Gretsch Factories

The history of Gretsch, one of the iconic names in the music world, is deeply intertwined with its factories.

1. Gretsch Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York (1883)

Brooklyn, New York, a borough known for its rich cultural tapestry, became the birthplace and foundation of the Gretsch musical legacy. While the company eventually evolved into a global brand, it was in Brooklyn that the Gretsch identity truly took shape.

Friedrich Gretsch, after emigrating from Germany, founded the company in a modest shop located at 128 Middleton Street in Brooklyn in 1883. The initial product line focused on banjos, tambourines, and drums — reflecting the popular musical trends of the era.

Friedrich Gretsch’s untimely death in 1895 led his young son, Fred Gretsch Sr., to take the helm. Under his leadership, the company expanded and focused more on drums and guitars, gradually establishing the Gretsch brand as a mainstay in the American music industry.

Around 1910, recognizing the burgeoning requirements of their expanding business, the Gretsch family decided to move to a larger space. The new premises at 104-110 South 4th Street provided a more expansive and accommodating environment for production.

The move to South 4th Street wasn’t just about a bigger space. It was also an opportunity for Gretsch to modernize its manufacturing processes. The facility was equipped with improved machinery and tools, which enabled more efficient production.

The early 20th century saw a diversification of musical tastes and styles. At its new premises, Gretsch started expanding its product range, moving beyond its traditional offerings and adding newer instrument designs to its catalog.

The 104-110 South 4th Street facility became a networking hub for musicians and suppliers. Given its growing reputation, many artists and industry professionals frequented the location, forging relationships that would benefit the company in the years to come.

This period was crucial in shaping the brand’s identity.

2. 60 Broadway, Brooklyn (1916)

The iconic 60 Broadway address in Brooklyn, New York, stands as a testament to Gretsch’s most influential and groundbreaking years in the world of musical instruments.

The move in 1916 to the ten-story building at 60 Broadway was born out of necessity. The company’s success has led to a demand for increased production capacity. This new space allowed Gretsch to expand its operations considerably.

This facility witnessed the birth of several Gretsch innovations. The company honed its craft and solidified its reputation for producing top-quality drums and guitars.

The 60 Broadway often saw visits from prominent musicians of the day. Some of these artists collaborated with Gretsch, providing valuable feedback or even developing signature models.

Despite external pressures like the economic downturn of the Great Depression and the material shortages during the World Wars, 60 Broadway remained a beacon of musical production. Gretsch managed to navigate these challenging periods, often emerging stronger and more innovative.

But by the late 1960s, changes in ownership and the broader dynamics of the music industry meant that Gretsch’s time at 60 Broadway was drawing to a close. The move to Arkansas under Baldwin’s ownership in the 1970s marked the end of this chapter.

3. Gretsch Arkansas Factory (1970s & 1980s)

In the late 1960s, the Baldwin Piano Company, known for its pianos and electronic organs, acquired Gretsch. This acquisition marked the beginning of a new era for Gretsch, which until then had been largely a family-run business.

With changing corporate strategies, increased production demands, and the urban challenges of Brooklyn, the decision was made to relocate Gretsch’s guitar production. Arkansas, with its logistical advantages and cost-effective manufacturing environment, was chosen as the new hub.

Gretsch’s move to Arkansas in the 1970s signaled a significant change in the company’s trajectory. Tthe relocation was not just a shift in geography, but also in corporate strategy and production dynamics.

Gretsch set up its new manufacturing facility in Booneville, a city in Logan County, Arkansas. The move was strategic, aiming to leverage the location’s benefits in terms of space, labor, and logistics.

The Arkansas facility was equipped with modern machinery and tools. This move aimed to enhance efficiency while maintaining Gretsch’s reputation for quality.

One of the most significant challenges of the Arkansas era was retaining the distinct Gretsch identity. With new management and a new location, there was a risk of losing the brand’s unique character, built over decades of craftsmanship and innovation.

Despite modernization, the Booneville facility faced its share of production challenges. There were instances of quality control issues, which affected the brand’s reputation temporarily.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw an economic downturn that impacted many industries, including musical instruments. Baldwin, already facing challenges in its primary piano market, found it increasingly difficult to maintain profitability.

Due to financial constraints and changing market dynamics, Baldwin eventually halted Gretsch’s guitar production in Arkansas by the early 1980s. This cessation marked the end of the brief but notable Arkansas chapter in the Gretsch history.

In 1985, Fred W. Gretsch III, the great-grandson of the company’s founder, made a strategic move to buy back the Gretsch Company from Baldwin. This marked the return of the brand to family leadership.

With family leadership back at the helm, there was a renewed emphasis on understanding and restoring the distinct character and qualities that had always set Gretsch apart from its competitors.

Despite the challenges, the Booneville facility did produce some unique guitar models that have since become collectibles. These guitars are sought after by collectors and aficionados.

5. Gretsch Custom Shop: Corona, California

5.1. Partnership with Fender

Gretsch’s partnership with Fender is one of the most significant collaborations in the music industry,. This partnership, initiated in the early 2000s, allowed both brands to capitalize on their shared history and mutual respect.

When the two companies started discussions, they realized that they shared a common vision for the future – to produce world-class instruments and serve a global community of musicians.

One of the significant benefits that Gretsch reaped from this partnership was Fender’s expansive global distribution network.

This meant that Gretsch instruments were now available in regions and countries where their presence was previously limited.

While Fender played a role in the production processes, it was crucial for both companies to ensure that the unique character of Gretsch instruments was retained. Fender’s expertise in mass production was balanced with the bespoke craftsmanship associated with Gretsch.

Over the years, the partnership has seen the release of unique guitar models that draw on the expertise of both brands.

While Fender and Gretsch worked closely, there was always a clear understanding that Gretsch would retain its brand identity and independence.

5.2. Gretsch Custom Shop

The Gretsch Custom Shop is where some of the finest, hand-crafted Gretsch instruments are produced. Located in the Fender facility in Corona, California, this shop produces limited runs, one-offs, and other unique Gretsch guitars that often merge traditional design with contemporary functionality and aesthetics.

One of the most renowned figures from the Gretsch Custom Shop is master builder Stephen Stern. Stern and his team of skilled artisans handcraft each guitar with an attention to detail that reflects years of experience and a passion for the Gretsch legacy.

Guitars produced at the custom shop vary from faithful reproductions of vintage Gretsch models to completely unique instruments.

The Custom Shop has produced limited runs for specific events or anniversaries, and it frequently collaborates with artists to create signature models.

6. Gretsch Asian Factories

Gretsch’s expansion into Asian markets and the establishment of its manufacturing facilities in the region was primarily driven by the desire to produce quality instruments at more accessible price points.

The late 20th century and early 21st century saw a surge in demand for affordable musical instruments. This was not just limited to emerging markets in Asia but also in the West, where younger enthusiasts sought quality without a heavy price tag.

Many of Gretsch’s competitors were already producing instruments in Asian factories, benefiting from the region’s cost efficiencies. To remain competitive and address a broader market segment, Gretsch too decided to venture into Asia.

5.1. Production in Japan

One of the earliest and most significant collaborations for Gretsch was with the Terada factory in Japan.

Terada, with its reputation for impeccable craftsmanship, started producing some of Gretsch’s higher-end models destined for the global market. These Japanese-made Gretsches were lauded for their quality and precision.

The Gretsch Professional Series is manufactured at the Terada factory, celebrated for its vintage feel and classic Gretsch tones.

The Professional Series includes the Vintage Select Edition, Players Edition, Artist Signature Edition, and Limited Edition. These instruments are known for their handcrafted details and use of superior materials like three-ply maple tops, alongside features such as the original Bigsby and tone switch.

While some of the premium models were produced in Japan, the flagship models continued to be manufactured in the USA. This strategy allowed Gretsch to offer instruments at varying price points without compromising its brand identity.

6.2. South Korea

The Electromatic Series, which includes Gretsch’s first electric guitars from 1939, is mainly manufactured by the World Instrument Music Corporation in Korea, with a reputation for quality in the mid-range market​​.

6.3. China

Some of the solid-body models in the Electromatic Series are produced in China (Samick, Cort, and Muse factories)​.

6.4. Indonesia

The Streamliner Series, positioned as an entry-level range, is crafted in Indonesia. These guitars are equipped with Broad’Tron pickups and come in various models such as Center Block, Center Block Junior, and Hollowbody.

Indonesian factories: Cort (Cor-Tek) and Samick.

Gretsch implemented rigorous quality control measures, with standards set from their primary facilities reflected across their Asian counterparts.