Posts Tagged ‘Chet Atkins’

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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How The Beatles Forever Changed Gretsch

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Fond memories of February 1964 and how The Beatles forever changed the Gretsch Company

By Fred Gretsch

**SPECIAL UPDATE** Fred Gretsch’s recent interview with Lindsay Lowe of Parade Magazine now posted!!

I remember February 9, 1964, vividly. I was a teenager living in the New York City area and for weeks, all the great AM rock ‘n’ roll radio stations like WABC with Cousin Brucie and WINS with Murry the K had been shouting “The Beatles Are Coming!” and saturating the airwaves with Beatles music. Their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” had just reached #1.

Yes, The Beatles were making their American debut in New York–still the center of the music world–and would be performing live on America’s top show for showcasing new talent: The Ed Sullivan Show. I couldn’t wait. Local media were in a frenzy and the city was abuzz in anticipation of seeing and hearing these four lads from Liverpool.

Like millions of teenagers, I watched The Beatles with my family (my three sisters, in fact) on the black and white TV set in the living room of our Forest Hills, NY home. The home my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., had built in 1916. The Beatles opened and closed the show and performed five songs live. Seventy-three million viewers also tuned in to see what the excitement was all about. The Beatles didn’t disappoint. In fact, they knocked it out of the park.

Even on a small black and white TV screen, The Beatles didn’t look or sound like any other rock ‘n’ roll group. They were cool in so many ways, but the coolest part for me was that George, the one in the middle, played a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar. I was really proud of that.

As you know, the world of music literally changed overnight as did the fortunes of the Gretsch Company. The day following The Beatles’ performance on the Sullivan show, the guitar boom of the 1960s officially started. We were flooded with orders, letters, and catalog requests – even people wanting to tour our relatively small factory. Like other musical instrument makers, we were not prepared for the British Invasion.

When I joined the Gretsch Company full time in 1965, I saw the impact Beatlemania was still having firsthand. We could barely keep up with the demand for guitars and drums and at one time there was a six-month waiting period. Six months! The two guitars George Harrison played at the time – the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and Tennessean models – were especially popular. We even moved drum production out of the Gretsch factory to a building a Gretsch cousin owned several blocks away in order to expand guitar production. Without a doubt, the mid-60s were busy and exciting times at Gretsch.

George Harrison was a lifelong fan of Gretsch guitars. Chet Atkins was a huge influence on him and was the reason George purchased a Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar in 1963. George had been playing a ’57 Gretsch Duo Jet up to that time. He bought his black Duo Jet used in 1960 from a Liverpool sailor who had purchased it at New York’s legendary Manny’s Guitar Shop. Since my summer job was helping deliver Gretsch guitars to area music stores, I probably delivered George’s Duo Jet to Manny’s. According to George, it was his sentimental favorite guitar because it was his first American guitar and his first good guitar.

Dinah and I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know George in the late 80s. Dinah wrote George a thank you letter for showing his ’57 Duo Jet on his Cloud Nine album. Two weeks later he called her to thank her for the letter, told her how much he loved Gretsch guitars, and talked about the Traveling Wilburys project he was working on with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. George even invited us to a recording session at Dave Stewart’s home studio and showed us the 20 vintage Gretsch guitars they were using on the album. He also wanted to share an idea for a special Traveling Wilburys guitar. We liked George’s idea and introduced the special-edition Traveling Wilburys TW-500 guitar a year later.

Looking back, I have fond memories of February 1964, The Beatles, and George Harrison. Next to Chet Atkins, George was the other guitar superstar that helped put Gretsch on the map and changed our company forever. The Beatles’ debut led to the formation of countless new rock n’ roll groups. Fortunately for us, and thanks to George Harrison, these new groups also wanted instruments like The Beatles played. I’m grateful George was a Gretsch guy.

Fifty years later, improved versions of George’s favorite classic Gretsch guitar models are available and remain as popular as ever. In 2064, I’m sure we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival to the U.S. I’m also sure a sixth generation family member will be running the business my great-grandfather started in 1883 and offering even better versions of Gretsch Country Gentleman, Tennessean, and Duo Jet guitars. Long live The Beatles. And long live rock ‘n’ roll!

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Christmas 4 Kids Concert & Gretsch Guitar Auction

Friday, December 13th, 2013

The 13th Annual Charlie Daniels Band and Friends Concert to benefit Christmas 4 Kids was held on Monday, November 25 at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This concert is the cornerstone of Christmas 4 Kids’ fundraising efforts. The Gretsch Foundation once again provided another classic guitar – a Gretsch Country Classic model built in 2002 and a part of the private Gretsch Foundation collection. During that time it has been loaned to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia and was on display there and also at the Hartsfield Atlanta airport. It was used only sparingly over the years. The guitar is in the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman tradition. It is a double cutaway model with specs to closely match guitars built by Gretsch in 1962.

Event MC, Charlie Chase, Presents Eric Blankenship of All Access Coach with guitar.

Congratulations to Eric Blankenship, owner of All Access Coach, the new owner of this wonderful guitar, who won the silent auction with a bid of $5,500.

For over 20 years Christmas 4 Kids has provided the joy of Christmas for thousands of Middle Tennessee elementary school children who might not otherwise experience it. Each December, local businesses, volunteers, celebrities, recording artists, and bus drivers set aside two days from their busy schedule for these special children. Learn more about this great organization by visiting the web site at www.christmas4kids.org.

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Gretsch: 130 Years and Four Generations . . .

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

An Excerpt From The Savannah Morning News:

Gretsch: 130 years and four generations of strummin’ and drummin’

The small forest of guitars is tucked into what Fred W. Gretsch calls his “studio.”

To anybody who can play even a few chords, it’s more a Shangri-la.

Colorfully decorated Gretsch Super Axes flank richly wooded acoustic guitars and stylish Thunderbirds. Renowned Chet Atkins models dot the rows.

One instrument in particular garners Gretsch’s attention. The banjo is perhaps the most unassuming of the lot. The strings and head reflect its great age — it is a 1920s model — and the aluminum rim doesn’t shine like the metal parts of its peers in the collection.

But to Gretsch, the instrument signifies what has sustained his family’s business for 130 years.

Innovation and dedication.

“We started using aluminum for banjo rims in the 1920s, and the advances we made from there we drew on in building drums in the 1930s and 1940s,” Gretsch said. “What we learned from drums we put into practice at the dawn of the rock and roll era in the 1950s and on and on. We are a company that’s consistently built on its past.”

The company is celebrating that history this year. Gretsch is the fourth generation of his family to head the Pooler-based business since his great-grandfather, German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch, opened a small music shop in Brooklyn in 1883.

The original shop specialized in banjos, drums and tambourines. The company grew as the accordion and other band instruments gained popularity in the first half of the 1900s. Rock and roll guitars and drums made Gretsch a household name starting in the 1950s.

Fred Gretsch expects the company to thrive for several more generations and continue to be renowned for the “great Gretsch sound” made famous by music legends such as Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Charlie Watts, Davy Jones, Bono, Bo Diddley and Brian Setzer.

“Antonio Stradivarius also made amazing stringed instruments and led a prosperous life,” Gretsch said of the famed violin maker. “But his family did not benefit from his name and his designs. I want to ensure that the Gretsch family remains a key part of this company for the next 100 years of business.”

See Photos and Read the Entire Article at SavannahNow.com.


TIMELINE – 130 YEARS OF THAT GREAT GRETSCH SOUND!

1883 Friedrich Gretsch, 27, who emigrated from Germany at 16, opens a small music shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., making banjos, drums, and tambourines.

1883 - Friedrich Gretsch Opens Small Music Shop in Brooklyn.

1895 Friedrich Gretsch becomes ill while traveling in Germany and dies at age 39. Fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch, Sr., takes over family business.

1916 Company moves to 10-story building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn, N.Y.

1916 - Gretsch Opens Ten-Story Building at 60 Broadway, Brooklyn (sketch).

1918 Fred Gretsch, Sr. develops revolutionary multi-ply drum lamination process resulting in the world’s first “warp free” drum hoop.

1920 Gretsch’s manufacturing facility expands to become the world’s largest music instrument manufacturing factory.

1927 Company introduces historic Gretsch-American drum series, featuring the industry’s first multi ply drum shell. Gretsch uses its own name on guitars for the first time, rather than just selling to wholesalers.

1935 Broadkaster drum line introduced. Duke Kramer begins his 70-year career at Gretsch. Known as “Mr. Guitar Man,” Kramer would become pivotal in making Gretsch® electric guitars what they are today.

"Mr. Guitar Man" Duke Kramer

1937 Historic partnership with master drummer and inventor Billy Gladstone begins. The Gretsch-Gladstone drum line is introduced.

1939 Gretsch introduces its first electric guitar – the Electromatic – and the Synchromatic archtop guitar series. Jimmie Webster, guitar innovator and player, joins Gretsch. Distinctive triangle sound hole appears on Gretsch acoustic guitars.

1942 Fred Gretsch, Sr. retires from the company, leaving the day-to-day operations to his sons, Fred Gretsch, Jr. and William “Bill” Gretsch, both of whom had been active in the business since 1927. Gretsch stops instrument production to assist in war efforts. After a brief term at the company’s helm, Fred Gretsch, Jr. leaves the company to serve as a commander in the U.S. Navy. Bill Gretsch becomes president.

William "Bill" Gretsch and Fred Gretsch, Jr. pictured with Brother Richard Gretsch.

1946 Gretsch resumes instrument production. Phil Grant, master percussionist and innovator, joins Gretsch. Gretsch and Louis Bellson team up to introduce first production double bass drum kit.

Louie Bellson with his 1946 double bass kit.

1947 Gretsch forges relationship with legendary Birdland Jazz Club in New York, N.Y.

1948 Bill Gretsch dies from illness. Fred Gretsch, Jr. assumes control of the business, kicking off a new age of prosperity for the company–the age of rock ‘n’ roll.

1951 First cutaway bodies appear on Electromatic and new Electro II guitar models.

1953 Duo-Jet production starts, sparking the entire Jet line of Gretsch solid-body guitars.

1954 Jimmie Webster strikes a deal with guitarist Chet Atkins to develop a Chet Atkins-designed Gretsch guitar. Gretsch begins its eye-catching “color revolution” by introducing sparkling Silver Jet and famous Western Orange, Cadillac Green and Jaguar Tan finishes. First Bigsby® vibratos offered on Gretsch electrics.

1955 Gretsch introduces White Falcon and 6120 Chet Atkins models.

Gretsch White Falcon

1957 Gretsch begins production of Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar model. The model would soon rise to popularity with other legendary guitarists.  Twang is born: Duane Eddy purchases new 6120 at Ziggie’s Accordion & Guitar Studio in Phoenix, AZ.

The King of Twang Duane Eddy

1959 Project-O-Sonic stereo guitar system introduced. Gretsch builds Bo Diddley his futuristic Jupiter Thunderbird guitar. Gretsch drum endorsee Jimmy Cobb records “Kind of Blue” with Miles Davis.

1960 George Harrison buys a used ‘57 Gretsch Duo Jet, the guitar featured during The Beatles’ earliest recordings and tours. “Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland” is recorded by four legendary Gretsch drum endorsees: Art Blakey, Charlie Persip, Elvin Jones and “Philly” Joe Jones.

Harrison Tribute Duo Jet

1962 Double-cutaway Electrotone thinline series introduced.

1964 “Beatlemania” is born on The Ed Sullivan Show. George Harrison’s use of a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar ignites frenzy among aspiring guitarists.

1965 George Harrison adds a Gretsch Tennessean to his guitar collection.

1967 Fred Gretsch, Jr. retires and sells The Gretsch Company to Baldwin Music Company. His nephew, Fred W. Gretsch, vows to buy the company back.

1969 The Rolling Stones tour the U.S. with Charlie Watts playing Gretsch drums.

1970 Baldwin moves Gretsch drum & guitar production to Booneville, Ark.

1972 Baldwin moves Gretsch’s New York business offices to Chicago. Chet Atkins’ “Super Chet” guitar introduced.

1973 Baldwin signs over production duties to Bill Hagner and his newly formed Hagner Musical Instrument Corp. Two major fires damage Arkansas guitar & drum plant.

1977 Chet Atkins’ “Super Axe” guitars introduced.

1978 Gretsch drum & guitar production reverts from Bill Hagner back to Baldwin.

1979 Baldwin moves Gretsch sales and administration offices to Chanute, Kansas.

1980 An attempt by Baldwin to re-launch guitar production in Juarez, Mexico fails after only a handful of guitars are built. Baldwin shuts down Gretsch guitar production.

1982 Rockabilly returns with Gretsch guitar slinger Brian Setzer and The Stray Cats releasing their first U.S. single, “Rock This Town.” The group also features Slim Jim Phantom on Gretsch drums.

1985 Eighteen years after the company was sold to Baldwin, Fred W. Gretsch, great-grandson of the company founder, fulfills his promise to buy the company back and return it to the family fold. Gretsch establishes drum manufacturing center in Ridgeland, S.C.

1988 George Harrison collaborates with Gretsch to produce the unique Traveling Wilburys collector guitar.

1989 Modern Gretsch guitar production begins in earnest. Gretsch introduces professional line of Gretsch electric and acoustic guitars.

1993 Gretsch begins production of Brian Setzer signature guitar model.

Setzer Signature Guitars

1998 Gretsch announces budget-priced “Electromatic,” “Synchromatic,” and “Historic” guitar lines.

1999 Gretsch purchases Bigsby Accessories from owner and former Gibson CEO Ted McCarty. Bo Diddley signature rectangular guitar re-introduced.

1999 - Gretsch Acquires Bigsby

2000 Kaman Music (KMCMusicorp) becomes exclusive Gretsch Drums worldwide distributor.

2002 Gretsch grants Fender Musical Instruments Corporation exclusive rights to develop, produce, market, and distribute Gretsch Guitars worldwide.

2006 Gretsch teams up with legendary Bo Diddley and Billy F. Gibbons to design the “Billy-Bo” Jupiter Thunderbird guitar. Stephen Ferrone signature series drums introduced.

2007 Chet Atkins’ name once again adorns extensive line of Gretsch electric guitars.

2008 Gretsch celebrates 125th anniversary.  Endows scholarship at Berklee College of Music in honor of Jimmie Webster.

For Gretsch's 125th Anniversary in 2008, a Portrait of Four Past Presidents was Commissioned. Artist: Amy Hahn-Lind.

2011 Gretsch introduces George Harrison Duo Jet tribute guitar. Chet Atkins Exhibit opens at The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.

Chet Atkins Exhibition

2012 New Brooklyn drum series, Rancher Acoustics, and Roots Collection introduced.

2013 Gretsch celebrates 130th Anniversary.  Iconic Round Badge returns to Gretsch Drums.

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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.

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Chet Atkins: CGP Exhibit To Close with Slew of Special Programs

Monday, June 18th, 2012

From The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum:

Slate of Finale Programs Includes a Special June 30 Performance by Earl Klugh, Tribute Concerts, Film Screenings and More.

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is preparing to bid farewell to the cameo exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible by the Gretsch Company, which opened in the museum’s East Gallery on August 12, 2011.  In recognition of the exhibit’s July 15 finale, the museum is offering a packed lineup of Atkins-themed programs including a special program starring Grammy-winning guitarist Earl Klugh on Saturday, June 30; additional concerts by some of Atkins’ friends, peers and protégés; a series of film screenings; and daily instrument demonstrations.

The Earl Klugh program, instrument demonstrations and concerts are included with museum admission and free to museum members; admission to the film screenings is free. Visit the museum’s website for complete admission details.

Born Chester Burton Atkins on June 20, 1924, in Luttrell, Tennessee, Chet Atkins became one of the most respected musicians and producers in American music history.   His unparalleled achievements were acknowledged formally with his 1973 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Atkins died on June 30, 2001, and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year.

Renowned for his sweet tone and his mastery of the acoustic guitar, Grammy Award-winner Earl Klugh ranks as one of the world’s finest guitarists. He was barely a teen in Detroit when he was awestruck by seeing Atkins play guitar on television. After meeting in the late 1970s, Klugh and Atkins collaborated frequently. “Earl can wail with the best,” Atkins told Guitar Player magazine, “but he prefers to touch people emotionally. He reaches your heart with that romantic special something.”

On Saturday, July 7, the museum will pay tribute to Atkins’ thumbpicking inspiration, Merle Travis, with the concert Muhlenburg County Thumbpickers, a reference to Travis’ birthplace in Kentucky. Award-winning Muhlenburg County-area guitarists Joe Hudson, Paul Mosely, Eddie Pennington and Freddie Russell will perform.

On Saturday, July 14, at 1:30 p.m., Chet Atkins: Friends and Flame Keepers will honor Atkins’ legacy as a generous teacher, collaborator, and even a student of other guitarists. The concert will highlight the relationships forged and nurtured around Atkins’ music, as well as the artists who are carrying on and expanding Atkins’ guitar style. Performers include John Knowles, c.g.p., Guy Van Duser, Thom Bresh with Brooks Robertson, Ben Hall with Megan Taylor Anderson and more.

A complete list of closing programs presented in conjunction with the exhibition follows below:

Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible by the Gretsch Company, Closing Programs–

Sunday, June 24, 2:00 p.m., CDT – Film Screening: Chet Atkins and Friends: Music from the Heart (1987)

Chet Atkins fronts an ace band and hosts this concert special, originally recorded for television in Nashville. Guest performers include the Everly Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Mark Knopfler, Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson, and others. 60 Minutes. Free.

Saturday, June 30, 1:30 p.m., CDT, Concert: Earl Klugh

Grammy-winning guitarist Earl Klugh will perform solo in tribute to his hero, Chet Atkins. This concert will be streamed live at www.countrymusichalloffame.org. Following the program, Klugh will sign copies of his CDs and a limited edition Hatch Show Print.

Sunday, July 1, 2:00 p.m., CDT, Film Screening: The Jerry Reed Show (1976)

This colorful episode of The Jerry Reed Show features performances by and interviews with Lynn Anderson, Atkins, Jerry Clower, and Terry McMillan. Reed performs “Baby’s Coming Home” with Atkins, and all the guests join in on “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” The live house band is conducted by Bill Justis. 45 minutes. Free.

Saturday, July 7, 1:30 p.m., CDT, Concert: Muhlenburg County Thumbpickers

Chet Atkins was inspired by the complex fingerstyle guitar playing of Merle Travis called “thumbpicking.” This guitar style has been developed, passed down, preserved, and expanded by generations of players around Travis’s birthplace in Muhlenburg County, Kentucky. Award-winning Muhlenburg area guitarists Joe Hudson, Paul Mosely, Eddie Pennington, and Freddie Russell will perform.

Sunday, July 8, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Joe Edwards

Sunday, July 8, 2:00 p.m., CDT, Film Screening: Nine Pound Hammer (1998)

In the early 20th century a few guitar players in Western Kentucky developed a unique style of guitar playing that used the thumb to pick out a steady bass rhythm while the first finger played a melody. This style, which became known as “thumbpicking” was popularized by Capitol Records recording artist and Muhlenburg County native Merle Travis, and had a significant influence on Chet Atkins. This film features stories and performances from eight Kentucky thumbpickers, some of whom have been playing since the time Travis rose to stardom, while others are from a younger generation of guitarists who have carried on and expanded this traditional style. 52 minutes. Free.

Monday, July 9, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Vocal and Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Jim and Morning Nichols

Tuesday, July 10, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Phil Hunt and Eddie Estes

Wednesday, July 11, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Mark Mazengarb and Loren Barrigar

Thursday, July 12, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: John Standefer

John Standefer is the winner of the 2002 National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship at Winfield, Kansas, and the Open Division winner of the 2004 International Home of the Legends Competition. He teaches and performs yearly at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention in Nashville. Made possible by Gibson Guitar Corporation. Presented in support of the exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, made possible by the Gretsch Company. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Thursday, July 12, 1:00 p. m., CDT, Offsite Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Program: Panel Discussion: Remembering Chet

John Rumble, senior historian for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, will lead a panel discussion featuring four highly acclaimed music veterans who worked closely with Chet Atkins for many years. Panelists include Jim Ed Brown, Ray Edenton, Charlie McCoy, and Wayne Moss. Presented in support of the exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, made possible by the Gretsch Company. [program at CAAS - NOT HELD AT THE MUSEUM]

Friday, July 13, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Jonathan Brown

Jonathan Brown is a fingerstyle guitarist and composer from Nashville. His influences include Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, George Benson, Lenny Breau, and Tommy Emmanuel. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Saturday, July 14, 11:30 a.m., CDT, Lecture-demonstration: Chet Atkins with Strings: Pat Kirtley

Starting in the late 1950s, Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, Ken Nelson, and arranger Anita Kerr brought violins, violas, and cellos into the sonic blend that would become the Nashville Sound. The sophisticated arrangements created for Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, and others attracted new listeners and sold millions of records. Atkins was also a pioneer in using string sections on his own recordings. Guitarist Pat Kirtley and the Endless Road Strings will tell the story by recreating some of Chet’s signature pieces, with added commentary on the history of pop and country string sections in Nashville. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Saturday, July 14, 1:30 p.m., CDT, Concert: Chet Atkins: Friends and Flame Keepers

Chet Atkins was known as an innovative guitarist; as a producer who helped define the Nashville Sound; as a generous teacher and collaborator; and even as a student of other guitarists. This exhibit-closing concert will highlight the relationships that have been sparked and continue to grow around Chet’s music, as well as the artists who are carrying on and expanding Chet’s guitar style. John Knowles, c.g.p., will host this tribute with guest performances by Megan Taylor Anderson, Muriel Anderson, Thom Bresh, Guy Van Duser, Ben Hall, Brooks Robertson, Joe Robinson, and others.  The program will be streamed live on www.countrymusichalloffame.org. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Sunday, July 15, 1:00 p.m., CDT, Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Brooks Robertson

Oregon-based Brooks Robertson is a composer and arranger in the style of Merle Travis, Jerry Reed, Thom Bresh, and his own mentor, Buster B. Jones. In 2004, Robertson won first place in Prairie Home Companion’s Talent from Twelve to Twenty Contest.  Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Sunday, July 15, 2:00 p.m., CDT, Film Screening: Austin City Limits – “Chet Atkins and Friends” (1987)

In this episode of the long-running public television series, Chet Atkins demonstrates his trademark guitar style as well his love of collaboration. His guests include Thom Bresh, Larry Carlton, Johnny Gimble, Peter Ostroushko, Butch Thompson, and the Prairie Home Companion Band. Offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, Made Possible Through the Generous Support of the Gretsch Company. 55minutes. Free.

These programs are made possible, in part, by grants from the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and by an agreement between the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Film screenings are made possible by Iron Mountain Film and Sound Archives.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture.  With the same educational mission, the foundation also operates CMF Records, the museum’s Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B and Hatch Show Print®.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at www.countrymusichalloffame.org or by calling (615) 416-2001.

German Guitar Heroes–Legendary Craftsman from Germany to America

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

By Fred Gretsch

Not long ago I was on a visit to New York City. While there, I took the opportunity to attend an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled: “Guitar Heroes—Legendary Craftsmen From Italy to New York.” The exhibit showcased the history of guitar making in Italy, and how Italian luthiers brought their craft with them when they emigrated to New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As the namesake of one of America’s premier guitar brands, I was fascinated by the Met’s exhibit. However, as an individual of German heritage, whose family has been keenly involved with guitar production for four generations, I felt that an important part of history was not being represented.

My feelings were made all the more acute by the fact that my granddaughter Chelsea (a sixth-generation Gretsch) was at the Met with me. I wanted her to know and appreciate how important the contributions of German immigrant craftsmen—including members of her own family—were and still are to guitar innovation and production in America. So I decided to prepare this examination of those contributions.

Using the format of the Met’s exhibit as a basis for my look at German Guitar Heroes, I discovered a fascinating array of comparisons, contrasts, and connections. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

It Starts With C.F. Martin

To begin with a contrast: Significant emigration of Italian luthiers to New York took place between 1880 and 1920. But German luthier Christian Frederick Martin arrived half a century earlier, in 1833. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Christian Martin was the founder and namesake of C. F. Martin & Company, makers of world-famous Martin flat-top acoustic guitars. Christian Martin was born on January 31, 1796 in Markneukirchen, Germany. Born into a family of cabinetmakers and woodworkers, he eventually moved to Vienna, where he apprenticed to noted Austrian guitar maker Johann Georg Stauffer.

At that time European craftsmen operated under the guild system. The guitar (as we know it today) was a relatively new instrument, and most guitar makers—including C.F. Martin—were members of the Cabinet Makers’ Guild. But the Violin Makers’ Guild claimed exclusive rights to manufacture musical instruments. They filed appeals on three occasions to prevent cabinet makers from producing guitars. The cabinet makers successfully defended their right to build guitars, but Martin felt that the guild system was too restrictive. He wanted to work where his skill could advance his personal success without limitations. So in 1833 he emigrated to New York City.

Martin established a shop at 196 Hudson Street on the Lower West Side of Manhattan, with a workshop in the back and a small retail music store in the front. He remained in New York City for five years, then relocated to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The company is still family-owned and operated to this day.

In an example of German craftsmanship and innovation, the Martin company employed the X-bracing system for guitars during the 1850s. In fact, X-bracing was used by several guitar makers in the 1850s—all German immigrants who knew each other—and there is no evidence that C. F. Martin invented the system. But the Martin Company was the first to use it on a large scale.

What makes this important is that from the 1860s on, fan bracing was the standard in Europe. Martin and other American builders (including such forgotten German names as Schmidt & Maul and Stumcke) used X-bracing. The sound produced by X-bracing on a guitar with gut strings may be considered less delicate. But it prepared the American guitar for steel strings, which emerged in the first quarter of the 20th century and eventually dominated the acoustic guitar market.

The German-heritage family leadership of the Martin company continued to result in important innovations as time went on. When the Great Depression of 1929 drastically reduced sales, the company came up with the 14-fret neck, which allowed players to reach higher notes more easily. Martin intended it to appeal to banjo players interested in switching to guitar for increased work opportunities. The longer neck became so popular that Martin made it standard on all of its guitars, and the rest of the guitar industry soon followed. Classical guitars, which were evolving on their own track largely among European builders, retained the 12-fret neck design.

Martin’s second major innovation within the period between 1915 and 1930 was the dreadnought guitar. First designed in 1916 as a collaboration between Martin and prominent retailer Oliver Ditson Co., the dreadnought body style was larger and deeper than most guitars. It took its name from the British Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, which at the time was the largest battleship ever built.

HD-28 Dreadnought in moulded case

The greater volume and louder bass produced by the dreadnought design was intended to make the guitar more useful as an accompaniment instrument for singers working with the limited sound equipment of the day. Martin gave the dreadnought X-bracing in 1931, and two years later gave it a modified body shape to accommodate a 14-fret neck. From there it quickly became their best-selling guitar. Today the dreadnought size and shape is a “standard” acoustic guitar design, highly regarded for its usefulness in a wide variety of musical genres.

Enter Gretsch

The appearance of the Gretsch name as part of the German Guitar Heroes story also pre-dates the Italian emigration to the U.S. It happens in 1872, when my great-grandfather Friedrich Gretsch moved from Germany to Brooklyn at the age of sixteen. Very shortly thereafter he went to work at Albert Houdlett & Sons—a musical-instrument manufacturer that specialized in drums and banjos.

By the time 1883 came around, Friedrich was in his mid-twenties and had been married for four years. He had done many different music-related jobs, including expanding his skills to include guitars. That’s when he founded his own business, operating out of a small shop in Brooklyn.

Sadly, Friedrich didn’t remain at the helm of the business he founded for very long. In 1895, while on a trip to his German homeland, he died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-nine.

The Second Gretsch Generation

Friedrich’s death left the leadership of the company to the enterprising mind of his fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch, who was still in knickers at the time. Energetic as he was enterprising, Fred Gretsch, Sr. built the business on a reputation for precision and quality. In 1916—two decades after assuming direction of the company—Fred Gretsch Sr. moved the factory and sales operation into a ten-story building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn. From this headquarters he responded to the growing demand for more specialized instruments, including guitars.

In one of the contrasts I mentioned earlier, New York’s Italian luthiers worked on a local, artisan basis. By 1920 Gretsch was the world’s largest instrument manufacturer, making and selling guitars across the country. (At that time, guitars were sold to wholesalers, who put their own brands on them.) And, in one of the connections I mentioned earlier, Gretsch was also distributing Martin guitars.

In 1927 the popularity of Gretsch-made guitars prompted the company to officially create their own brand of guitars. Thus the Gretsch name appeared on guitars for the first time. Back in 1918 Fred Gretsch Sr. had developed a revolutionary multi-ply lamination process that resulted in the world’s first “warp-free” drum hoop and led to the development of multi-ply drumshells. (Prior to that time drum shells and hoops had been made of steam-bent single-ply boards.) This historic innovation later had a major impact on guitar manufacturing, as we’ll see in a bit.

In 1935, Fred Gretsch Sr.’s son Bill was managing the company’s Chicago distribution office when he met a nineteen-year-old saxophonist named Charles “Duke” Kramer, who was playing in local clubs. Bill saw something special in the teenager and offered him a job polishing horns for $11 a week. Duke—himself of German heritage—accepted the job and never left the company. His career with Gretsch spanned an amazing seventy years, during which time he came to be known as “Mr. Guitar Man” for his pivotal role in making Gretsch electric guitars what they are today.

Gretsch Sychromatic Guitar

And what they are today began in 1939 with the introduction of the first Gretsch electric guitar—the Electromatic—along with the Synchromatic archtop guitar series. In that same year guitar player and innovator Jimmie Webster joined the company. Meanwhile, Gretsch acoustic guitars appeared with a distinctive triangle-shaped sound hole.

The Third Gretsch Generation

In 1942 my grandfather, Fred Gretsch, Sr., retired, leaving the day-to-day operations of running the company to his sons, Fred Gretsch, Jr. (my uncle) and William “Bill” Gretsch (my father). Both had been active in the business since 1927. After a brief term at the company’s helm, Fred Gretsch, Jr. left to serve as a commander in the US Navy. Bill Gretsch became president, and during his tenure the company forged a musical relationship with the legendary Birdland jazz club in New York City.

The company lost its president, and I lost my father, to illness in 1948. Fred Gretsch, Jr. assumed control of the business, just in time for the dawn of rock ’n’ roll at the beginning of the 1950s. While other guitar manufacturers held to traditional designs tied to older musical styles, Gretsch embraced rock ’n’ roll as an opportunity for innovation and expansion. The early years of the decade saw the first cutaway bodies appear on Electromatic and new Electro II guitar models, as well as the introduction of the legendary Duo-Jet model (which sparked the entire Jet line of Gretsch solid-body guitars).

In 1954 Jimmie Webster struck a deal with guitar great Chet Atkins to design and develop a Gretsch guitar. In this same year the first Bigsby vibratos—designed by inventor, machinist, musician, and engineer Paul Bigsby—were offered on Gretsch electrics. The two brands have since become inseparably identified.

Special Connections

The 1950s featured several fascinating connections between Gretsch and one of the Italian guitar makers showcased in the Metropolitan Museum’s Guitar Heroes exhibit: John D’Angelico. In the 1950s D’Angelico’s Manhattan shop and Gretsch’s Brooklyn factory were at opposite ends of the Williamsburg Bridge. John used to take the subway from Delancy Street over to the Brooklyn side, then walk down to our building, where we sold him our remaining stock of solid-wood tops, backs, sides, and wood blocks for neck-making. That material was surplus to us, but it was the basic ingredient for his stock in trade. Gretsch was a large buyer of wood and wood products; John was a small buyer. And he was able to buy things from us, including ebony and rosewood, which we were importing in large quantities. So John D’Angelico was a customer of ours.

Chet Atkins' D'Angelico Guitar. Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo by Bob Delevante.

The lead picture on the Met exhibit calendar is a D’Angelico guitar built in 1959. It’s a beautiful blonde spruce-top guitar, and I’m pretty certain that we sold John some or all of the wood that he used to build that instrument. And the August 2012 page of the calendar depicts a 1950 D’Angelico guitar that was owned and played by Chet Atkins prior to his coming on board with Gretsch. It’s currently on exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. That guitar is also probably made of wood obtained from Gretsch. And it features an early Bigsby bridge and pickups—characteristic elements of Gretsch guitars.

More Innovation

In 1955 the multi-ply drum construction method introduced by my grandfather back in 1918 had its impact on guitar design. Up until that time, virtually all hollow-bodied electric guitars were made with one-piece tops and backs. When these instruments were played at the new volume levels of rock ’n’ roll music, they tended to feed back. In 1955, with input from Chet Atkins, Gretsch pioneered three-ply tops and backs on their guitars. This resulted in the White Falcon and 6120 Chet Atkins models, and set the stage for artists like Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, and Beatle George Harrison.

Gretsch 6120 Nashville Guitar

As the 1950s continued, Gretsch began production of the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar, as well as the futuristic Jupiter Thunderbird guitar designed for Bo Diddley. And as the decade ended and a new one began, an event took place that changed the course of musical history. That was when, in 1960, a young British guitarist named George Harrison bought a used 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet guitar. He used that guitar on the earliest recordings and tours by his band, The Beatles.

Only four years later “Beatlemania” was born on The Ed Sullivan Show. George Harrison’s use of a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar ignited a frenzy for that model among aspiring guitarists. And, in yet another connection to German guitar manufacturing, Harrison’s bandmate Paul McCartney performed on a German-made Hofner “violin” bass . . . an instrument that has since become a Beatles icon.

The Fourth Gretsch Generation

In 1967 my uncle, Fred Gretsch, Jr. retired. At the same time he sold The Gretsch Company to the Baldwin Music Company. Over the next eighteen years instrument production facilities and sales offices were moved around the country. Guitar production was limited, and was ultimately shut down completely in 1980. During all that time, it was my fervent desire to return the company to Gretsch family ownership. I was able to achieve that goal in 1985, when I bought the Gretsch Company back from Baldwin.

Shortly after the reacquisition of the company, Gretsch guitar production was started up again. This was helped immeasurably by the resurgence a few years earlier of the rockabilly sound of Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats—a sound that depended largely on Brian’s classic hollow-body Gretsch electric guitar.  In 1988 there was another boost when George Harrison collaborated with Gretsch designers to produce the unique Traveling Wilburys collector guitar. By 1989 Gretsch guitar production had begun in earnest, with full professional lines of Gretsch electric and acoustic guitars.

From the early 1990s through today, Gretsch guitar innovation has continued. This innovation includes the introduction of the Brian Setzer signature model (1993), budget-priced Electromatic, Synchromatic, and Historic guitar lines (1998), the purchase of the Bigsby Accessory company and the re-introduction of the Bo Diddley rectangular signature guitar (1999), the Bo Diddley/Billy Gibbons Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird guitar (2006), a reintroduced line of Chet Atkins models (2007), an Eddie Cochrane tribute model (2010), the George Harrison Tribute Duo-Jet (2011), and a Duane Eddy signature model (2012).

The Legacy Continues

I now represent the fourth generation of Gretsch Company ownership, dating back to my great-grandfather Friedrich. And when it comes to the subject of guitar manufacturing, I’m proud to represent not only my own family’s contributions, but also a legacy of craftsmanship and innovation brought to this country from Germany over 175 years ago.

For exclusive souvenirs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Guitar Heroes exhibition please visit the following links:

Calendar

Postcards

Calendar & Postcard Set

Chet Atkins Exhibit Extended Through July 15!

Friday, April 13th, 2012

From the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum:

COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME® AND MUSEUM TO EXTEND ITS EXHIBITION CHET ATKINS: CERTIFIED GUITAR PLAYER THROUGH JULY 15, 2012

Upcoming Programs Include April 28 Interview with Jerry Bradley and May 5 Concert, Guitar Man: A Tribute to Jerry Reed

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, which was originally scheduled to close June 11, 2012, has been extended through July 15, 2012, museum officials announced.  The exhibit is being held over in part to accommodate members of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, who will visit Nashville in July; the extension also allows the museum to present additional public programs exploring the Hall of Fame member’s robust career and lasting influence.   Among the upcoming programming highlights are an April 28 interview with Jerry Bradley, and a May 5 concert saluting Jerry Reed.

On April 28, music executive Jerry Bradley will sit down with museum Senior Historian John Rumble for an interview at 1:30 p.m. in the museum’s Ford Theater. Bradley, son of Country Music Hall of Fame member Owen Bradley, learned record engineering and production from his father before working at RCA Records with Chet Atkins. First Atkins’ assistant then his successor, Bradley headed RCA Nashville from 1973–82. He signed Alabama and Ronnie Milsap, among others, and contributed greatly to the creation of country music’s ‘Outlaw’ movement. Bradley will discuss his career and the influence Atkins had on it.

On May 5, Guitar Man: A Tribute to Jerry Reed, a concert celebrating the music of Chet Atkins’ friend and collaborator, will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the museum’s Ford Theater. Jerry Reed was known for his innovative fingerstyle guitar playing; his catalog of boisterous country hits including “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)”; and his good-humored film roles (Smokey and the Bandit). Chet Atkins helped shepherd Reed’s career at RCA, recorded dozens of his musical compositions and gave him the coveted honorary designation certified guitar player (c.g.p.).  Thom Bresh, Craig Dobbins, John Knowles c.g.p., Brent Mason, Richard Smith, Mark Thornton, Darrell Toney and Sean Weaver, backed by a house band of Steve Bryant, Ric McClure and Matt Raum, will perform their favorite Reed tunes.

Both programs, offered as part of the special exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, made possible through the generous support of the Gretsch Company with additional support provided by Great American Country Television Network, are included with museum admission and free to museum members. The Ford Theater offers limited seating. Museum ticket or membership does not guarantee entry to museum programs. Both programs will also be streamed live at www.countrymusichalloffame.org.

Chet Atkins:  Certified Guitar Player Upcoming Programs Schedule

All programs are included with museum admission and free to museum members, except as noted below.

Sunday, April 29, 1:00 p.m., CDT

Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Pat Kirtley

Guitarist Pat Kirtley blends the musical heritage of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins with an eclectic and contemporary repertoire, in genres from bluegrass to Brazilian. Kirtley has won the title of U.S. National Fingerstyle Champion, and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Thumbpicking Hall of Fame.

Sunday, April 29, 2:00 p.m. CDT

Film Screening: Chet Atkins: Rare Performances 1976-1995 (FREE)

Saturday, May 12, 1:00 p.m. CDT

Family Program: Introduction to Thumbpick Guitar (FREE)

Learn to play guitar like Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. This hands-on workshop will teach the basics of thumbpick guitar. Led by versatile guitar player Sean Weaver, recipient of awards from Home of the Legends Thumbpickers Contest and the Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition. Guitars provided. Ages 6 to 18. No reservations required.

Sunday, May 13, 1:00 p.m. CDT

Fingerstyle Guitar Demonstration: Craig Dobbins

Craig Dobbins is an Alabama-based guitarist, writer, and composer. He has authored many books and recordings about fingerstyle guitar, and has contributed to Acoustic Guitar, Acoustic Guitar Workshop, Fingerstyle Guitar and Just Jazz Guitar magazines.

Saturday, May 19, 2:00 p.m. CDT

Community Outreach: Introduction to Thumbpick Guitar at Nashville Public Library, Goodlettsville Branch

205 Rivergate Parkway, Nashville, TN 37072. (615) 862-5862. Ages 13 to 19. No reservations required. Free.

Museum programs are made possible, in part, by grants from the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission and by an agreement between the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture. With the same educational mission, the foundation also operates CMF Records, the museum’s Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B and Hatch Show Print®.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at www.countrymusichalloffame.org or by calling (615) 416-2001.