Gretsch has emphasized the importance of handcrafting its products and giving them the highest quality, for more than 150 years. Its products have been used by some of the most respected musicians in the world, such as Chet Atkins, Eddie Cochran, Bono, Duane Eddy, Stephen Stills and Malcolm Young.
Gretsch started out making banjos, drums and tambourines in Brooklyn, New York. The company grew quickly, and Fred Gretsch, Sr. became the company's CEO in 1913. Fred Gretsch died just a year later, leaving his company in the hands of his son Fred, who started making guitars at the age of 17. In 1916, Fred Gretsch, Jr. became the company's second president.
Fred Gretsch, the founder of the Gretsch Company, was a teenager at the time, and so he is considered an unlikely leader of such a long musical legacy. By 1916, Gretsch had become one of the country's leading importers and manufacturers of musical instruments, and the company moved to a new building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn.
Fred Gretsch knew that listening to the needs of the public was the key to success, and that the public wanted guitars. So, Fred Gretsch started making guitars.
Gretsch started off making acoustic guitars for jazz musicians and a few guitars for country-western music fans.
1935 was another important year for Gretsch — Charles Duke Kramer joined the company. Kramer went on to become a mainstay at Gretsch and to be a respected adviser and ambassador for the company until his death in 2005.
Fred Gretsch, Sr. retired from Gretsch in 1942, leaving the company in the hands of his two sons.
Fred Gretsch, Jr. managed the company for a short time, then left to serve with distinction as a commander in the Navy. Bill Gretsch became president of the company after Fred Gretsch's death in 1948.
Fred Gretsch, Jr. took over the management of Gretsch when he was just 40 years old, and led the company into a golden era of success in the 1950s. Gretsch, being the first to use custom-painted finishes on their instruments, and offering a wide variety of innovative features, was uniquely positioned to succeed in this Atomic Age era. During the 1950s, they even outsold the wonderful new guitars that Leo Fender had designed. High-profile artists and endorsers like Chet Atkins and Eddie Cochran helped boost their sales.
In the 1960s, Gretsch was given a boost when the Beatles' great guitarist George Harrison played a series of Gretsch models.
Fred Gretsch retired from the company in the late '60s, and sold the company to Baldwin Manufacturing. Baldwin was unable to understand Gretsch's position in the market and could not keep the company going through the psychedelic era and the hard rock era. Gretsch experienced terrible fires when Baldwin moved its headquarters to Arkansas, and the company had two disastrous fires in 1974. The Baldwin marriage was always unhappy, and it resulted in a production freeze in the early-80s.
Fred W. Gretsch, a partner in the company, has been acting as chairman since the company's departure in 1952. Fred W. Gretsch, the great-grandson of Gretsch founder Friedrich Gretsch, had vowed that the company would be brought back into being. Fred W. Gretsch became the president of Gretsch Guitars in 1984, two years after his grandfather passed away. Fred W. Gretsch, along with his wife, Dinah, bought back the company from Baldwin in 1984, bringing it back to the family after a 17-year absence. Fred and Dinah Gretsch succeeded in bringing Gretsch into the public eye in the 1990s with a series of successful reissues and new models.
In late 2002, Fender Musical Instruments Corp. was selected to represent Gretsch Guitars as the company that will handle all manufacturing and distribution. allowing Gretsch to sell its products in more countries around the world.