Friedrich Gretsch, a German immigrant from Mannheim, began building drum kits and banjos in 1883. After WWI, the company was taken over by his son, Fred, under whose leadership it flourished and gained a reputation for high quality and precision.
With the rise of big bands around 1930, the banjo was gradually replaced by the guitar, and in 1939, Gretsch released its first electric guitar, the “Electromatic Line,” followed by the archtop model “Synchromatic Line.”
In 1942, the company was handed over to Fred Jr. and William. Led by Fred Gretsch Jr., many innovative guitars were built in the mid-1950s, such as the Model 6120 and the “White Falcon.” In late July 1967, the company was sold to the Baldwin Piano Company, and production remained in Brooklyn until it was moved to Booneville, Arkansas in 1969. However, production was halted in 1981 due to a fire in the factory.
Interest in Gretsch guitars revived in the 1980s, thanks in part to the Stray Cats and Chris Isaak, and production resumed. The Gretsch White Falcon 1 became a popular model again during this time. Since 1985, when Fred regained control of the company, Gretsches has been made in Japan.
In 2002, Fred approached Fender for distribution in Europe. Fender offered to distribute the guitars worldwide and also build them for Gretsch. In 2003, Gretsch and Fender signed an agreement allowing Fender to gain control over the production and distribution of guitars, thereby gaining a foothold in the Gibson-dominated market for semi-acoustic guitars. New and improved old models soon appeared.