Javanese gamelan music is Vetter's primary research area. He has carried out research on this subject in the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta during several visits between 1973 and 2017. These research visits have resulted in published articles on Javanese musical traditions in journals such as Ethnomusicology and Asian Music, and in a website documenting the extensive holdings of gamelan sets found in one Javanese palace. His field recordings of Javanese music have been released on the Lyrichord and Music of the World labels. During his thirty-year teaching career at Grinnell, he co-directed the Grinnell College Javanese Music and Dance ensemble with his wife, Valerie Mau Vetter.
A secondary area of research interest has been African music. As a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Vetter spent the 1992-1993 academic year teaching and conducting research in and around the southern Ghana city of Cape Coast. Field recordings made during this residency were released on the Smithsonian/Folkways label and worked into a richly illustrated instructional website documenting music making in a single Fante community. While directing an off-campus study program in Zimbabwe during the Spring semester of 2000, Vetter studied the performance practice of the Shona mbira dzavadzimu, an interest that he has continued to pursue to the present day.
A longstanding interest in organology has resulted in the building of a 400-piece teaching collection of world music instruments at Grinnell College. These instruments, along with the Music Department’s extensive holdings of Western instruments, have been documented and described on an interactive, open-source website that is intended to serve as a supplemental resource for college-level music courses and as an exploratory environment for laypersons curious about the fascinating world of acoustic musical instruments.
Other research interests include: exploring the presence of traditional performing arts in the global tourism marketplace; the global spread and local incorporation of the Western military band model; and the creation of the global phonograph culture during the early decades of the twentieth century.
Vetter earned degrees from the University of Hawaii-Manoa (B.M.Ed., M.A. in Music Theory) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology).