Gibson Guitar Corporation
The Gibson Guitar Corporation, of Nashville, Tennessee, USA, is a manufacturer of acoustic and electric guitars. Gibson also owns and makes guitars under such brands as Epiphone, Kramer, Valley Arts, Tobias, Steinberger and Kalamazoo. In addition to guitars, the company makes pianos through its Baldwin unit, Slingerland drums, as well as many accessory items. Company founder Orville Gibson, made mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1890s. He invented archtop guitars by using the same type of carved, arched tops in guitars. By the 1930s, the company was also making flattop acoustic guitars, as well as the first commercially available hollow-body electric guitars, which were used and popularized by Charlie Christian. In the early 1950s, Gibson introduced its first solid-body electric guitar and its most popular guitar to date – the Les Paul. After being bought by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s Gibson quality and fortunes took a steep decline until early 1986, when the company was rescued by its present owners. Gibson Guitar is a private held corporation (company stock is not publicly traded on a stock exchange), owned by chief executive officer Henry Juszkiewicz and president David H. (Dave) Berryman. Orville Gibson (born 1856, Chateaugay, New York) started making mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States. The mandolins were distinctive in that they featured a carved, arched solid wood top and back and bent wood sides. Prior to this mandolins had a flat solid wood top and a bowl-like back (similar to a lute) made multipe strips of wood. These bowl-back mandolins were very fragile and unstable. Disdainful of the shape, Orville Gibson characterized them as ”potato bugs”. Gibsons innovation made a better-sounding mandolin that was immensely easier to manufacture. Oeville Gibsons mandolin design, with its single-pieced carved sides and a single-pieced neck, was patented in 1898; it would be the only innovation he patented. Orville Gibson died in 1918. 1902-1950 In 1902, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd was incorporated to market the instruments. Initially, the company produced only Orville Gibsons original designs. Gibson soon became the leading manufacturer of archtop guitars, particularly the L-5 model. In the 1930s, Gibson began exploring the concept of an electric guitar. In 1936 they introduced their first ”Electric Spanish” model, the ES-150. Other companies were producing electric guitars but the Gibson is generally recognized as the first commercially successful electric guitar. Other instruments were also ”electrified”; such as steel guitars, banjos and mandolins. During the World War II Gibson did war production due to shortages of wood and metal. In 1949 the Gibson ES-175 was introduced. The model has seen some variations over the years but it is still in production.
Gibson and Ted McCarty In 1948, Gibson hired music industry veteran, Ted McCarty. He was promoted to company president in 1950. During his tenure (1950-1966), Gibson greatly expanded and diversified its line of instruments. The first notable addition was the ”Les Paul” guitar. McCarty was well aware of the strong sales of the Fender Telecaster. In 1950, Gibson decided to make a solid-body guitar of its own according to its own design philosophy. This despite the fact many other guitar manufacturers were contemptuous of the concept of a solid-body guitar. Although guitarist Les Paul was one of the pioneers of solid-body electric guitar technology, the guitar that became known as the ”Les Paul” was developed with very little input from its namesake. After the guitar was designed, Les Paul was asked to sign a contract to endorse the guitar to be named after him. At that point he asked that the tail piece be changed, and that was his only contribution. The ”Les Paul” was released in 1952. (Ironically, this tailpiece was changed in 1954). The ”Les Paul” was offered in several models, including the Custom, the Standard, the Special and the Junior. In the mid 50s, the Thinline series was produced. Many guitaists did not like the bulk of a full size archtop and wanted a thinner guitar. The first to be produced was the Byrdland. The first Byrdlands were slim, custom built, L-5 models for guitaists Billy Byrd and Hank Garland. Later, a shorter neck was added. Other guitaists who tried Gibson samples liked the idea and the model went into production. Other models such as the ES-350T and the ES-225T were introduced as less costly alternatives. In 1958, Gibson introduced the ES-335T model. Similar in size to the hollow body Thinlines, the ES-335 family had a solid center giving the string tone a longer sustain. Gibson also produced two new designs; the eccentricallyshaped Explorer and Flying V. Suprisingly, these modernistic guitars did not sell initially. It was only in the late 60s and early 70s were the two guitars reintroduced to the market where they sold very well. The Firebird, in the early 60s, was a reprose of the modernistic idea; though less extreme. In the 1950s, Gibson also produced the Tune-o-matic bridge system and its version of the humbucking pickup. In 1961 the body design of the Les Paul was changed, due to the demand for a double-cutaway body design. Les Paul himself did not care for the new body style and let his endorsement lapse, and the new body design then became known as the SG (for ”solid guitar”). The Les Paul guitar returned to the Gibson catalogue in 1968 due to the influence of players such as Keith Richads, Eric Cpalton, Peter Green and many other guitaists. Both the Les Paul and the SG later became very popular with hard rock and heavy metal guitaists.
The 70s to today Between 1974 and 1984 production of Gibson guitars was shifted from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee. The Gibson Guitar Corp. was within three weeks of going out of business before it was bought by Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman and Gary A. Zebrowski in January 1986. The survival and success of Gibson today is largely attributed to this change in ownership. Currently, Juszkiewicz stands as CEO and Barryman as president of the company. More recently new production plants have been opened in Southern and rural areas, such as Memphis, Tennessee as well as Bozeman, Montana. The Memphis facility is used for semi-hollow and custom shop instruments, while the Bozeman facility is dedicated to acoustic instruments. Today, one model of Gibson guitars (Robot Guitar) can tune itself in less than 10 seconds using robotic technology developed by Gibson and Tronical Gmbh. While the product was advertised in the American – United States – popular press as a ”worlds first” similar – some external – systems have been in use for decades for example to tune guitars by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation and Washburn Guitars. Authorized copies On May 10, 1957 Gibson purchased the Epiphone guitar company which at the time was one of their main competitors. The original plan was to continue selling Epiphones successful upright bass, but soon after Gibson realized they could satisfy requests from music stores by producing Epiphone branded guitars. From the early 1970s the Epiphone brand name has been increasingly used by Gibson for lower priced guitars manufactured in countries other than the United States. Epiphone guitars have been made in the US, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and China. Orville by Gibson was another Gibson authorized brand of guitars that were made and sold in Japan. Unauthorized copies In multiple occasions, Gibson has sought legal action against other guitar manufacturers who implement similar body styles in their designs. The first such action was against Ibanez and their copy of the Les Paul headstock shape. More recently, Gibson sued PRS Guitars, forcing them to stop making their Singlecut model. Aside from the above mentioned companies, there have been counless others producing unofficial Les Paul copies, including among others Tokai, Stellar and new-comer Myaxe, a company based in Changle, China. Forgeries can generally be identified quite easily upon close inspection. The most prominent identifier pertaining to Chinese Gibson Les Paul forgeries is in the truss rod cover being affixed to the headstock of the forged guitar with three screws whereas an authentic Gibson guitar employs two.
Gibson serial numbers In 1975, Gibson standardized the serial number system that is still in use today. An eight digit (or 9 digit after July 2005) number on the back shows the date on which the instrument was produced, where it was produced and its order of production that day (e.g. first instrument stamped that day, second, third, fourth etc.). The serial numbers are deciphered using the following system: YDDDYRRR YY is the production year. DDD is the day of the year the guitar was stamped. RRR is the production order/plant designation number. Production order/plant designation numbers are as follows: 001-499 500-999 001-299 300-999 Kalamazoo, Michigan (1975-1984) Nashville, Tennessee (1975-1990) Bozeman, Montana (after 1989) Nashville, Tennessee (after 1990)
For example, the serial number 90992487 means that the instrument was produced on the 99th day of 1992 (Wednesday 8 April) in Nashville and that it was the 487th instrument stamped that day. In July 2005 Gibson introduced a 9 digit serial number system. The system is largely the same as the 8 digit system used before, however the 6th digit now represents the batch number. The first 5 and last 3 digits remain the same. An exception is the year 1994, Gibson Centennial Year: Many 1994 serial numbers start with ”94”, followed by a 6-digit production number.
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