Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Silver Duke

I used to go to guitar shows whenever they would come to town. Back in those day there was always a silver-haired older gentleman and his wife manning one both and selling Bigsby Vibrato units, Gretsch guitar parts and pickups.

This fellow was Charles "Duke" Kramer who worked had worked for Gretsch since 1935. We have already discussed some of the history of Burns guitars. So you may recall that in 1967 the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company was looking for a successor.

'79 Gretsch model 7264
Baldwin Piano and Organ made an offer and bought the Gretsch name and manufacturing rights and built Gretsch guitars right alongside the Burns instruments. 

Duke Kramer and his expertise was part of the package.

Baldwin Gretsch Committee
The Gretsch company, located in Brooklyn New York, was relocated to Booneville Arkansas and Mr. Kramer was in charge of production at Baldwin.

Baldwin Gretsch Guitars '78-'79
Baldwin only stayed in the guitar business for around five years. By then the company decided to get out of the guitar business. Duke bought all of the remaining inventory. He hired 2 semi-trailers and hauled it to his home in Cincinnati Ohio.

Moving forward to 1985 when Fred Gretsch Jr. and his wife Dinah acquired the rights to the Gretsch brand name and rebuild the company. Fred Gretsch immediately hired Duke Kramer as an adviser.

Much of the inventory that Duke had purchased became the cornerstone of the reintroduction of the new Gretsch. Duke turned to the Terada Company in Japan to build Gretsch guitars. But for a few custom shop models, most of the current Gretsch instruments are now made in China. After retirement Duke and his wife went around the country selling off their remaining stock until his death at age 88.

In looking back at the original Gretsch Company, it was in 1966 there was a special run of Gretsch Corvette guitars that were done with silver-flake finishes for the Silver Duke or gold-flake finishes for the Gold Duke models. These were ordered for California dealer Sherman Clay. As an honor to  Duke Kramer.
Gold Duke
He was one of the most important men in Gretsch's history, the guitars were named The Silver Duke and The Gold Duke.

If you asked Mr. Kramer about the model he would deny that the guitars were produced as a tribute to his service to the company. But most guitar aficionados know better.

Not only are these well made instruments, that are much different from the usual Gretsch produced guitar, and they are also a very rare find.

Apparently there are no videos of the Gretsch Silver Duke being played. Since it was actually a Gretsch Corvette, below is an example of how that guitar sounds.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)



Anonymous said...

The first photo of the Corvette with a Dynasonic pickup is either a vintage Corvette that has been refinished/refurbished or a recent reissue that has been redone. The appointments are completely wrong for a 60's Gretsch and the sparkle finish is wrong for a "Duke". The second photo which is labeled as a "Gold Duke" is actually a Silver Duke. The Gold Duke would have had gold hardware. The finish has yellowed slightly which may be the source of confusion. -Precision GuitarAz

Anonymous said...

Duke Kramer was a good friend and his son Scott recently donated his Dad's Gold Duke to Fred Gretsch Jr. for an upcoming Gretsch museum.

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