two “walls of snares” highlighted the many offerings from Gretsch. They featured drums from the USA Custom Shop, the Brooklyn series, the Gold and Silver series, and artist models like the Stephen Ferrone signature snare, as well as drums from the Fender Custom Shop.

Unique snare selections included the Gold Series Zig-Zag Stave model and two Barn Board Stave models.

Distinctive artwork quickly identified the Vegas and Crown of Skulls maple snares (right), both in 8×14 sizes.

For those who’d like a “played hard for years” look in a brand-new drum, Relic models from the Fender custom shop were also displayed.

The Catalina Club kit in White Vintage Pearl graced the “percussion stage” at the LP Music booth. LP is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and Gretsch was pleased to be a part of the celebration. The kit was fitted with new Catalina style drum hardware, and drum sizes included a 14×18 bass drum, an 8×12 rack tom, a 14×14 floor tom, and a 5×14 snare. It was also “tricked out” for the occasion with a variety of LP percussion instruments to give it added sonic versatility.

For more information about new Gretsch drums visit GretschDrums.com.  For more drum-related images from the NAMM Show, visit our drum photo gallery.

A Visit To The Gretsch Guitar Booth

The Gretsch Guitars booth was as much a Mecca for guitar fans as the drum booth was for drummers, with plenty of fabulous instruments to check out. Here’s an overview.

Brian Setzer was prominent among the many artists featured on video explaining why they play—and love—Gretsch guitars.

Gretsch Guitars is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Gretsch USA Custom Guitar Shop, so the display prominently featured guitars that are the work of the shop’s talented craftsmen.

From the USA Custom Shop were two gorgeous instruments, each master-built by Stephen Stern. The first was a ’53 6192 Electro Relic that featured a maple top and neck, mahogany back and sides, a rosewood fingerboard, Dyna-sonic pickups, and a Nitro lacquer finish.

'53 6192 Electro Relic

Ice Blue Falcon

The second was an Ice Blue Falcon NOS, with a maple top, mahogany neck and sides, an ebony fingerboard, TV Jones classic pickups, a space control bridge, and a Bigsby B-6 tailpiece. Both of these custom beauties carry a $12,500 price tag.

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Kaves Custom Designs

Kaves Custom Designs

A totally different type of guitar artistry was offered on some G-6120 models, each of which was custom-decorated with a Kaves Brooklyn finish created by graffiti artist Kaves.

No Gretsch display would be complete without a few classic models, such as the G-6134 White Penguin, the G-6138 Bo Diddley, and the G-6199 Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird.

Bevy of Gretsch Classics

Along with dozens of guitars, Gretsch basses were also on display including a G-6128B-TV Thunder Jet and a G-6073 Electrotone.

The hands-down winner for most unusual instrument on display was the 12-string bass created for Cheap Trick’s Rick Peterson. It featured four standard bass strings, each of which has two accompanying guitar strings. Every string has its own tuning peg.

The Gretsch Roots Collection (selected as a “Gotta Stock It” item at the show) offered historically authentic banjos, mandolins, resonator guitars, and flat-top acoustics, along with a variety of ukuleles.  And Gretsch was proud to have the 9100-L Soprano Long Neck Ukulele selected as a “Best in Show” item by Gayle Beacock of Beacock’s Music in Vancouver, WA.

Rockabilly teen sensation (and Gretsch artist) Wyatt Maxwell took a break from his duties as lead guitarist in Mad Max & The Wild Ones to do some tasteful fingerpicking on a new Gretsch G-5034TFT Rancher Dreadnought.

Gretsch honored many of their guitar artists by including photos of them as part of the display. These included Paul Pigat, Buzz Campbell, and Adam Burchfield—all of whom were performers at Gretsch’s Twang-o-Rama event.

A billboard-sized image of a young Chet Atkins sat high atop the Gretsch display and seemed to offer Chet’s good wishes to all who visited.

For more information on Gretsch guitars visit GretschGuitars.com.  For more guitar-related images from the NAMM Show, visit our guitar photo gallery.

Gretsch Twang-o-Rama

Anaheim, California’s popular rock club The Juke Joint was rockin’ indeed on Saturday, January 25th when Gretsch Guitars presented the Gretsch Twang-o-Rama. The evening featured seven of the hottest roots-rock and rockabilly groups in the country, as well as a last-minute super-surprise addition.  Visit the Gretsch YouTube page for videos from all the great performances.

Paul Pigat And The Memphis Kings

The show was kicked off by Canadian guitar star Paul Pigat, ably backed up by The Memphis Kings (bassist Michael Turturro and guitarist Tommy Harkenrider, joined for the event by drummer Marty Dodson). Blessed with a jazz man’s sheen, a rockabilly heart, and a hobo’s soul, there aren’t many genres of music that don’t pull at Paul’s wayfaring imagination. The immediately recognizable sound of his distinctive guitar playing has helped this unassuming Vancouver native to compile a list of credits that would be the envy of anyone in the music business. (PaulPigat.com)

Paul Pigat and The Memphis Kings

Mad Max & The Wild Ones

Next came Mad Max & The Wild Ones, a unique family band featuring the youngest artist endorsers on the Gretsch Guitars roster: brothers Wyatt (lead guitar) and Duke (vocals, harmonica, and guitar) Maxwell, along with brother Cole on drums. Accompanied on bass by Shane Kiel and fueled by equal parts teenage energy and polished talent, the group was an instant crowd-pleaser. (Mad Max & The Wild Ones)

Mad Max & The Wild Ones

Buzz Campbell

Next up was Buzz Campbell, who’s been touring with Stray Cat drummer Lee Rocker since 2004, and who has impressive credits in his own right. (He founded rockabilly favorites Hot Rod Lincoln, and played with Sha Na Na from 2000 to 2004.) Backed by drummer Ty Cox and bassist Jonny Bowler, Buzz sported a devilish grin and a happy rocker’s attitude as he demonstrated his mastery of rockabilly, roots-country, blues, and roots-rock styles. (BuzzCampbell.com)

Buzz Campbell

The Hot Rod Trio

You don’t get any more authentic in rockabilly look and sound than Southern California’s Hot Rod Trio. With over twenty years of performing together at literally thousands of shows, the group—featuring guitarist Buddy Dughi, bassist Suzy Dughi, and drummer Pete Bonny—were recently inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame. Their Twang-o-Rama performance left no doubt as to how they earned that honor. (TheHotRodTrio.com)

Hot Rod Trio

Billy Zoom

Billy Zoom opted to perform in a somewhat stripped-down format with a bassist and acoustic guitarist/vocalist but no drummer. The guitar legend is best known as a founding member of the seminal American punk band X, but has also worked with rockabilly great Gene Vincent, The Blasters, Etta James, and Big Joe Turner. In honor of Billy’s longevity in the music community and his contribution to the legacy of Gretsch guitars, Gretsch unveiled the G6129BZ Billy Zoom Custom Shop Tribute Silver Jet in 2008. (BillyZoom.com)

Billy Zoom

Hard Fall Hearts

Hard Fall Hearts are Bryan Kelly (guitar and vocals), Eli Rinek (drums and vocals), and Andrew Verdugo (bass). Hailing from nearby San Diego, this punk/rockabilly outfit offered a high-powered set that combined super-speed playing, in-your-face energy, and a sound that was dark and distinct yet reverent to the roots of rock ’n’ roll. Definitely “not your father’s rockabilly band,” but a hit with the crowd nonetheless. (HardFallHearts.com)

Hard Fall Hearts

The Octanes

The Austin, Texas-based Octanes are one of America’s premier roots/rockabilly bands, and they look and sound the part. Consisting of Adam Burchfield (guitar and vocals), Drew Hays (bass and vocals), and English rockabilly veteran Brian Fahey (drums), The Octanes play mostly original material heavily rooted in hillbilly, while revving up the traditional sound with driving rhythms and a big guitar sound. (TheOctanesTexas.com)

The Octanes

The Romantics

The surprise closer for the evening’s show was The Romantics, featuring Wally Palmar (guitar and lead vocals), Mike Skill (lead guitar and vocals), Rich Cole (bass and vocals), and Brad Elvis (drums). Formed in 1977 in Detroit, the band is considered a pioneer of the American New Wave style, but was heavily influenced by 1950s American rock ’n’ roll, ’60s garage rock, and British Invasion music that was itself an offshoot of American roots-rock. Their crowd-pleasing closer “What I Like About You” was right at home in a rockabilly show, and served as a great capper to a terrific night of music. (TheRomantics.com)

The Romantics

For more great photos from the Gretsch Twang-O-Rama event, check out our photo gallery.

Gretsch Generations

Will, Rane, and Garrett Gretsch

There’s nothing more important to Fred and Dinah Gretsch than family and they are proud to represent the fourth generation of the Gretsch family in the music business. Following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather (and dynasty founder) Friedrich, his grandfather Fred Sr., and his father Bill and uncle Fred Jr., he as well as Dinah are equally proud of the succeeding generations, who are poised to carry on the family name and legacy.

And so it was that Fred and Dinah were joined at the 2014 NAMM show by their cousin Garrett Gretsch (fifth generation) and by two of their grandsons, Will and Rane Gretsch (sixth generation). In addition to attending the She Rocks event on January 24 in celebration of Dinah Gretsch’s Vision Award, the three young men were prominent figures at the Gretsch Guitars booth. Garrett also helped to represent the family at the Gretsch Twang-O-Rama concert, where he introduced members of yet another family: teenage rockabilly family band Mad Max & The Wild Ones.

Proud to be sharing the family legacy, Fred and Dinah Gretsch were happy to be joined at the NAMM Show by fifth and sixth generation Gretsch family members and are looking forward to many more such family gatherings in the years ahead.

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