2013: A Year of Celebrations for Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary

Courtesy of Gretsch.com

2013 marked Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary – a milestone that has been celebrated with a wide variety of activities and events throughout the year. Below is a look at some of the celebrations that have made this anniversary so spectacular!

Announcing The Celebration
To ignite the celebration, Fred Gretsch sent out a message to the music world, inviting everyone to join the entire Gretsch family in celebrating their 130th year in the business.

“When my great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, opened his instrument-making shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., back in 1883, he couldn’t know that he was establishing a musical dynasty that has continued over four generations,” said Fred Gretsch.

In January at the 2013 NAMM show in Anaheim, Calif., the Gretsch Custom Shop launched the beautiful G6118T 130th Anniversary model guitar. It turned out to be a gorgeous instrument, with a high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish in Metallic Gold on the top and Black on the back and sides. The guitar also boasted multiple silver-sparkle bindings.

The anniversary guitars were made even more special by the addition of a badge that boldly announced the company’s 130th year as a manufacturer.

“It’s a striking design and I’m proud to see it on our instruments,” Gretsch said at the time.

Tempe Guitar Show & Gretsch Anniversary Twang-O-Rama Concert
On March 23, the 2013 Tempe Guitar Show presented by CE Distribution hosted Gretsch Guitars’ 130th Anniversary Twang-O-Rama concert. Featured performers included Lee Rocker and Buzz Campbell, the Mike Elred Trio, Big Nick & the Gila Monsters, and the Saucy Jacks. A total of 48 vendors, five bands and 1,800 people attended the show.

Fred Gretsch In Germany
Presentations Prove You CAN Go Home Again

The month of April saw Fred Gretsch and his wife Dinah (who is also Gretsch Company CFO) in Germany, where they celebrated the 130th Anniversary in a unique fashion: by taking Fred’s legendary presentation of Gretsch family history on the road to their ancestral homeland.

Fred and Dinah represented Gretsch drums and guitars at the world’s largest musical-instrument tradeshow, Musikmesse, which was held in Frankfurt from April 10-13. A record 113,000 visitors from 142 countries attended. Bigsby Vibratos exhibited with TV Jones Pickups, and Gretsch Guitars and Drums had a great setup . Check out a picture gallery and the Bigsby site for a post-show report.

Following Musikmesse, Fred Gretsch made personal appearances at major German music retailers in Hamburg and Cologne. There, he delighted his audience by delivering his presentation in fluent German. Gretsch fans in Germany greatly enjoyed hearing him relate the 130-year history of Gretsch, complete with personal anecdotes and humorous stories. It was a particularly satisfying experience for Gretsch as well, since he was able to bring the family’s history back to where it all began.

Celebrating Double Anniversaries In May
Grey skies and occasional showers couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those attending the 130th Anniversary Gretsch event on May 4 at Randy Wood’s Pickin’ Parlor in Bloomingdale, Ga. – just across the river from the Gretsch USA Custom Drums factory in Ridgeland, S.C. The event was made all the more poignant by the fact that it also celebrated the wedding anniversary of Fred and Dinah, who reside in nearby Pooler, Ga. Friends, business associates and family members were on hand to help the couple commemorate this unique occasion.

During the event, Fred Gretsch spoke about his pride in the family business.

“I’m a fourth-generation member of the family business,” he explained. “My grandfather first brought me to the factory in the 1950s, and I’m still here some 48 years later. Dinah’s business skills and warm, outgoing personality have made her an integral part of the Gretsch operation – and my indispensable partner – for 34 years. And for more than 19 years, Dinah and I have been ably supported by our daughter Lena Thomas, who is a skilled administrator and operations guru. Between Lena, Dinah and me, that’s just over 100 combined years of ‘sweat equity’ in the family business. And I’m pleased to report that the sixth Gretsch generation includes 16-plus grandchildren, many of whom are pursuing educational tracks that will help them continue the family legacy for years to come.”

After leading his own trio in an exciting performance, guitar star Joe Robinson (left) joined Richard Smith for an impromptu finger-picking session that brought the house down.

Entertainment for the double anniversary event was provided by the husband-and-wife team of Richard Smith (guitar) and Julie Adams (cello), and an exciting trio led by guitar phenom Joe Robinson. Virtuoso playing was the order of the day, and the 100-plus guests rewarded the performers with rousing ovations.

The Fred & Dinah Gretsch 130th Anniversary Tour Kicks Off In June
A special element at many of the 130th events was the personal appearance of Fred representing the fourth generation of the Gretsch Family. Fred, accompanied often by his wife Dinah, was on hand to personally greet Gretsch fans, sign autographs and act as emcee for the events.

The Fred & Dinah 130th Anniversary Tour kicked off on June 15 at StreetSounds in Brooklyn, N.Y. Then it was on to the Sweetwater Gearfest (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Bizarre Guitar (Reno, Nev.), the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention (Nashville, Tenn.), Sam Ash Music (Hollywood, Calif.), Rudy’s Music & Steve Maxwell Drums (New York), Guitar Center (Chicago), Cream City Music (Brookfield, Wisc.), Blues Angel Music (Pensacola, Fla.), and Class Axe Guitars (Kemptville, Ontario).

Artists who appeared at these events included the Romantics, the Michelle Marie Trio, Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands, Foxy Studs, Fountains of Wayne, the Joe Robinson Trio, Rosie Flores & The Rivetors, Mister Barrington (featuring drummer Zach Danziger), the Octanes, Steve Ferrone, Paul Pigat & Cousin Harley, the Mike Elred Trio, Ed Roland & the Sweet Tea Project, Gretsch Lyles and the Modern Eldoradoes, and the Kimberly Thompson Quartet (featuring Beyonce drummer Kim Thompson).

Brooklyn’s StreetSounds Stages Major Gretsch Day Event
The first stop on Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary Tour was at Street Sounds in Brooklyn June 15. 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.

Street Sounds, Brooklyn, NY

Store owner Rocky Schiano began the festivities by giving the Gretsch fans in attendance a guided tour of the shop’s impressive array of Gretsch guitars. This presentation segued into a video about the Gretsch Custom Shop operation, introduced by Gretsch’s lead custom guitar builder Stephen Stern.

Entertainment for the day began with Foxy Studs – a talented young contemporary rock group featuring Rocky’s daughter Kristina on drums. They were followed by a video tribute to veteran studio and touring guitarist Al Caiola. On hand as an honored guest, Caiola came on stage to receive a plaque commemorating his long and distinguished musical career.

Next up was Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands, who offered an eclectic mix of western swing and jazz standards. Later in their set, they invited Caiola to join them, and the 92-year-old guitar slinger added his special touch to several tunes, including his own 1960s hit “Theme From The Magnificent Seven.”

Michelle Marie took the stage next, leading her own trio in a set of primarily instrumental fusion and progressive jazz compositions.

The performances closed with an appearance by 1970s New Wave recording stars the Romantics. The group immediately launched into their signature style of pop-punk rock, playing two tunes before stopping to greet the crowd, to thank Street Sounds for inviting them and to acknowledge Fred and Dinah. Then it was right back into the music, rocking song after song before closing with their smash “What I Like About You.”

Gretsch Anniversary Honored by U.S. Congress
Gretsch’s 130th anniversary celebration reached all the way to Washington D.C. on Thursday, June 25, when the honorable Jack Kingston, representative from Georgia’s 1st congressional district, rose to congratulate Fred and Dinah, and to note the history and achievements of the company.

As part of his remarks, congressman Kingston said, “Over a span of 130 years, the Gretsch Company has grown into an international business and produces some of the world’s finest drums and guitars. Because of the tireless dedication of Mr. Fred Gretsch and his wife, Dinah to their family business and the music industry, the Gretsch Company is celebrating a significant milestone that many small businesses never reach. I am happy to congratulate them on this accomplishment.”

Congressman Kingston’s remarks were entered into The Congressional Record, and may be seen in full here.

Fred Gretsch Offers Insight at Summer NAMM; Participates In a Unique Panel of Industry Icons
With nearly 50 years in the music business, Fred Gretsch has earned the respect and admiration of his industry peers – including the organizers of the NAMM musical-instrument trade show. That admiration led them to invite Fred to participate in their Insight – Hard-Earned Wisdom From Industry Icons panel event on July 11. The event was a feature of Summer NAMM.

As part of the Insight panel, Fred joined several other gentlemen whose family names are also iconic musical brands, including Chris Martin, Sterling Ball, Jim D’Addario, Bob Taylor and Hartley Peavey. Other industry notables included Henry Juszkiewicz (Gibson Guitars) and Andy Zildjian (Sabian Cymbals). The panel was hosted jointly by country music superstar Vince Gill and NAMM director Tom Bedell.

The program gave each member an opportunity to address topics of personal interest, as well as to respond to specific questions posed by the moderators. The goal was to offer meaningful advice to the music retailers in attendance.

“I was honored to be a part of this great program and to share some of my thoughts about the current state of the music industry and how it can be improved,” Gretsch said. “When we were asked what we would do if we were ‘king for a day,’ I responded that my ‘kingly decree’ would be to implement Nashville’s progressive music-education program in all 164,000 school systems in America. I got a terrific round of applause from the 1,000-plus folks in attendance.”

Party At 12,000 Feet! – Taking Gretsch’s 130th Anniversary Celebration To New Heights
After criss-crossing the United States to attend 130th Anniversary events in 2013, Fred and Dinah took the celebration international. Following a stop in Hollywood on July 20, they left Los Angeles on the 22nd for a flight to Tokyo, Japan. Because they crossed the International Date Line, they arrived on the 23rd – an auspicious date in itself, since it was Fred’s birthday.

The Gretsches were actually in Japan to celebrate two anniversaries. The first was the Gretsch Company’s 130th. The second was the 25th anniversary of Gretsch’s distribution partnership with the Kanda Shokai Company. To make that celebration particularly special, the directors of Kanda Shokai arranged for Fred and Dinah to take part in a unique excursion: a journey to the top of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji.

Fred Gretsch and Kanda Shokai Team at Top of Mt. Fuji 7-26-13

On July 26 at 4:30 a.m. Gretsch left his hotel for a car trip to a point nearly 8,000 feet up on the mountain. (Dinah followed in a car a bit later to a station at 6,600 feet.) After spending an hour acclimating to the lower air pressure at that elevation, Fred embarked with a Kanda Shokai team and an experienced mountain guide on a six-hour climb to the summit. There – at an elevation of just over 12,000 feet – Fred proudly displayed Gretsch drum and guitar banners to commemorate his accomplishment and celebrate the double anniversary. Then it was another six-hour descent back to the 7,300-foot point and a welcome car ride back to the hotel.

Heading Back Home to NYC
It was fitting that after celebrating all over the U.S. and in Canada and Japan, the road would wind back through New York City – Gretsch’s home town. Accompanied by his grandson Logan Thomas, Fred first stopped at Steve Maxwell’s Custom and Vintage Drum Shop on Seventh Ave. at 48th St.

A special guest at the event was Sam Ulano, who himself is an NYC drumming icon. Ulano has been an active player and a highly revered teacher since the early 1950s. And, at the age of 93, he’s the oldest living Gretsch drum endorser.

Fred spent most of the time chatting with drummers, signing autographs, and even adding his signature to several drums. One was a 1961 Starlight Sparkle kit owned by jazz drummer Brandon Sanders. Another was a snare drum belonging to Pavel Timoveev, who had just come to America from Moscow a week earlier dreaming of owning Gretsch drums.

Next came a concert at Rudy’s Music on Broome St. An upscale shop specializing in upscale new and vintage guitars, and Gretsch guitars of both types were on display.

The CAAS Cats ably demonstrated the finger-picking style of guitar playing made famous by Chet Atkins.

The first performer was the talented Kimberly Thompson. Well-known as the former drummer for pop star Beyonce, Thompson is also extremely skilled at jazz, as was made evident by the playing she did with her own quartet. Up next were the CAAS Cats, a group named for and drawn from the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. Led by long-time Gretsch artist Bobby Gibson, the group demonstrated the finger-picking playing style made famous by Chet Atkins.

The closing act was Paul Pigat and Cousin Harley. This Vancouver-based trio played an eclectic set of rockabilly, country, Latin, swing and blues – all founded on Paul’s blazing guitar technique and roots-rock vocals.

130th Anniversary Multi-Media Presentation at Class Axe Guitars
The final 130th Anniversary event – originally scheduled to be held at Class Axe Guitars in Kemptville, Ontario, on Saturday, Oct. 12 – generated such a high demand for tickets that it had to be moved to a larger venue.

That evening, Fred and Dinah hosted a special multi-media presentation that explored the remarkable musical journey of the Gretsch family that began in 1883. There were also great prizes including a Gretsch G5420T Electromatic guitar.

It was a true Gretsch extravaganza and a fitting close to a year of 130th Anniversary celebrations.