Posts Tagged ‘Fred Gretsch’

Remembering the 50th Anniversary of Ted McCarty Buying Bigsby Accessories

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

…and Leaving the Gibson Company

The Gretsch-McCarty-Bigsby family legacy still going strong today.

By Fred W. Gretsch

I was thinking recently about how three well-timed telephone calls forever linked three families and changed the history of Gibson Guitars, Bigsby Accessories, and the Gretsch Company.

Bill Gretsch

The first call was placed in 1948 from my father, Bill Gretsch, to Maurice Berlin, the Chairman of the Board of Chicago Musical Instruments, the company that purchased Gibson Guitars in 1944. My father called Mr. Berlin because his good friend, Ted McCarty, who was visiting in my father’s office, had shared that he was resigning from the Wurlitzer Company, getting out of the music business, and waiting on a job offer from the Brach Candy Company.

Ted McCarty

My father told Ted he was too well known and respected, and that the music business couldn’t afford to lose him. Before Ted could leave my father’s office, my father called Mr. Berlin and arranged a meeting between Ted and Mr. Berlin. As you know, that meeting lead to Ted being offered the position of President at Gibson Guitars. His leadership and keen business and engineering skills turned Gibson around and guided them through their golden years of innovation and production in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Paul Bigsby

The second call was placed a little over 50 years ago in 1965 (the year I started to work at the Gretsch Company) by Paul Bigsby from his small factory in Downey, California to his good friend, Ted McCarty, who was in his 17th year as President of Gibson Guitars. Paul had been manufacturing his innovative guitar vibratos since 1952, but he was 65, having health issues, and looking to retire and sell his business.

Ted had helped Bigsby grow in the 1950s by being the first company to put Bigsby vibratos on Gibson’s factory-built guitars. Ted even used his engineering skills to design the swing away handle to replace Bigsby’s original fixed-handle design. When Paul Bigsby called that day, he was calling to offer his business to Ted, not to the Gibson Company. Bigsby felt his business would be in better hands with his friend Ted McCarty and wasn’t interested in selling it to a company.

In 1965, Ted was 57 and very unhappy with recent management changes at Gibson’s parent company. He also probably sensed more changes coming to the guitar industry. Fender had been purchased by CBS Corporation for $13 million in January and Ted knew the guitar boom years couldn’t continue forever.

So, in November 1965, Ted flew out to California, met with Paul Bigsby and bought his company the same day. On New Year’s Day 1966, a truck loaded everything from Bigsby’s shop and drove back to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Ted resigned from Gibson in March and became owner of Bigsby Accessories for more than 30 years.

I was more than happy to contact Ted in 1989 (he was a longtime friend of the family and even attended my baptism) after I bought the family business back from Baldwin and was ready to roll out the new lineup of Gretsch guitars. Even at 80 years old, Ted had a razor-sharp memory and was the world’s leading authority on Bigsby vibratos.

Fred Gretsch with Ted McCarty, NAMM 1995

I always felt Ted McCarty didn’t get the proper recognition for all the contributions he made to the guitar industry. With the Gretsch-Bigsby relationship reestablished, Dinah and I were pleased to host a gala dinner to honor Ted (as well as our friend, Duane Eddy) at the 1997 Summer NAMM Show in Nashville. Hundreds of Gretsch retailers, distributors, and guests attended this special tribute to an unsung giant of the guitar business. It was a night all who attended will never forget.

Ted McCarty and Fred Gretsch, 1999

The third call is special to me because it continued the McCarty-Gretsch family friendship started by my father more than 70 years ago in Chicago. In 1999, I was delighted to get Ted’s phone call offering to sell Bigsby Accessories to me. It was a great opportunity since Gretsch guitars and Bigsby vibratos had been inseparable since the 1950s. We were more than happy to purchase Ted’s company on May 10, 1999, and in October 1999, Ted retired at the age of 89 after a long, successful 63-year career in the music industry.

There have only been three keepers of the Bigsby brand the past 60 years and Dinah and I are proud to be the current keepers. Hopefully both Paul Bigsby and Ted McCarty are looking down and smiling at how the Gretsch family has grown the business and preserved the Bigsby heritage. We’re continuing to follow the successful formula established more than 60 years ago, using the same hand-made processes and as many of the original machines and suppliers as possible. There is no better way I can think of to honor friends of the family and keep their legacy alive. I think the previous three generations of Gretsch Company Presidents – my father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather – would agree.



Remembering Bill and Sylvia Gretsch

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

A Tribute To A Remarkable Couple

By Fred W. Gretsch

September is an especially significant month in my family’s history. September 10 is the date on which my father, William “Bill” Gretsch passed away in 1948. And September 14th is the anniversary of my mother Sylvia’s birth in 1917. Both of these remarkable individuals played a major role not only in my life, but also in the legacy of the Gretsch Company.

Gretsch has always been a family business. My great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, founded the company in 1883. Upon his sudden passing in 1885 his son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over–at the age of fifteen along with his mother, Rosa. Fred Sr. brought his sons Fred Jr. and William into the business when they each turned ten years of age—around 1915 and 1916, respectively. (A third brother, Dick Gretsch, did not join the business and lived until the age of 102 and influenced the business as the best Gretsch cheerleader of all time.) Fred Jr. and Bill started at the bottom, of course, packing phonograph needles in boxes on the weekends, 100 years ago now.

By 1933 my father was a young man looking to make his mark in the music business that his grandfather had started and his father was now running. Thinking that that the company’s office in Chicago offered more room for his younger son’s energies than did the staid headquarters in Brooklyn, Fred Sr. transferred Bill to Chicago. Two years later, he met Maxine Lois Elsner.

My mother was a bright and ambitious person in her own right. In 1935 she filled out a questionnaire upon entering Northwestern University, outlining her plans for the future: “When ten years old, I started taking lessons in dramatics. From then until now I have studied speech with the idea of making it my career. I chose Northwestern University because of its superior speech division and its radio courses. When I finish college I plan to do both writing and speaking for radio.”

Perhaps it was Maxine’s insistence about pursuing her career that attracted Bill. When they first met he was not himself interested in getting married. So the couple dated for two years—largely by telegram correspondence, since Maxine was at Northwestern and Bill was in Chicago. During this period Bill gave Maxine the pet name of “Sylvia”—a name by which she became known to friends and family thereafter.

Bill and Sylvia on July 12, 1940

My mother graduated from Northwestern University on June 10, 1939, with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech. After a brief tenure as a high school speech teacher in Webb City, Missouri, in June of 1941 she became a copy writer at radio station KWFT in Wichita Falls, Texas. By October of that year she had taken a job as editor of Western Hotel and Restaurant Reporter, the west’s oldest hotel magazine.

But by this time my father had had enough of job-related separation from Sylvia. So around the time of his birthday in 1942 he called her on the phone, telling her, “You know what I want for my birthday? I want you.” The two were married in California, Missouri, on December 14, 1942—the day after my father’s birthday.

In that same year my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., retired from the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company. My uncle, Fred Jr., became president in New York, while my father ran the company’s office in Chicago. But America had just entered World War II, and shortly thereafter my uncle left to serve in the navy. So my father moved his family to New York, where he took over as president of Gretsch.

My father brought the Gretsch Company into the war effort with enthusiasm. Under his supervision Gretsch made thousands of “entertainment kits” for the Red Cross to ship to servicemen overseas. Those kits included harmonicas, ukuleles, and ocarinas. The factory also manufactured non-musical war-related products, including wooden parts for gas masks.

According to Duke Kramer, who served as a Gretsch executive for almost seventy years, “Bill was a man with a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best . . . and [he had] a genius for constructive counsel. His sense of humor was irresistible. When he passed away in 1948, a legion of individuals felt they had lost their best friend.”

Bill Gretsch and his family, the Christmas before his passing. (I'm the smiling youngster in the center.)

Of course, when my father passed away my mother lost more than her best friend. She lost her husband and the father of her four small children (my sisters—Katherine, Charlotte, and Gretchen—and me). In February of 1950 my mother started working for the Gretsch Company on various projects. The first was an editorial for a music publication, which she wrote on behalf of Fred Gretsch Jr. She also worked on a guitar booklet and a manual for retailers.

A Gretsch Family Portrait. From left Dick, Bill, Bill's wife Sylvia, Fred Sr., and Fred Jr.

With the support of the extended Gretsch family—including my grandfather, my uncle, and their respective families—this extraordinary woman provided a loving and nurturing environment that allowed my sisters and me to pursue our dreams through childhood and into our adult years.

One of my personal dreams was to bring the Gretsch Company back into family ownership after it was sold to the Baldwin Company in 1967. In 1984 I was able to realize that dream—largely through the inspiration I received from the examples of my father and my mother. That, in turn, led me to consider how I might best honor their memories.

Fred Gretsch with University of Michigan Tribute Marching Drum

Throughout the decades in which my father worked at Gretsch—the 1920s, 30s, and 40s—jazz and big band music were the popular styles of the day. But there were also marching bands, concert bands, and other musical organizations, many of which were connected to schools and other educational institutions. My father was a strong believer in the value of music education. In 1946 he personally established a scholarship for a talented clarinet player at the University of Michigan. (In the mid-1950s a complete set of marching drums, finished in the school’s colors, was donated to the Michigan band by the Gretsch Company in honor of my father.)

Since a focus on music education was a large part of my father’s business philosophy, it seemed to me only fitting to memorialize him and my mother in a way that would support that philosophy. With that in mind, several years ago my wife Dinah and I established the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Its mission is to provide financial support for projects that promote music education in a variety of ways.

One of those projects was the construction of the Sylvia and William Gretsch memorial recording studio at Elmhurst College (my own alma mater) near Chicago. This studio is a central element of the extensive music-education program offered at Elmhurst.

More recently, the foundation provided a grant for a five-year program at Georgia Southern University, partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Bullock County (Georgia). In this program, GSU students studying to become music teachers actually serve as teachers for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to receive music lessons.

I think of my father and mother every day. Their lives revolved around music, as does mine. It’s simply a Gretsch family tradition, and it’s one that I’m proud to be a part of.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.



Oh What A Night…With Doyle Dykes!

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Saturday night, August 1, was a musically magical night in of all places, Bloomingdale, Georgia, a quiet southern community just west of historic Savannah. Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor hosted a special evening featuring the stylings of Doyle Dykes, “one of the finest fingerpicking guitarists around” as described by the late Chet Atkins. The sold out show was attended by area music lovers–several never having seen Doyle perform before–and none of whom left the event disappointed.

Doyle Dykes. Photo courtesy of Don Aliffi.

For most of the evening, Doyle performed masterfully with his new Gretsch White Falcon guitar to which he had added an LR Baggs acoustic pickup.  He also used a recently-acquired Gretsch 12-string electric. Doyle graciously shared some nice comments about his Gretsch instruments with the audience and also called area resident Fred Gretsch up on stage to talk about Fred’s 50 years in the music business (which is being celebrated throughout 2015).

Also joining Doyle during Saturday night’s show were Keith Miller and his son Nathan from Summerville, South Carolina. Quite a skillful ukulele player, Nathan delighted the audience with a song he composed while visiting a little German village and inspired by their daily church bells. Watch his performance.

Doyle with Dinah & Fred Gretsch along with Keith and son Nathan Miller

What a night and what a terrific time with one of the best cross-genre
fingerstylists today! If you don’t yet know Doyle, you need to visit his website and Facebook page to learn more.  And watch Doyle’s tribute to Chet Atkins from the Pickin’ Parlor.

While out in the Savannah area, add some great music to your evening.  Check Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor’s schedule for upcoming events.


Special thanks to Chris and Missy and to Jim Wethington for posting videos from the show!


A Brooklyn Bash!

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Celebrating Fred Gretsch’s Fifty Years In The Music Business

This past May 30 saw a very special event in Brooklyn, New York: a celebration of Fred W. Gretsch’s fiftieth anniversary in the music industry. Representing the fourth generation of the Gretsch family business, Fred’s career began on March 2, 1965. Today he remains at the helm of the Gretsch Company—and as such is one of the very few individuals in the musical-instrument industry still actively involved with the brand that bears his name.

It’s entirely appropriate that the celebration of Fred’s anniversary was held in Brooklyn, because that’s where the Gretsch Company was located from its inception in 1883 until 1969. In those years the company manufactured great drums, guitars, banjos, and other instruments under the watchful eyes of Fred Gretsch’s great-grandfather (Friedrich Gretsch), grandfather (Fred Gretsch Sr.), father (William “Bill” Gretsch), and uncle (Fred Gretsch Jr.). The iconic Gretsch Building that housed the factory still stands today at 60 Broadway, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.

And so it was that Gretsch fans, artists, and music-industry colleagues from across the country came to Brooklyn to help Fred and his family celebrate this auspicious occasion. And it all started with…

Gretsch Day At Street Sounds

Brooklyn’s Street Sounds.

Street Sounds is located on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn. Touting itself as “the world’s largest Gretsch dealer” (for guitars, amps, and related accessories), Street Sounds staged an all-day event that showcased Gretsch products and Gretsch artists alike.

This beautiful guitar was created by Stephen and the Gretsch Custom Shop.

Store owner Rocky Schiano decorated the shop for the occasion with an impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This included several stunning creations by the Gretsch Custom Shop operation. Rocky greeted the crowd, and then introduced Gretsch Guitar product manager Joe Carducci, who served as emcee for the day’s festivities.

Emcee Mr. Joe Carducci.

Following a video presentation highlighting Gretsch history, Joe introduced Fred and Dinah Gretsch, who greeted the crowd on behalf of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company. Fred then spoke about the importance of family, commenting on how he and Dinah shared a multi-generational involvement in business with daughter Lena, and pointing out that there were fifth- and sixth-generation Gretsch family members in attendance at the event. Dinah Gretsch offered her thanks to the audience for their attendance, then went on to express her deep personal conviction that music enriches the lives of those who pursue it.

Fred Gretsch had a moment to chat with Ben Fraser (left) and Justin Keenan of The Go Set after their performance.

Fred enjoyed a chat with Ben Fraser (left) and Justin Keenan of The Go Set.

Entertainment for the day began with a performance by Justin Keenan and Ben Fraser—two members of an Australian quintet called The Go Set. Switching between acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin, the talented duo impressed the crowd with their melodic stylings. Their closing number, “Liberty Bell,” was offered as a tribute to the spirit of America.

Stephen Stern presented Fred with a congratulatory banner.

Senior master builder Stephen Stern was on hand to represent the Gretsch Custom Shop.  He presented Fred with a specially-created banner featuring the Custom Shop logo and the signatures of all of the talented artists and builders at the shop itself.

You couldn’t get more “local Brooklyn” than the next band on the bill. Called Off The Roof, this young trio featured Rocky Schiano’s daughter Kristina on drums. (Gretsch drums, naturally.) Their energetic set of punk-infused R&B included numbers by Jimmy Eat World and Alicia Keys, as well as a unique arrangement of the classic Jackson 5 tune “I Want You Back.” Pretty impressive, considering that it was their self-described “first time playing out.”

Brooklyn-based Off The Roof featured Rocky Schiano’s daughter Kristina on drums.

Mark Nelson (center) and Mike Nieman of Gretsch Drums presented Fred with a limited-edition snare drum.

Mark Nelson and Mike Nieman, representing the Gretsch drum-making operation, made the next presentation to Fred Gretsch. Appropriately enough, it was the prototype of a limited-edition snare drum model called the FredKaster ’65 FG. Only fifty of these unique 7×14 commemorative drums will be offered for sale in the US. Fred’s drum came with its head signed by everyone involved in the manufacturing and sale of Gretsch drums.

The Nashville Attitude may be from Staten Island, New York, but they have an authentic honky-tonk sound.

State Island's The Nashville Attitude have an authentic honky-tonk sound.

You might not think of New York City as a hotbed of country music, but Staten Islands’ The Nashville Attitude would prove you wrong. Fronted by the vocals, guitar, and banjo of Marc Vincent Sica (with Elvin Cartegena on guitar and Ian Underwood on bass) the group stormed through a set of foot-stompin’, knee-slappin’ tunes, including an ever-accelerating version of Johnny Cash’s classic “Rock Island Line” that challenged the stamina of drummer Dave Strickland.

The legendary Duane Eddy was a surprise guest.

The next scheduled act was Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands. But before they began, Joe Carducci introduced a surprise artist: the legendary “father of twang,” Duane Eddy. After modestly acknowledging the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer sat in with Jet and the band, adding his special touch to several tunes . . . including his 1960s hit, “Rebel Rouser.”

Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands are a throwback to the great western swing bands—and a real crowd-pleaser.

Then Jet and his boys returned to play an entertaining set of their trademark western swing and standards. Following a crowd-pleasing sing-along rendition of “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” Jet offered musical tributes—first to Dinah Gretsch by singing the classic “Dinah…Is There Anyone Finer?” and then to Fred Gretsch in the form of special lyrics added to Roy Hamilton’s 1958 hit “Don’t Let Go.”

New York state senator Marty Golden (at right) offered a proclamation from the senate honoring Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Family connection to Brooklyn.

NY senator Marty Golden offered a proclamation honoring Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Family.

Rocky Schiano returned to the stage to introduce New York state senator Marty Golden, and to bring Fred and Dinah back up as well. Golden then read a senate proclamation that highlighted the history of the Gretsch Company and its connection to Brooklyn, and went on to salute Fred Gretsch on his fiftieth anniversary.

Todd Taylor and bassist Mike Moody.

Joe Carducci could barely contain his enthusiasm when introducing the next artist, citing him as “the Guinness World Record Holder as the fastest banjo player on the planet!” This was Todd Taylor, who—accompanied by the talented Mike Moody on bass—proceeded to demonstrate why he holds that title. The soft-spoken southern gentleman more than lived up to his reputation.

A stunned Kentucky Parkis—an elementary schoolteacher who also teaches bass in the Little Kids Rock music-education program—took home the day’s final raffle prize: a beautiful Gretsch 5420 guitar, presented to her by Dinah Gretsch.

Kentucky Parkis took home the day’s final raffle prize: a beautiful Gretsch 5420 guitar.

Throughout the day Joe Carducci presided over the giveaway of valuable door prizes. These included Gretsch T-shirts and tote bags, as well as several Gretsch guitars. The day’s big winner was Kentucky Parkis, an elementary schoolteacher who also teaches bass guitar in the Little Kids Rock music-education program. Literally in tears of surprise and happiness at her good fortune, Kentucky took home a classic orange-finish Gretsch 5420 guitar worth over $1,200.

The performances closed with an appearance by The Empty Hearts, an all-star band featuring Wally Palmar (the Romantics) on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica; Elliot Easton (the Cars) on lead guitar and vocals; Andy Babiuk (the Chesterfield Kings) on bass and vocals; and Clem Burke (Blondie) on drums and vocals. Clem played on a totally appropriate Gretsch Brooklyn Series kit for the occasion.

The Empty Hearts closed the show with a bang!

Offering what they themselves describe as “simple, straightforward, soulful rock ’n’ roll informed by ’60s garage rock and British Invasion sounds,” the group’s set combined original tunes from their new self-titled album with hit songs from each of their bands—including a joyous closing rendition of the Romantics’ “What I Like About You” that left the crowd screaming for more.

Joe Carducci concluded the celebration by thanking Rocky Schiano and Street Sounds for staging the event, thanking everyone in the audience for attending, and offering one more round of congratulations to Fred Gretsch on his fiftieth Anniversary. A good time was had by all.

Stay tuned for videos from the event to be posted soon!

A Very Special Party

This specially decorated cake greeted guests at the Gretsch dinner party.

The day-long public celebration at Street Sounds was followed by a private party under a sparkling white tent at the nearby Dyker Beach golf course. The guest list included four generations of the Gretsch Family, along with Gretsch artists, industry colleagues, and other people near and dear to the hearts of Fred and Dinah Gretsch.

Dinah Gretsch served both as hostess and emcee for the evening’s festivities.

The party was presided over by Dinah, who opened the festivities by saying “We’re here to celebrate my greatest hero: Fred Gretsch.” Dinah then introduced a video program containing congratulatory messages from family, friends, and artists all over the world, as well as from the Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum, Elmhurst College, Berklee College of Music, the Little Kids Rock program, and Modern Drummer magazine.

A particularly moving moment in the evening came when Dinah read a paper composed by grandson Logan Thomas. Written for a school assignment called “My Definition Of A Hero,” it eloquently described how and why Logan’s grandfather, Fred Gretsch, met that definition.

David Wish of Little Kids Rock presented Fred with a framed concert photo.

Later in the evening a succession of guests offered personal anecdotes and appreciative words in tribute to Fred. These included David Wish, founder of the Little Kids Rock program, who saluted Fred as a mentor and supporter of LKR’s goal “to bring music to every single child in this country.” Dave then presented Fred with a framed photo of an LKR concert, emblazoned with a congratulatory message from the 195,000 children in the LKR program.

A special 50th anniversary “trophy” was commissioned by Dinah to honor the man she called “My hero: Fred Gretsch.”

Terry Dennis, who has worked with Fred and Dinah Gretsch in a design capacity for more than twenty years, created a one-of-a-kind commemorative “trophy” to be presented to Fred from Dinah. The award’s design was based on imagery from historic Gretsch catalogs.

Duane Eddy described how he was first introduced to Fred and Dinah in 1991—by George Harrison. Andy Babiuk cited Fred’s “persistence,” including how Fred relentlessly pursued him about writing a book on Paul Bigsby. Tony Oroszlany, president of Loyola High School in New York (Fred’s alma mater) saluted Fred for his ongoing support of the school. Street Sounds owner Rocky Schiano recalled “getting a history lesson about Brooklyn from Fred” during a stroll through the Williamsburg section. Bill Acton, of Fender’s Gretsch Specialty Team, stated how it was an honor to partner with Fred in marketing Gretsch guitars world-wide, describing him as “the nicest man in the business to work with.” Dave Waters, also of the Fender/Gretsch team, noted that of all major American guitar companies, only Gretsch has someone with the brand’s name running the company. And guitarist Elliot Easton related how he and Fred met and bonded over a bit of guitar minutiae: the fact that in the early 1990s, out of all left-handed guitar models only Gretsch’s featured control knobs that also worked “lefty.” Elliott—a left-handed player—particularly appreciated this attention to detail. This led to a friendship that ultimately generated a signature guitar model that he and Fred designed together.

Finally, Dinah brought Fred himself up to the podium—where he received a lengthy standing ovation from all in attendance. Discarding the written comments that he had prepared, Fred said instead, “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t add any more in words…but please know how much is in my heart. I thank you all.”

Then, with a twinkle in his eye and excitement in his voice, Fred added, “Now let’s have cake!”



Fred and Dinah Gretsch Presented With Henry H. Arnold Award

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Fred and Dinah Gretsch Presented With Henry H. Arnold Award and Sponsor First Annual John Calabro Night of the Arts Celebration at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

Fred and Dinah Gretsch are presented the Henry H. (Hap) Arnold Award to recognize their support of the John A. Calabro Music and Arts Program at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. From left to right: Brigadier General Timothy Trainor, Dean of the Academic Board; Colonel (Retired) Robert L. McClure, President and CEO, West Point Association of Graduates; Dinah Gretsch, and Fred Gretsch. Photo by Kristin Sorenson, VP of Development, WPAOG.


Fred and Dinah Gretsch were presented the General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold Award for helping sponsor the First Annual John Calabro Night of the Arts celebration and awards ceremony at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. The April 10 event, coordinated through the Department of English and Philosophy and the Cadet Fine Arts Forum, showcased cadet creativity and talent in music, photography, film, poetry, prose, and fine art.

This year’s event began a new tradition of honoring the late retired Colonel John A. Calabro, Jr., a 1968 USMA graduate and former Academy Professor of English, and Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the West Point Association of Graduates. Calabro, a revered Soldier and scholar, was also an accomplished musician, creative writer, and fine artist, and a strong advocate for the important role the arts played in the overall development of officers. He was a longtime friend of Fred Gretsch, President of the Gretsch Foundation.

“John Calabro was a true Renaissance man, a lifelong learner, and an ideal blend of ‘Athens and Sparta’ here at West Point,” said Gretsch. “We’re very proud that the Gretsch Foundation can support the Music and Arts Program named in John’s honor, and be associated with the United States Military Academy, one of the most respected and historic brands in America for over 200 years.”

Mr. and Mrs. Gretsch were invited to attend the inaugural event at West Point and spent the day touring the museum and many historic buildings at the nation’s oldest continually occupied military post. They enjoyed having lunch with over 4,400 cadets at the Academy’s famous mess hall on the first floor of Washington Hall.

“It was a wonderful experience. How can you not be impressed with the history and tradition of America’s most esteemed military academy,” said Dinah Gretsch. “And the talent and creativity we saw in the cadets, both women and men, at the celebration and awards ceremony was outstanding. The Gretsch Foundation is happy to honor John Calabro’s legacy with this sponsorship.”

The sponsorship not only makes the John Calabro Night of the Arts celebration and awards ceremony an annual event, but also includes an outreach program that will connect members of the Cadet Jazz Forum, the USMA Band’s Jazz Knights, and students from local middle and high schools through music appreciation and performances. This year’s ceremony included a performance by the Jazz Ensemble, a band comprised of USMA cadets and students from West Point Middle School and James I. O’Neill High School.

About the Gretsch Foundation:

The Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, has a mission of enriching lives through participation in music, and has long been involved in music education through its sponsorship of concerts, festivals, clinics, workshops and direct assistance to schools.

In addition to providing music scholarships at Berklee College of Music, Elmhurst College, Georgia Southern University, and the University of West Georgia, the Foundation’s unique GuitarArt program donates guitars to schools for students and major artists to paint, decorate and auction off for fundraising efforts. Please visit for more information.



Gretsch News From NAMM: A Report On What’s Changing And What’s Not

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Shortly after the turn of the new year it was announced that the license to manufacture and distribute Gretsch drums had been acquired by Drum Workshop. Not surprisingly, this set off a storm of rumor and speculation about the future of the brand and of the drums themselves.

In order to address the concerns of the drum community, a presentation for the music-industry press was held on Friday, January 23 at the NAMM musical instrument trade show in Anaheim, California. There, comments were offered by key figures from both companies, including DW founder Don Lombardi and Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch.

Don was careful to stress the respect that he and everyone at DW shares for the legacy of Gretsch drums, as well as for the passion for quality displayed by the folks who make them at the Ridgeland, South Carolina factory. He stated unequivocally that there are no plans to make any changes to that manufacturing operation.

For his part, Fred Gretsch stated that throughout the 132 years of Gretsch history, the goal of the Gretsch Family has been to manufacture the best drums in the world, and today the family is pleased to have a new partner in that effort. He went on to note the strong parallels between Gretsch and DW, including that fact that, like Gretsch, DW is “a family-owned company run by people who have a genuine understanding of–and respect for–the art of top-quality custom drum manufacturing.”

Fred concluded by saying, “I’m confident that this new partnership will generate continued expansion of the world-wide market for Gretsch drums, while honoring the time-tested design and unique legacy that are so much a part of ‘That Great Gretsch Sound.’”

In addition to the press presentation, the continuity of Gretsch drum production was dramatically illustrated by a display of beautiful kits and snare drums. These included:

A new Broadkaster kit finished in Satin Copper Lacquer.

A Brooklyn Classic configuration in Satin Dark Ebony.

A flagship USA Custom kit finished in Dark Walnut Gloss.

A kit from the new Renown Walnut series, in natural gloss. It features 6-ply walnut-maple-walnut shells.

Wood Burned Snare Drums developed in conjunction with drum star Matt Sorum and hand-crafted by artist Mathieu Jean.



Christmas 4 Kids Charity Auction

Monday, December 8th, 2014

From Christmas 4 Kids:

The 14th Annual Charlie Daniels and Friends Concert to benefit Christmas 4 Kids was held on Monday, November 24 at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The concert is the cornerstone of Christmas 4 Kids fundraising efforts.  This year The Gretsch Foundation provided two wonderful guitars for a silent auction.

Fred Gretsch with Gary Morgan

The first was a Keith Scott 6120KS Nashville featuring a brilliant gold top that contrasts beautifully with dark walnut stained sides and back.  The 24 ½” scale neck has an ebony fingerboard with humped block position markers on a rock maple neck.  The 16” wide multiple bound body also featured oversized f-holes, master and individual pickup volume controls, tone control and Gretsch’s Space Control bridge.  Gretsch single coil DynaSonic pickups give the Keith Scott model the tone of the mid-fifties guitars, duplicating the pickup that was used until 1958.  This beauty came complete with 24k gold plated hardware and Gretsch Bigsby vibrato and included a Gretsch padded carry bag as well as a 6120 Gretsch book by Ed Ball.  This guitar was purchased by Gary Morgan from Batavia, OH for $3,600!

Fred Gretsch and Jason DentonThe second guitar was a Gretsch acoustic guitar which was made into “historic guitar art”.  It is entitled “POWER OF ME” and was painted by Alexis Vear.  This beautiful guitar was purchased by Jason Denton, Lebanon, TN for $1,100.  Jason actually shopped with us as a child and has been a wonderful supporter of our organization for several years, volunteering his legal services and coming to shop with our kids.

Congratulations and our sincere Thanks! to both Gary Morgan and Jason Denton for purchasing these wonderful guitars to support Christmas 4 Kids.

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.  To learn more about this great organization please via the web site at



A Great Gretsch Weekend-Plus In Nashville

Friday, October 24th, 2014

This past September 20 through 23 saw Fred and Dinah Gretsch in Music City USA—Nashville, Tennessee. The extended weekend was packed with activities involving Gretsch history, Gretsch drums, and Gretsch artists.

Nashville Drum Show

To begin with there was the Nashville Drum Show, held September 20 and 21 at the Nashville Expo Center on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Gretsch Drums was proud to be an exhibitor and supporter. This popular event—which drew over 1,000 attendees—connects consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and distributors. There’s also a grass roots swap meet/drummers’ hang component that includes vintage drum collectors and dealers, used gear sales and consignments, a drum museum sponsored by Not So Modern Drummer, and drumkits set up outside for attendees to play and show off.

The show also presents drum performers in clinic appearances, and Gretsch artists were key among those. Veteran country drummer Pat MacDonald (of the Charlie Daniels Band) was on hand—just having arrived from Oklahoma City, where he was helping his boss celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. Also performing was stellar drummer/educator Bob Harsen, who has performed with Tiger Okoshi, Randy Brecker, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, as well as teaching at the Berklee College of Music.

Fred Gretsch’s personal narrative about the history of the Gretsch Family and the Gretsch Company was a big hit with show-goers.

But if anyone was to appear on behalf of Gretsch Drums, who better than Fred Gretsch himself? On Saturday afternoon the fourth-generation drum maker fascinated attendees with his historical presentation regarding the Gretsch Family and its conduct of Gretsch company business over more than 130 years.

Commenting on Fred’s presentation, Gary Forkum (owner of top Nashville drum retailer Fork’s Drum Closet and a supporter of the Nashville Drum Show) says, “Fred has done a ton of research about his family history. That’s very interesting to me, and I think it’s interesting to most serious drum people who have a respect for drum history. I think it’s vital for them to know that there was somebody named Gretsch who started things. There are a lot of drum companies where there’s no Mr. Gretsch, Mr. Ludwig—or Mr. Anybody—who stands for the company. Fortunately, Fred was able to get the company back into the family and has been able to keep it going. I definitely

The Great Gretsch Drums team: (from left) Fred Gretsch, product marketing manager John Palmer, and factory production manager Paul Cooper.

have customers to whom it matters that Fred is involved…that there’s a human face to the company, and not just a corporate one. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that I personally like the Gretsch company so much. Gretsch was the very first line that I carried in my store when I started, thirty-two years ago. And I’ve been playing Gretsch drums myself ever since. I know the drums are distributed by another company today, but Fred is still involved. And the people that are involved in the day-to-day of the business, like John Palmer, Paul Cooper, and Joe Mazza, are passionate about it too.”

Meeting Mr. Gretsch

Following Fred Gretsch’s presentation, show attendees were pleased to have an opportunity to meet Fred in person, have a photo taken with him, and share with him their feelings about Gretsch drums past and present. “I was proud to meet so many Gretsch fans,” says Fred, “and to hear their comments—especially since I was the only person present at the Nashville Drum Show whose name was actually on many of the drums on display.”

Broadkasters Are Back

Gretsch Drums used the occasion of the Nashville Drum Show to launch the newly re-introduced Broadkaster drum series. This legendary line originally debuted in 1937.

And speaking of “drums on display,” the Nashville Drum Show was the setting for the launch of the newly re-introduced Gretsch Broadkaster drumset, which was personally conducted by Fred Gretsch (with the able assistance of key Gretsch personalities Paul Cooper, Joe Mazza, and John Palmer). This legendary drum series was originally introduced in 1935, and the new versions faithfully re-create the 3-ply non-reinforced shell that gave them their rich, warm tone. As part of his introduction, Fred Gretsch commented, “No other drums made today offer the unique sound—and the equally unique pedigree—of this historic line.”

When asked his opinion of the Broadkaster launch, Gary Forkum replies, “I think it’s a home run. It’s still early on, but we’ve sold a few kits already. It’s a different sound with the 3-ply shell. And it’s resurrecting a period of Gretsch manufacturing that’s been very popular in terms of used vintage kits. So now, with the USA Custom and the Brooklyn Series Gretsch has three US-made product lines with three distinctive sounds. That’s very valuable.”

At least one show-goer agreed; after having his photo taken with Fred Gretsch in front of a Broadkaster kit, he came back later to purchase that very kit.

Pat MacDonald of the Charlie Daniels Band presented his clinic on a Broadkaster kit.

The versatile and talented Bob Harsen gave his clinic on his personalized Gretsch USA Custom kit.

The versatile and talented Bob Harsen gave his clinic on his personalized Gretsch USA Custom kit.

Bob Harsen's Gretsch Kit.

Drummer and Gretsch fan Perry Curtis got a thrill from playing on a new set of Broadkasters at the Gretsch booth.

All photos above courtesy of Bob Campbell.

Going To A Party

Following the close of Saturday’s show, Fred and Dinah Gretsch were Gary Forkum’s guests at a music festival that Gary hosts each year on his South Creek farm just outside of Nashville. Officially called the South Creek Music Festival but nicknamed “Forkfest” by most locals, the event brings the Nashville music community together. Says Gary, “We have a couple of bands, plenty of food. This year we had about 250 people who came and enjoyed the great weather, the camaraderie, and the music. It was a good night with lots of fun.

The Music Didn’t Stop

Fred and Dinah enjoyed another night of music on Tuesday, September 23, when they attended the Tom Petty concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Tom’s band, the legendary Heartbreakers, is anchored by great Gretsch drummer Stephen Ferrone, and the Gretsches made a point to visit with Steve prior to the opening of the show. They were accompanied by Gary Forkum and his son Matt, and by Gretsch Drums production manager Paul Cooper. Paul had brought with him a snare drum made expressly for Steve, and the visitors all took pleasure in seeing his response. Steve was so pleased, in fact, that he took it on stage and played it that very night!

Matt and Gary Forkum with Fred Gretsch and Paul Cooper.