Vintage Gretsch drums have a legendary reputation in jazz circles and a bit in rock history also. Jazz drummers, such as Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey and others were playing the round badge classic and very in-demand kits of the 1950s and '60s. The late Tony Williams, another jazz master also played played Grestch.
Modern jazz greats Bill Stewart and studio master Vinnie Colaiuta also play Gretsch.
Famed rock drummers Mitch Mitchell of Jimi Hendrix fame, Charlie Watts of the
Rolling Stones, and Phil Collins of Genesis also played Gretsch. The late great
Carlos Vega from the James Taylor band was a Gretsch player for many years.
Gretsch has its beginnings in 1883. Friedrich Gretsch, opened a musical instrument company in Brooklyn, New York. Fred Gretsch, a teen at the time took over the business when his dad Friedrich died suddenly. The family business has been passed down through the generations with the drums presently being manufactured in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
The original Gretsch Round Badge design has been used since 1883 and was discontinued in 1971. "Gretsch" was written across the top and "Drum Makers Since 1883" along the bottom. A carpenter's tack was used to attach the badge to the shells on the older version of this badge. The more recent round badges used a brass grommet.
From 1972 through 1979 an octagon-shaped badge was used. This is the only badge that included "That Great Gretsch Sound", their famous company slogan. From 1980 to the present there have been several different badges with the square double logo pretty much the standard. This current version can be read no matter which way the tom is mounted.
In 1983 a special centennial badge was used on a limited edition of 100 sets built. "The Centennial 1883-1983" was the logo on this version. Finally there was a 120th Reissue of the Round Badge in 2003.
The 3 ply shells with the round badges are arguably the most collectible probably because they are older, although it could be because of a perceived "better" sound. The shells evolved into six ply. Vintage Gretsch drums for most of its production history were made by the Jasper furniture company.
The composition consisted mainly of maple with "gumwood" also thrown into the mix. Diecast hoops always set vintage Gretsch drums apart. These heavy rims were part of the formula that became known as "That Great Gretsch Sound".
Through the 1970s Grestch only made one quality level of drum, which was their high
end model. There were no imported versions with the Gretsch name to compete with other
drum companies. When the "Blackhawk" model was introduced in the early 80s, the Gretsch
name was much compromised as these drums were of inferior quality.
Gretsch Drums, especially pre 1970s, are becoming harder to find as collectors and working drummers who desire a piece of drumming history snap them up. Keep a look out on eBay but also watch "Craigslist.com". The prices will no doubt be better without bidding competiton. Plus you can actually see and touch up close before buying which is invaluable.
Be very cautious when buying on eBay. Make sure to get crystal clear photos emailed to you if not included on the auction site, and ask many detailed questions regarding condition, age, owner history, modifications, etc.
I played a 1970s Grestch drum kit for many years professionally. "That Great
Grestch Sound" never let me down!