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Story of Gibson Guitars: Gibson from the Beginning

Published: Fri October 14, 2011  News Feed


Founded in 1890 by New York born luthier Orville Gibson, the Gibson brand has grown to be one of the most popular and successful guitar manufacturing companies in the world. In the 1880s, prior to the creation of the world renowned guitar corporation, Gibson worked as a mandolin manufacturer in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The inspiration for the creation of his own guitars came from his desire to produce a guitar with an arched top, similar to that of a violin. Thus, Gibson was born and began producing both arch-top and flat-top acoustic guitars and in 1922 the company produced the world’s first commercially available hollow-body guitar, the Gibson L5, which greatly appealed to big band musicians such as Charlie Christian.

The Super 400 & Electric Spanish Range

The year of 1934 saw yet another significant creation from Gibson and his team of designers. The ‘L5 Super’, which would later be renamed to the ‘Gibson Super 400’ and was the largest and most prestige guitar that the company had ever produced. The Super 400 was swiftly followed by the ES-150 (1936) and less costly alternative, the ES-175 (1949) which is still in production at present.

The Icons

Obligated to uphold the superb reputation that the company had built for itself over the past 40 years and to challenge competing brands like Fender, in 1952 Gibson released what would become one of the most cherished and respected guitars in the entire music industry. With a design team consisting of Ted McCarty and guitarist Les Paul, Gibson designed and manufactured their first solid-body electric guitar, the Les Paul.

Since its birth, the Les Paul model has been popular with Blues and Rock & Roll musicians. Former Guns and Roses guitarist, Slash, who performs the well-known lead riff of Sweet Child O’ Mine, is infamous for his classic sunburst Les Paul guitars. Eric Clapton was another Rocker who noticed the potential of the Les Paul and in using them he assisted in the brands world- wide exposure. Other notable Les Paul admirers include Ace Frehley of KISS, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Bob Marley. Marley, who confirmed the Les Pauls versatility, proved that the guitar doesn’t just sound amazing with tonnes of distortion applied, but it can sound equally impressive when utilizing the clean tones with upstrokes and a rhythmic predominance, apparent in his reggae music.

In the pursuit of perfection, McCarty began designing somewhat of a hybrid model, encompassing the highly desirable sustain of a solid-body with the warm, mellow tones of a hollow-body guitar. The result of this fusion was the birth of the Gibson ES-335, a semi-hollow electric guitar, which became a popular addition to Gibson’s Electric Spanish range in 1958. The ES-335 is still currently being produced and seems to be an impressive member of many modern Rock guitarists’ collections including Arctic Monkeys guitarist Jamie Cook.

The Modern Expansion

By the 1950s, it was unfortunately clear that Gibson were perceived by the public as being too “conservative” in terms of their designs, as they were primarily producing traditionally shaped guitars. Spanning out to correct this conception, Gibson created the Explorer, Flying V (1958) and Firebird (1963) models. This modern range of solid-bodied guitars proved to be way before its time and with the exception of the Firebird, they were discontinued after a mere year of their creation and re-introduced to the market in 1967 (Flying V) and 1976 (Explorer) when Gibson believed the world was prepared enough to handle their radical designs.

Gibson SG

Come the 60s, and Gibson’s sales were considerably lower than in previous years, at which time the demand for double cut-away guitars was growing. Easier top fret access was what the public wanted and that’s exactly what Gibson gave them. The Gibson SG (solid guitar) featured a much lighter, thinner body and a shallower neck profile than the Les Paul, which resulted in the guitar being undesirably “neck-Heavy”. Putting aside the dissimilarities of both models in terms of body and design, both the SG and Les Paul still had very similar electronics.

Features like McCarty’s 1954 Tune-o-matic bridge and Seth Lover’s (creator of the world’s first humbucking pickup) 1955 P.A.F. pickups (some SG models include P-90s) help us to understand why both models are still undeniably popular to date.

The Future of Gibson

Throughout the years, the Gibson company has been passed around, sold, bought and rescued a number of times. Its most recent narrow escape was in 1986 when the corporation, then owned by Norlin Inc. was merely months  away from going under, until it was bought and rescued by current CEO and President Henry Juszkiewicz and David H. Berryman. Juszkiewicz and Berryman are widely accredited with the present success and improvement of the Gibson brand and all its products. Since its conception back in the 19th Century Gibson has always been at forefront of the guitar game, possibly even too advanced for some of us as we seen with the Explorer and Flying V models. Nonetheless, we hope Gibson continue with their incomparable traditions of bringing us the best quality guitars with more incredible new designs and unparalleled performance capabilities.

Recent Controversy

Gibson is currently under investigation by the US Federal Government with allegations of using illegal wood from Brazil and Madagascar. Accused of violating the Lacey Act of 2008 Gibson were red flagged and are under investigation by the Government for allegedly using illegal wood in the manufacture of their guitars. Like the majority of guitar manufacturers including Fender and Yamaha, Gibson utilize raw materials and woods including rosewood and ebony in the production of their instruments. Used in the assembly of fretboards and bridges these materials are extremely important in the construction of guitars, and if manufacturers were to begin using different woods, this would not result in the guitars producing the same tones and sound quality as rosewood and ebony do.

In press release on 25th August 2011, chief executive officer of Gibson, Henry Juszkiewicz claimed that armed government agents in “swat-team attire” charged into and raided the Gibson Memphis Facility in search of illegal wood. The company has not yet been charged with the alleged criminal acts, yet according to Juszkiewicz, the facilities were shut down and Gibson had seized their dealings with Madagascar as a result of the raids.

The company denies any wrongdoing and are confident that the entire incident was simply a misunderstanding over tariff coding.

The US Government claim that it is breaking the law if Gibson import wood from abroad and then finish the manufacturing process in the US. Many Gibson employees understandably believe this to be absolutely absurd and express their views on the situation. Many make the point that Gibson are an American company, the American spirit is what makes Gibson guitars special and if manufacturing was to completely move abroad then the genuine Gibson essence would then be lost. As heartbreaking an idea as it may be, this action could be Gibson’s only choice, resulting in hundreds of American’s losing their jobs. It’s genuinely a horrible situation that the company are in and we hope the problem is resolved soon and Gibson can return to producing the instruments that we’ve all grown to know and love.

There are a lot of phoney Gibson guitars available online at reduced prices, don’t be fooled by these fraudulent dealers. Always be sure to check that your provider is an Authorised Gibson Dealer like us here at Dolphin.

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