Dan Duffy's Corner

Matt Umanov remembers how it was

1

I corresponded with this NYC guitar shop owner - he has cool stuff- and turns out he worked at Gretsch back in the 60s. He hadn't heard about Dan, either. But he sent me this recollection of some of characters on the shop floor.


"I worked at Gretsch starting in early or maybe mid-1965, stayed for about a year, cannot tell you how many of what seemed like zillions of 6119-6120-6122s I/we sent through in that year, seemed like all we did, every day, though in fact standard quota was about eight per day for each of us in that department.

And I can tell you for a fact that the word Beatles was rarely heard there at that time regarding popularity, real or imagined. For Gretsch guitars; it was Chet Atkins Chet Atkins Chet Atkins all the time, every day, all day long. And the occasional fading jazz guy like Sal Salvador, or something.

As a 17-18-year-old I was of course seriously into the then hot rock stuff, and also Chet’s playing from before I even knew the word Gretsch. I don’t think that that anyone else there, all of them being from ten to forty years older than I was, had more than the vaguest notion of what was making real money in the music world; rock and roll in any form was something they had no brush with, ever.

Webster and Kramer were “outside” guys and as factory people we didn’t have much interaction with them. This was in 1965-66. I would think that the only ones alive today who remember, or even knew, the “inside” guys would be me and Freddie Gretsch, who are of about the same age and were there, in the Brooklyn factory, at the same time, though at opposing ends of the internal social scale. We became good friends many years later and are still in touch.

All those factory people are gone now, have been for years: Bill Hagner, factory manager; Sid Lakin, ran production, was the one management guy there who wore a suit but still had indelible grease under his fingernails from a lifetime of factory machinist work in various places; Felix “Red” Prevete, one of the floor foremen and a great great guy; Vinny Di Domenico, one of the better older workers and an equally great guy, was very kind to me, had more fine skills than almost anyone else there.

In final assembly, the parts installation and setup guys between the finish department and the shipping department (other than Dan Duffy, final inspector) were Frankie Fiorentno, always talking about playing the ponies; a guy named Giuliano, young, Italian immigrant, possibly the only person in the entire place other than me who made guitars on the outside, classical in his case, I think he eventually opened a music store of some kind in White Plains NY; Eddie Maldonado, was always quoting the Bible; coupla more in final assembly, maybe 6-8 of us overall.

There was also Carmine Coppola, older Italian immigrant, had been running the repair department for many years when I was moved into it later on; line workers like Angel Lopez who had lost part of a finger in a machine, was very upbeat about that and everything else, reminded my of Leo Carillo’s Pancho in the “Cisco Kid” TV show; Esther Perez, who wound pickups; Jimmy someone, Italian American, ran the machine and plating shop where I also worked for a while; more.

Was the typical factory hierarchy in place everywhere in New York in those days and for the entire 20th-century: Jewish (or close to it) ownership/management, Italian or Italian-American foremen, Puerto Rican line workers. I think that Dan Duffy mighta been the only Irish face there, and he had a hell of a good time, every day. Dan Duffy knew standards and jazz, period, and I revered him for what he knew and everything else about him.

You can imagine that at 17, I was the wild exception, to all of it."


Thanks to Matt Umanov for dialing it back half a century when Gretsch/Brooklyn was cranking out best-selling Tennesseans and other models like we'll never know.

2

I've had my fair share of chats with Matt, been in the Greenwich Village shop a lot of times, never knew he worked at the Gretsch factory...

3

I was in his shop last May.

Staying in Brooklyn I had wanted to go see the old Gretsch building too, but I ran out of time.

Fascinating stuff - loved the factory hierarchy bit.

5

Thanks for that fascinating insite of how it was back in the day.

6

Thanks, DC.This is great stuff and needs to be archived.

7

When I live in NYC back in the late 80's there were 3 places you went for guitars. Matt's place, Mandolin Brothers on Staten Island, and maybe Music Row/Rudy's on 48th St. and 7th Ave.

Matt's place was the best at repairs. He had more high end stuff like Collings at the time. His shop was the smallest and seemed to have the most balance between old and new gear.

Mandolin Brothers had more vintage stuff. I remember they had a few D'Angelicos, D'Aquistos, and old Gibson archtops. I remember a 59 Les Paul for $20G for sale there. The price seemed ridiculous at the time. But in 1989 who knew?

You went to Rudy's for the best price on new stuff. It was more like Guitar Center than the other two.

8

Thanks for posting.

Having been born in Brooklyn like all of my favorite guitars, I've always felt a certain fascination with that era of Gretsch history. I used to frequent Giuliano's shop in White Plains, NY in the 90's. Very friendly guy and a fantastic luthier. He did the restoration of the famous D'Angelico Teardrop guitar as well as work for a bunch of big name rock stars. Small place but it was chock full of drool-worthy vintage guitars. I wasn't aware at the time that he had worked for Gretsch. He passed in 2012 but his son has had a shop in Connecticut (also called Giuliano's) since '97.
9

I was in his shop last May.

Staying in Brooklyn I had wanted to go see the old Gretsch building too, but I ran out of time.

Fascinating stuff - loved the factory hierarchy bit.

– Shuggie

The old factory has gone condo: Link.

10

I know LT, that's one of the reasons I didn't go

11

I believe that Bill Hanger is still alive and living in Florida. Other than that, it's great to get some historical musings from Matt. The time I attempted to pick his brain (for a prospective video documentary) he was less than helpful. I believe his quote was "what's in it for me?"

12

I love that place. The routine is usually Matt Umanov's ----> Murray's Cheese shop ----> Matt Umanov's -----> Pearl Oyster Bar. Of course I stop in Faicco's Pork Store and get my share cured pork goodness and some Rustica if they have it made.

Great post DC and thanks for sharing.

13

Murray's and Pearl Oyster are damn good places. Guess I gotta try Faicco's next.

Funny about that Ed, I had more or less the same conversation with Matt.

I also recall "back in the day" Gretsch employee at a Gretsch Day @Streetsounds event a few years back. Can't recall his name...

14

The bakery down the block is worth a stop, too!

Rocco's


Register Sign in to join the conversation