Gibson Guitars is one of the oldest manufacturers of acoustic and electric guitars. Find out why their guitars are still some of the most popular models.
Based in Nashville, TN Gibson is a manufacturer of both acoustic and electric guitars.
The manufacturer sells guitars under the Gibson name, as well as many other brand names, including: Epiphone, Kramer, Valley Arts, Tobias, Steinberger, and Kalamazoo. Gibson Guitars also make pianos, drums, and many music accessories.
The founder of the company, Orville Gibson began making guitars in Kalamazoo, MI in the late 1890s.
He is known for inventing archtop guitars in which he used the same type of top that is found on violins.
Gibson owned the company until 1986 when it was taken over by its present owners. The company is still privately held and is owned by Henry Juszkiewicz and David Berryman.
Since these two men took over Gibson Guitars, the company has had a double digit growth rate each year. They remain the top-selling manufacturer of electric guitars.
Gibson Loar Mandolin
Original owner of Gibson Guitars, Orville Gibson, began selling instruments out of a small work shop in Kalamazoo, MI. Born in 1856, he began his career by making mandolins.
His mandolins were different than anything that had ever been seen on the market before because they featured a arched wood top and back, as well as bent wooden sides.
This innovative type of construction was patented in 1898. Gibson owned the company himself until 1902 when the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co, LTD was incorporated.
At first, only Gibson’s designs were marketed and sold, but in 1919 Lloyd Loar was hired to design instruments as well.
During the 1920s, Gibson was responsible for innovations in stringed instrument design, including the banjo, guitar, and mandolin.
The Gibson F5 mandolin model came out and has since been referred to as the “ultimate bluegrass mandolin.” This mandolin was created by Loar, who left the company in 1924.
The 1930s was a decade of change for Gibson guitars, as this was the year the company began to explore the idea of adding electric guitars to their growing line.
In 1936, they introduced the first “Electric Spanish” model electric guitar - called the ES-150.
Even though other companies were already marketing and selling electric guitars, Gibson is often referred to as the company who first did it successfully. In the 1940s work basically came to a halt at Gibson Guitars as the company was unable to acquire the wood and metal they needed to continue during World War II.
Instead of making guitars, the company stayed afloat by making wood parts for the military. There was one notable change made during this decade though. The company changed their headstock from cursive script to the open book style that is still used today.
The 1950s were an important decade for Gibson Guitars.
The company had recently hired Ted McCarty, who was promoted to the position of president in 1950.
It was during this time that the popular “Les Paul” was released.
This type of guitar was released in several models, including the Custom, the Standard, the Special, and the Junior.
It was also during the middle of this decade that the Thinline series was produced. This was done in response to many guitarists wanting a thinner guitar to play.
Gibson Guitars - J45 Acoustic Guitar
In 1961, Gibson Guitars changed the body style of the “Les Paul” guitar.
Unfortunately, Les Paul did not like the new design and took his endorsement away until 1968, when he came back under the influence of people like Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Peter Green.
The “Les Paul” later became very popular with a large number of famous rock musicians, including Gary Rossington of Lynard Skynard, Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin, Slash of Guns N’ Roses, and many more.
1969 was another year of change for the company. The current parent company of Gibson Guitars, Chicagao Musical Instruments, was taken over by E.C.L. which changed its name to Norlin Inc.
Unfortunately, this was not a good era for Gibson Guitars. It is widely perceived as a time of corporate mismanagement and decreasing product quality.
Gibson Guitars - Les Paul
However, in 1974, the company began to switch its operations from Kalamazoo, MI to Nashville, TN.
In the early years, the guitars suffered from inexperienced builders and climate problems due to being located in the humid south.
Due to all of the problems, the company was extremely close to going out of business when it was taken over by current owners in January, 1986. ]
Since then, more production plants have been opened in Memphis, TN and Boseman, MT.
Gibson Guitars - BB King Model
In 1994, The CEO of Gibson Guitars decided that he wanted to find an organization that could provide the company with an environmentally conscious and sustainable supply of wood.
A company executive found the Rainforest Alliances Smart Wood program.
Gibson Guitars president decided to subsidize a program to start certifying wood and then joined the board for the organization.
Gibson Guitars still supports many conservation organizations today, including Green Peace, Environmental Defense, and others.
By 1998, Gibson was able to come out with the Les Paul SmartWood Exotic Guitar. The guitars sold for $1299 and a portion of the proceeds was donated to the Rainforest Alliance.
In recent years, Gibson has teamed up with Music Saves Lives and has donated several guitars that are designed by a wide variety of artists and signed by bands.
These guitars are auctioned off to help fund non-profit organizations.
In 2009, Gibson Guitars was forced to lay off some of their employees to deal with a decline in sales in the United States, however, the company continued to gain market share and has started calling employees back to work.
The company remains a force in the guitar industry today.