Fred Gretsch: A Legacy of Music Education and Innovation

With more than a 132 years of history, The Gretsch Co. is among the oldest musical instrument brands in the United States, and its legacy is very much on the mind of President Fred Gretsch as he celebrates 50 years in the industry and considers his own contributions to the family business and the industry.

As the fourth generation of the family to be associated with the brand, Gretsch attributes its longevity to the leadership abilities of his forebears, who understood the importance of music education and its necessity to create new players. “In 1912, our catalog was 184 pages long,” he says, and consisted mostly of school band instruments.

“Raising the flag for music education, as I am here at the end of my career, is just a reminder to the industry: to have a future, we’ve got to educate these kids,” Gretsch says. “It’s enriching lives through participation in music. That’s our family goal. Of the people playing music today, 40% of them got started in school, which reminds us of how important music education in school is. We all owe a debt of gratitude there, and we ought to allow everyone that opportunity.”

Through the Gretsch Foundation, Gretsch and his wife Dinah, Gretsch Co. chief financial officer, recently demonstrated their support for music education through a donation to create The Dinah and Fred Gretsch Family Gallery, which is part of the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. “As parents and grandparents, we have to be inclusive and get the girls involved,” he adds.

The other pillars of the company’s continuing success, Gretsch says, are world-wide distribution and precision manufacturing, which he says is one of the most important changes he’s seen in the industry and a boon to new players.

The body of work for Gretsch is legacy products and design but updated to match the new technologies of the day, which allow us to build better and better products"

“The body of work for Gretsch is legacy products and design but updated to match the new technologies of the day, which allow us to build better and better products,” Gretsch says. “The quality of the instruments today is extremely high for us, and for the competition. People starting out are buying a better instrument. The standards have risen. Now it’s a world standard; and it’s available worldwide — it wasn’t in 1965!” he says, laughing.

Referring to Gretsch drums, he says the company works with artists to continually tweak products that are based on the original recipes and build them out. “There are finishes today and exotic woods that people never thought about in 1950 and ‘60,” Gretsch says.

“My grandpa, Fred Gretsch Sr., developed the multi-ply shell to make the drum lighter and stay in round better than the solid shells did. So we had a patent on it early on. It expired long ago, but it’s now the standard of the industry. That Fred Gretsch Sr. invented that is lost to the history books unless we tell that story. He brought the business into the modern era.”

Gretsch also is bringing back legacy products such as Broadkaster drums. “We have a 3-ply drum, the same drum we made in 1950, and people are loving it. It’s just a sound you can’t get with multi-ply shells, which have become the standard of the industry today.”

Players’ awareness of, and ability to try and buy, the products is equally important to the quality of the instruments, hence his focus on distribution. “Thirteen years ago, we partnered with the best,” Gretsch says. “We partnered with Fender to do distribution of Gretsch world wide. Fifteen years ago, on the percussion side, we partnered with Kaman, the no. 1 percussion company in the world. That’s my personal contribution to the business.”

While cagey about new product for the coming year, Gretsch did mention the coming release of the Fredkaster ‘65, a new snare drum made to mark the anniversary of his 50 years in the industry. “We can’t let too much out of the bag for the next 90 days, but we have a dozen new models coming for January.”

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