Gretsch Guitars: Timeless Design, Timeless Sound
While not as well known to the public as other famous guitar brands, ask any serious guitar player what they think about Gretsch guitars and you’ll get a slight smile. The Gretsch guitar, for many players, represents a better time in music; a time when mistakes weren’t covered up by distortion pedals and clarity was still king. Modern Gretsch guitars deliver superior tone in a big body package that evokes memories of the Big Bopper, sock hops, and poodle skirts. However, the Gretsch brand wasn’t always so well regarded. Today we are going to delve into the history of this iconic guitar brand, and hopefully reveal a few things that you may not have known about the Gretsch brand.
Guitars Weren’t The Main Focus During Gretsch’s Early Days
The production of Gretsch musical instruments began in 1883 when a German immigrant by the name of Friedrich Gretsch opened a small shop in Brooklyn, NY. For the first few years of his business, Gretsch focused mainly on producing banjos, tambourines, and drums because guitars were still not very popular in the United States. After his death in 1895, Friedrich’s son Fred Gretsch Sr. took ownership of the company. After moving to a larger building, Gretsch became one of leading importers of musical instruments in the United States, but still produced a relatively few amount of guitars. At this point in time, the modern guitar was in its infancy and it was not financially viable for Gretsch to shift their business model to the manufacturing of guitars. However, with the dawn of the big band era, that all changed.
The 50s Brought Life To Gretsch Guitars
Will the 50s ever receive enough credit for what it contributed to the musical world? This era saw the dawn of the first true guitar bands, and the influence of this decade can still be felt to this day. After Fred Gretsch Sr. retired, his son Fred Gretsch Jr. took over the company in 1948. Gretsch Jr. decided to shift the focus of Gretsch away from the import of musical instruments, and in 1954 ushered in the Golden Age of Gretsch. Gretsch hit its stride in the mid 50s by introducing two of its most popular models: The 6120 Chet Atkins Model and the White Falcon. When it was introduced, the 6120 retailed for around $385 and came with a Bigsby vibrato and twin DeArmond pickups (the first pickups to feature six individually adjustable pole-pieces). These guitars quickly gained popularity among country artists of the day, but also became a preferred instrument amongst rock-a-billy and rock and roll artists. The bright, clear tone of the Gretsch guitar allowed players to achieve multiple sounds with the same guitar by simply adjusting a few knobs. The Gretsch guitar had found its market.
The 70s Almost Destroyed Gretsch Guitars
While Gretsch enjoyed wild popularity from the mid 50s all the way to the late 60s, the next decade would almost prove to be its undoing. As the sounds of the 70s changed the way that guitars were played, Gretsch had issues keeping up. As more and more players of the day chose to play Stratocasters or Les Pauls, the Gretsch quickly became associated with the increasingly outdated sound of the 50s. Gretsch did little to dissuade this shift in public perception and as their brand image suffered, so did the quality of the guitars themselves. In 1970 Gretsch moved its production facilities from Brooklyn to Booneville, Arkansas. Several veteran luthiers that had been with the company for years refused to make the move, forcing Gretsch to hire many untested workers. The Gretsch name continued to suffer as the decade wore on, and in 1979 a final blow seemed to come when Chet Atkins withdrew his endorsement of the company.
Fred W, Gretsch, the Comeback Kid
With the Gretsch brand in ruins, Fred W. Gretsch, great-grandson of Friedrich Gretsch, purchased the company in 1985. After taking some time to get the company’s affairs in order, and receiving some much needed cash flow, Gretsch resumed production of guitars in 1989. Over the next decade Gretsch would mostly produce reissues of their older guitar models, focusing on reproducing the quality instruments they were once known for. In 2002, Gretsch struck a deal with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation that gave Fender control over the Production of Gretsch instruments. Under the powerful Fender umbrella, Gretsch guitars once again became known for their build quality, excellent sound, and distinct tone. Gretsch is back, and this time it looks like they are here to stay.
We hope that this brief history has given you some insight into the Gretsch guitar brand. Visit Bad Axe Boutique today, and browse our selection of Gretsch guitars.