The Gretsch family is celebrating a very special milestone in 2018: 135 years of manufacturing the world’s finest drums. Those 135 years also represent a family legacy unlike any other in the percussion industry. Today—as it has been throughout the company’s history—Gretsch is all about family.

Dinah and Fred Gretsch

The Gretsch company was founded in 1883 when a German immigrant named Friedrich Gretsch opened a musical instrument shop in Brooklyn, New York. When Friedrich died suddenly in 1895, his fifteen-year-old son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over the company. Initially he was aided by his mother, Rosa, who was by all accounts a remarkable woman. By the turn of the 20th century young Fred had expanded the business significantly. In 1916 he built a ten-story building at 60 Broadway, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Though the factory is no longer in operation, the building remains as a neighborhood landmark—and a continuing tie between the Gretsch family and its Brooklyn roots.

Fred Sr. initially partnered with his two younger brothers, Walter and Louis. When they left to pursue other interests, he continued to direct company operations. Eventually, his two sons—Fred Gretsch Jr., and William W. “Bill” Gretsch—joined the business. Fred Jr. took over when his father retired in 1942, but left to serve in World War II. Bill Gretsch then ran the company until his own untimely death in 1948. Fred Jr. returned to lead the company until his retirement in 1967.

Current Gretsch president Fred W. Gretsch is the son of Bill Gretsch and the nephew of Fred Gretsch Jr. He began working in the family business in the 1960s, and as a young man he looked forward to taking his place as the fourth generation to run the Gretsch company. But in 1967, amid widespread change in the industry, Fred’s uncle sold the Gretsch operation to the Baldwin Piano Company.

After that sale, Fred W. Gretsch continued working for the company, relocating to suburban Chicago from Brooklyn. Later he founded his own business as wholesaler of musical instruments. But he vowed that he would one day make Gretsch a family business again. He was able to make good on that vow in 1985, when he brought the company back into family ownership—the only time in the history of the music industry that this has been accomplished.

Along the way, Fred has enjoyed the partnership of his wife, Dinah. A remarkable businesswoman in her own right, today Dinah serves as CFO of the Gretsch Company. She also oversees the extensive educational and philanthropic initiatives that the Gretsch family supports, including the Gretsch Foundation, the Mrs. G’s Music Foundation, and scholarships and facilities funding at schools across the country.

Commenting on the Gretsch family continuity, Fred says, “When you add it all up, it’s a whole lot of years, with the company guided by a series of exceptional leaders starting with my great-grandfather Friedrich. My grandfather, Fred Sr., put forty years into the business. My uncle, Fred Jr., had forty-nine years in the business, and now there’s me with fifty-three years, my wife Dinah with thirty-nine, and our daughter Lena with twenty-four.

I was fortunate to get a gift from my grandfather. When, in the 1950s, he took his young grandson into the factory, I got his spirit for the business. It may be that spirit, as much as anything else, that has motivated our family through all these years.

Dinah Gretsch adds, “When I’m asked what the most important aspect of the Gretsch family’s connection to the business is, I always say that Fred and I have ‘the three Ps:’ passion, pride, and persistence. We have such passion for the business, and we’re so proud of it. But perhaps persistence is the key…because we know that we always have to be the best. And no one can ever tell us we cannot do something. As an example, look at Fred’s dream of wanting to buy the Gretsch business back from Baldwin. It was his persistence in pursuing that dream that ultimately made it a reality.”

The Gretsch family affair with drums extends beyond the fourth generation with Fred and Dinah. In addition to their aforementioned daughter Lena, the fifth generation includes Fred’s nephew, Lucas O’Connor, who currently lives in Denmark. Besides being an active drummer, Lucas is a talented writer, whose “A Gretsch Abroad” blogs can be read on the web site. They include interviews with top European Gretsch drummers like Magma’s Christian Vander and Swedish superstar Morgen Agren.

The sixth generation of Gretsch family members includes Fred Gretsch’s grandson Daniel. Focusing on the business side of things, Daniel is just completing an internship at GEWA Music in Germany—one of Europe’s largest musical instrument distributors.

But Gretsch family pride extends beyond members of the family itself. The skilled workers who craft Gretsch drums in the company’s Ridgeland, South Carolina factory are unquestionably part of the extended Gretsch family. Many of them have been on the job for twenty years or more, contributing their expertise and experience to the creation of drums with “That Great Gretsch Sound.”

And then there’s the family of Gretsch artists. This family includes drumming icons like Vinnie Colaiuta, Charlie Watts, Stephen Ferrone, and Phil Collins, as well as contemporary stars like Taylor Hawkins, Keith Carlock, Matt Chamberlain, Stephanie Eulinberg, Cindy Blackman-Santana, Mark Guiliana, Stanton Moore, and Matt Sorum. Many of these great drummers appreciate their personal relationship with Fred and Dinah Gretsch as much as they do the unrivaled sound of their drumkits.

Finally, there are the thousands of Gretsch drumkit owners around the world, who quite correctly consider themselves part of the Gretsch family. These drummers know and value the history behind their instruments, as well as the unique personal connection that they share with Fred and Dinah Gretsch, and with the 135-year-old Gretsch family legacy.