THAT GREAT GRETSCH SOUND gets top billing at new museum dedicated to the history of the legendary brand

Nov. 18 ribbon-cutting is part of Plant Riverside District Grand Opening Celebration

Jonathan Chick/Georgia Southern University

With the recent completion of Plant Riverside District’s Atlantic Building, the 10 year long redevelopment project of Savannah’s newest entertainment district is now officially complete. To celebrate, officials are hosting a free three-day, family-friendly extravaganza with live music, performances by Cirque Divina, informative lectures, fireworks, live artist painting demonstrations, fountain shows, food, drinks, and more, Nov. 18-20.

“We invite local residents and visitors from across the country to join us at Plant Riverside District for a fun-filled family-friendly celebration focusing upon three major themes: water, beauty and the natural sciences,” said Richard Kessler, CEO of the Kessler Collection. “This three-day grand opening celebration is our way of giving back to everyone who has supported our vision for Savannah’s Entertainment District. After 10 years, the project is finally complete.”

The three-day celebration will kick off at noon with the grand opening of Georgia Southern University’s new “That Great Gretsch Sound!” exhibit featured in District Live’s lobby and performance space in the Atlantic Building. 

According to Kessler, “That Great Gretsch Sound” was developed through a special partnership between the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music at Georgia Southern University, the Gretsch Family, and the Kessler Collection. The Dinah Gretsch School of Music was established  in early 2021.

“Georgia Southern University was awarded the gift of the Gretsch collection of instruments, a multi-million dollar collection of fabulous historic guitars, drums, and other instruments,” Kessler said. “The university wanted to place the museum somewhere where it would get a lot of exposure. President Kyle Marrero approached me about the idea and once I showed him what I had in mind, we decided to move forward with it and everybody went to work putting the collection and the entire design together.”

Kessler added that each guitar was specially handpicked and visitors will be treated to a visual, educational, timeline that will allow them to explore the evolution of Gretsch instruments.

“Between 150-170 guitars were handpicked for display and each guitar has a real history to it,” he said. “We also have three sound domes that have about five programs that talk about different aspects of the Gretsch experience from the guitars, who played them, the family themselves, how long they’ve been in business, and how they’ve evolved over the years. It’s a very interesting, educational experience.”

The That Great Gretsch Sound! exhibit space highlights some of the most popular and unique pieces of Gretsch’s historic catalog. The museum lobby features some of the most iconic instruments the company has produced, including the White Falcon, the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, a Brian Setzer Signature G6120 and a vintage 1963 Jet Firebird popularized by AC/DC’s Malcolm Young. 

In the District Live performance hall, visitors will be treated to a visual timeline that will allow them to explore the evolution of Gretsch instruments dating back to the 1920s. Approximately 100 guitars are on display in the exhibit, 48 of which were recently on display in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

“This is a great example of Georgia Southern’s regional public impact mission and aligns with the community goal of Savannah being recognized as a sought-after destination location for music and entertainment,” said Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero. “This partnership is just one example of the opportunities afforded to us through having the Gretsch name associated with Georgia Southern.”

The Gretsch family has long been involved in music education programs and lending their name and their history to Georgia Southern. The new museum was an appropriate way to honor the company’s legacy.

“We are so honored to be a part of the amazing exhibit within our community to showcase the powerful influence and legacy of music. Fred and I represent the fourth generation of the Gretsch family in the musical instrument business and look forward to the future generations of family leadership,” said Dinah Gretsch, executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Gretsch Company. “We are sure this legacy will coincide and align with the present and future vision of Georgia Southern University.”

The University established the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music in early 2021 after the family pledged a generous monetary gift plus their Gretsch Collection of historic drums, guitars and company archives to Georgia Southern. While the school of music will now bear the Gretsch name, the company’s influence will be felt across the University’s three campuses and in several academic departments, the museums and the library. Georgia Southern will be able to catalog and display Gretsch’s storied instruments that tell a compelling story of musical history from American jazz to English-born rock, to popular modern worship bands in Australia.

According to Tyler Gray, director of entertainment and programming, the exhibit is not only visual, it’s interactive as well.

“There’s going to be two different aspects—a QR code that gives you a guide of each guitar as you’re going through and a plaque with numbers by each guitar that will also show you which guitar you’re going to,” Gray said.

Guitars won’t be the only Gretsch instrument on display.

“We also have two imported drum sets that were used by famous musicians,” Kessler said. “There’s also other musical instruments included that they’re not particularly known for but they did make... brass instruments, saxophones, trumpets, etc. It’s a beautiful presentation, quite an experience, and we’re really proud to have it here. We encourage people to come, read about the different instruments and find out about their favorite musicians. 

“We hope this new museum will preserve the long history and legacy of the Gretsch family and the Gretsch brand,” Dinah Gretsch said. “It is wonderful to share our history with the city of Savannah, the loyal Gretsch fans and all the tourists that will visit the museum.”

The museum’s artifacts were curated and installed by Aaron Phillips, Georgia Southern’s project curator for the Fred and Dinah Gretsch Artifacts Collection. Through his research to prepare the museum, he is confident that the Gretsch Museum will provide a unique musical experience. 

“My goal was to create a space that is expressive, inspirational and true to the roots of the Gretsch family and community,” said Phillips. “I am in awe of how this turned out!”

Georgia Southern Provost Carl Reiber, Ph.D., said the new museum is another benefit to having the Gretsch name associated with the University. 

“We have a long-term plan to tell the compelling story of music history in creative ways and also train students within a wide variety of academic programs to engage with a historic collection as it pertains to their field of study,” said Reiber. “The Gretsch name is known all over the world, and the Gretsches have been huge advocates for universal music education for decades. This museum is among the great opportunities that come with having the Gretsch name attached with our school of music.”

The grand opening of “That Great Gretsch Sound!” is just the beginning of the three-day long event-filled celebration.

“We have a lot of fun activities lined up and a lot of great things planned for kids,” Kessler said.

“There will be a magic show, a family-friendly adventure exploring the dinosaurs and geodes hidden throughout Plant Riverside District, a lot of live music, lectures, and plenty of other fun activities spread out throughout the days. I encourage everyone to get online and check out all of the different activities we have planned.”

The festivities will wrap up on Sat., Nov 20 with a live concert by The Legacy Band at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park and a fireworks display over the river. To see the full schedule visit or find a link to the schedule at

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