German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch founded a shop in Brooklyn back in 1883. He began making banjos, drums, and tambourines. Just 12 years later Friedrich passed away and left the company to his son, Fred, who was a teenager at the time.
Fred had grown the company into one of America’s top importers and manufacturers of musical instruments by 1916. Being a smart business man, Fred listened to the public’s interest and began producing guitars.
In 1935, Charles “Duke” Kramer joined the business and remained an ambassador until his passing in 2005. In 1942, Fred Gretsch, Sr. retired and left the daily operations to his sons, Fred Jr. and William.
Fred Jr. was the manager briefly, but when he left to join the Navy Bill became president. Bill passed away in 1948 and operations were passed back to Fred Jr.
The 1950s were a great time for the Gretsch company as sales surpassed Leo Fender. In the 1960s, sales continued to grow as The Beatles’ George Harrison played a variety of Gretsch models.
The company was sold to Baldwin Manufacturing in the late ’60s after Fred Jr. retired. Hard times fell on the company with the inability to make it through the psychedelic ’60s and rock ’70s, as well as two fires. Eventually, in the early 1980s, production was shut down altogether.
In 1984, following a 17-year gap, the Gretsch family once again owned the company. Fred W. Gretsch and his wife, Dinah, purchased Gretsch back from Baldwin and saw a successful growth in the following years.
Gretsch Guitars eventually became a part of Fender Musical Instruments Corp. after a deal was struck in 2002.
Learn more about Gretsch’s history on their website.