Gretchen Menn is most well known as the guitarist for the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band, Zepparella, where she plays the part of Jimmy Page. After earning a music degree at Smith College, she went to flight school and flew regional jets to help fund her passion for music.
In 2007, she recorded “Unbreakable Strings” with the band Sticks and Stones and played with the band Lapdance Armageddon in 2010. She released her first solo album “Hale Souls” in 2011 which she wrote and produced and her second “Abandon All Hope” in 2016. She continues to tour internationally with Zeparella.
What music did you like as a young child and teenager?
My parents listened to a wide variety of music, so that was passed along to me from day one: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Michael Jackson. My own taste started developing as a teenager, and I gravitated to guitar-oriented music. I was listening to Django Reinhardt and the Dixie Dregs when I was 15, which was definitely not what my friends were into. But I also liked more mainstream stuff, too—classic rock, grunge, metal.
What made you want to learn to play guitar?
The fact that it was such an important component of the music I loved. And it is so versatile. It is at home in so many genres—everything from classical to metal to jazz to pop.
How did you come to play with Zepparella?
I met Zepparella drummer Clementine in my first professional band —an AC/DC tribute. We both wanted to play more often than our bandmates, and Clem mentioned wanting to study the music of Led Zeppelin. I was totally unqualified at that point, but I asked to audition. She told me I was already in the band if I wanted to be, which was a huge leap of faith on her part. She gave me 15 songs to learn and said our first gig was in eight weeks. I locked myself in a room and was a Led Zeppelin monomaniac as I prepared the material.
Have you ever met any members of Led Zeppelin?
I have met Robert Plant twice, very briefly. He was gracious, but what does one say to Robert Plant? “Um … hi … you’re Robert Plant, and you’ll never remember this moment, but I always will …?” I just tried to minimize making a total ass of myself by not saying too much.
What are the differences between playing original music and tribute music?
Other than the obvious — the music — original music takes more time and energy. You have to write it, learn it, record it, release it, perform it. You demand more from listeners by presenting something that is unfamiliar. In all aspects, you have not just the opportunity, but in my mind, the obligation, to express something that is uniquely you. There is a unique type of inner reward that accompanies the act of creating.
Paying homage to music written by someone else and sharing it with an audience I feel is more of a mutual celebration of music. It’s a shared language and love, and you just happen to be the one delivering it. It’s also a great education. Who better than our heroes to inform our musical vocabulary?
I believe all music, our own compositions or those written by others, should be approached with integrity and respect. I don’t perform music that doesn’t resonate with me. So whether I’m playing a song I love by Led Zeppelin, Django Reinhardt, Bach, or a piece I’ve written, I am always connected to the music.
What are your preferred guitars and amps? Does it differ between your original music and Zepparella?
My solid body electric guitars of choice are Music Man. My #1 is a Silhouette Special with DiMarzio single-coil pickups, which is what I use for the majority of my original music. I also have a Cutlass that is great, and a Majesty that I’ve leaned on quite a bit for recording.
For Zepparella, I have two Les Pauls and a Danelectro which is tuned for “In My Time of Dying.” A case could easily be made for having a Telecaster, but I have enough gear to carry as it is.
My amps are a Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive, which I use primarily for my original music, and a Two-Rock Bi-Onyx that has been my main Zepparella amp for a few years now. It was love at first chord, and the Bi-Onyx ousted my Marshall 1976 JMP, which I never would have dreamed would have been possible. I’ll never get rid of the Marshall, but I’m just so in love with the Two-Rocks. I also have an ENGL SE 670 that I’ve used a lot for my original music.
I have a Stephen Strahm Eros steel string acoustic, which is a work of art; a Kenny Hill Ruck classical, which is way more guitar than I am a classical guitarist; and a gorgeous Sadowsky nylon string electric. All of those I use for various aspects of my original music.
What are your preferred strings?
Ernie Ball .10 – .52.
Are there plans for a new release soon? What are your goals short and long term?
Yes! I’m working on two albums now. One is a collection of pieces for solo guitar. The other is more along the lines of my most recent album, Abandon All Hope, which is a concept album based on Dante’s Inferno and blends orchestral and modern instruments. Short term goals are to prepare for some exciting shows I have coming up with my original music, as well as a few guest solos, gear demos, and teaching materials. Long and short terms goals are to keep learning, keep growing, keep pushing my limits, and expanding what I can do as a guitarist, composer, and human.
What advice would you give other women in the industry starting out?
For anyone at any stage: Keep learning. Ask questions. Stay true to yourself. Enlist trusted mentors. Avoid people who cut you down recreationally or kiss your ass aggressively. Keep your ego in check. Be professional, honest, courteous, and patient, but don’t be anyone’s doormat or plaything. Remember why you’re doing music, and check-in frequently to make sure your actions are furthering your goals.