Posts Tagged ‘Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’

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 To learn more about Gretsch guitars, visit

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.



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)

Chet Atkins Convention & 60th Anniversary Celebration

Monday, June 9th, 2014

In the city that “music calls home”, Nashville, Tennessee, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) held its annual Convention from July 9 through 12. At the Sheraton Music City hotel, this year’s convention was an extra special affair for two very notable reasons.  First, this was the 30th anniversary of the CAAS Convention, and second, Gretsch celebrated the 60th anniversary of Chet Atkins and Gretsch endorsement agreement signed by Chet and past Gretsch company president, Fred Gretsch Jr., in July of 1954.

To celebrate this important milestone in Gretsch history, Gretsch Guitars premiered a Chet tribute video hosted by Steve Wariner, C.G.P., recently filmed in historic RCA Studio B at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.  Several of Chet’s close friends and colleagues got together to share their memories of Chet as well as how this musician, producer, and executive influenced not only music in general but also country, rock, and jazz guitarists with his unique playing style.  And during his long association with Gretsch, Chet was instrumental in the creation of the popular Nashville, Country Gentleman, and Tennessean signature guitars.

The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society is a group of people who have a sincere interest in the music and career of Chet Atkins.  Learn more about them and become a member.  And make sure you attend the CAAS Convention in 2016.  Hope to see you in Nashville!



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 For more information about NAMM visit

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 For more information on Gretsch and its association with Chet Atkins, visit

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




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 & Postcard Set

Chet Atkins: The Lasting Influence of “Mr. Guitar”

Monday, December 19th, 2011

The Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibition which opened in August 2011 continues into the summer of 2012. Located in the East Gallery of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, the exhibit pays tribute to one of country music’s most versatile and visionary artists.

Ten years after Chet’s death in June of 2001, interest in him has not faded in the least.  One only needs to see all that is blogged, tweeted, and otherwise posted about him on a daily basis.  Here are a couple recent examples:

“Chet Atkins: The Lasting Influence of ‘Mr. Guitar’” by Craig Havighurst.  Excerpt:

“It’s not that there weren’t solo guitar players before him — but there weren’t that many. Chet took solo guitar to everybody.

Even to this day, young devotees are embracing Atkins’ style. Ben Hall, a 22-year-old from Okolona, Miss., showcased at this year’s convention. Hall uses the tricky right-hand technique that Atkins adopted from Kentuckian Merle Travis and refined in the 1940s and ’50s.

‘It revolves around a bass note,’ Hall says. ‘The fingers … Merle used one, Chet thought Merle was using two. So he used two and three and sometimes a handful of fingers. They play the melody. And there’s famous stories of so many great guitar players along the way who play other styles listening to this and saying, ‘I had no idea that’s one instrument.’ ”

Read the entire story here.

December 2011 issue of Premier Guitar magazine, “Chet Atkins: Country Gentleman,” also by Craig Havighurst.  Excerpt:

“Refinement. It’s a word we’ve come to associate (sometimes incorrectly) with luxury brands and upscale dining. Musically, maybe the term conjures up a string quartet. It’s not what you see emblazoned on welcome signs to little Appalachian Mountain towns like Luttrell, Tennessee.

But to properly consider the career of Chester Burton Atkins, native son of said mountain town, the true meaning of refinement (‘to make improvement by introducing subtleties or distinctions,’ says Webster) could prove more than a little useful. Chet’s not the only small-town kid to become a major-league musician, cultural force, and executive, though few have achieved so much with such humility. But on the guitar, where nails meet strings, Chet stands pretty much alone.”

Read the entire story here.

Chet Atkins Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo by Donn Jones Photography.