For a little while in the early 1980’s I was Northeast District Sales Manager for the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company, which was then based out of Tennessee. Karl Dustman was an executive with Gretsch at the time. Karl and I knew each other from his many years at Ludwig Drum Company and my time as a freelance writer for Modern Drummer. A wonderful guy.
Max Weinberg and I had become friends through Modern Drummer. Not long after I moved to Gretsch from Modern Drummer, Max and I started talking about his endorsing and using Gretsch drums on Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming Born in the USA tour. I don’t remember whether Max first broached the subject or I did. But I thought it was a great idea that had to be a plus for a great American drum company in the process of rebuilding itself.
If memory serves, Max would need three four-piece Gretsch drumsets for the road in exchange for his endorsement. That was, I think, because of the logistics of the equipment trucks. Roadies might be loading one of Max’s kits onto trucks in New York City while roadies were unloading one of Max’s kits from a truck for the next gig in Chicago. Something like that.
I approached Karl Dustman with the idea. He said no. I don’t remember if that was Karl’s unilateral decision. It may have been a decision with which Karl disagreed, and he was merely the messenger. But the reason Gretsch said no to the Max Weinberg endorsement was interesting.
Karl asked me, “Can you guarantee Max Weinberg’s endorsement will sell a certain number of Gretsch drumsets?”
“No,” I answered, adding, “You don’t think Max Weinberg playing Gretsch drums on a worldwide Bruce Springsteen tour will sell more than three drumsets?”
What anyone thought, wasn’t the point. The point was, Gretsch saw no way of quantifying drum sales based on endorsements.
Jonathan Moffett was turned down as a Gretsch endorser for Michael Jackson’s Thriller tour for the same reason. And both Max and Jonathan toured the world endorsing other drum makers.
I still believe Gretsch was wrong, shortsighted. What do you think?
I always wondered why that 80’s Gretsch endorsers roster was so small, yet… Weird!
Harvey Mason – OK!
Phil Collins – Of course!
Tony Williams – Any doubts?
The drummer for Survivor… aaaaah… a solid groover, but…
Sonor’s was small back then, too. But it only had ground-breaking stylists, from Jack De Johnette to Steve Smith to Trilok Gurtu. Steve even said in an interview he had to send back a kit in order to get the next one.
As a beginner, I wanted so badly to have a Ludwig set (because of John Bonham), but then I sat on a few of them, and wondered why my Pearl Export’s bass drum and toms sounded so much better! Then I saw “Sugarfoot” Moffett with Madonna in the late-80s and was floored by the sound of his Yamahas. I’ve been using Yamaha ever since – found myself there, thanks to a concert.
Yes, Gretsch was COMPLETELY shortsighted. The pitfalls of being a too proud, family owned company (back then).
I remember that Gretsch missed the boat with the Rolling Stones and other big name rock groups
in the 60’s and Ludwig swept the market. Then, Gretsch dropped all the jazz drummers who had made the company’s name!!
Its interesting to note that used Ludwig kits from that era flood the market today. Gretsch. which I think always made a great product, lost out.
As a drum company owner, this subject comes up more than ever to me. The era of the “If it’s free, it’s for me!” is about over. Inexpensive, china made drums are given out by larger companies still, but premium kits are not so much. While nothing is better than word of mouth and seeing drummers playing your product, the best scenario is when a working drummer is playing your stuff. Provided with a discount, support and the acknowledgment that said drummer is playing your instrument, says to me that they are not just looking for a hand out but, that they have chosen YOUR product above all others. Drummers that are willing to put some “skin in the game” are valued at companies. I have had drummers come to me because they think since we are a small company that we will hand out drums like candy. Note: A smaller, custom, premium brand company is less inclined to fund free kits.
Endorsement dollars are advertising dollars and a company has to think which avenue will push sales the most. Drummers who “back line” most of time aren’t worth doing deals with as your product sits in their rehearsal room most of the time.
At Rockett Drum Works, we feel our product is worth buying as we stand behind the quality, not the ads.
I have a friend who’s been a Gretsch endorser for a few years now and plays large scale, worldwide tours. Gretsch has given him three USA kits, and two for international dates. Looks like they’ve changed their tune.
I do agree with Bobby though. I think endorsements sell kits to a much younger audience with a lot less experience. Seasoned players are going to play what they want based on personal preference and sound.
In the end, though, there’s a lot more beginner / intermediate players than seasoned pros out there and if they’re buying your gear based on a guy they like, it’s all good.
Interesting piece. I never purchased a brand of drums or cymbals due to an endorser. I started on Pearl Exports as a kid because that’s what you started on in the 90’s. I moved to a Tama Starclassic B/B based on performance after trying multiple brands and configurations, not because Mike Portnoy plays them. I don’t think an endorser sells a kit on their own, but attaching a brand to a performer gives immediate presence to that brand. Maybe I’d take a closer look at Gretsch because Max was using them on stage, but that wouldn’t be a selling point to an educated buyer.
I think the younger the drummer, the more likely they’d be directly influenced by an endorsement. In the late 90s, Tre Cool endorsed Slingerland and they had a budget kit at a reasonable price point. Unfortunately for Slingerland, Pearl Export and Tama Rockstar were the dominant products for new drummers, and Pacific was starting to surface. But Slingerland had the right idea. 10-15 year old kids may have asked mom and dad for a Slingerland Spitfire because that’s what Tre plays.
All that being said, I think Gretch should have said yes, provided gear and support and they would have reaped the benefits. Maybe not necessarily in outright sales, but they would have been a bigger presence in the 80’s and 90’s and it would have translated down the line. I agree there has to be an ROI to shelling out $20k in gear, but it’s not going to be instant.