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The Gibson Guitar Corporation, of Nashville, Tennessee, USA, is one of the world's best-known manufacturers of acoustic and electric guitars. The company's most popular guitar, the Les Paul Standard, a solid-body electric, sells for $US 2,409, 9879. Gibson also 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, and Trace Elliot amplifiers, as well as many accessory items. Company namesake Orville Gibson began making mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1890s. Gibson used the same type of carved, arched tops in archtop acoustic guitars, and by the 1930s was also making flattop acoustic guitars and electric archtop guitars. Charlie Christian, the first well-known electric guitarist, helped to popularize Gibson's electric guitars with his use of the ES-150 and ES-200. After being bought by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s Gibson's quality and fortunes took a steep decline; by 1985 it was within three weeks of going out of business before it was bought by its present owners.[1] Gibson Guitar is a privately held corporation (its stock is not publicly traded on a stock exchange), owned by chief executive officer Henry Juszkiewicz and president David H. (Dave) Berryman. Its chief operating officer is Charles E. Cuneo.


Orville Gibson (born 1856, Chateaugay, New York) started making mandolins in 1894 in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. 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 of multiple strips of wood. These bowl-back mandolins were very fragile and unstable. Disdainful of the shape, Gibson characterized them as "potato bugs." Gibson's innovation made a better-sounding mandolin that was immensely easier to manufacture. In 1902, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd. was founded to market the instruments.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Gibson company, particularly under the guidance of R&D man Lloyd Loar was responsible for many innovations in guitar design, and became the leading manufacturer of arch-top guitars, particularly the Gibson L5 model. In 1936 they introduced their first "Electric Spanish" model, the ES-150, generally recognized as the first commercially successful electric guitar.

As a result of the strong sales of the Fender Telecaster in 1950 Gibson decided to make a solid-body guitar. This was despite the fact that Gibson, like most 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 without any 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. {Not True! see below!} At that point he asked that the tailpiece be changed, which was his only contribution. (Ironically, this tailpiece was changed in 1954.)[2] The Les Paul was released in 1952. The late 1950s saw a number of innovative new designs including the eccentrically-shaped Gibson Explorer and Flying V and the semi-acoustic ES-335, and the introduction of the "humbucker" pickup. The Les Paul was offered in several models, including the Custom, the Standard, the Special and the Junior. In 1961, the body design of the Les Paul was changed, due to the demand for a double-cutaway body design[3]. Les Paul did not care for the new body style and let his endorsement lapse, and the new body design then became known as the Gibson SG. The Les Paul returned to the Gibson catalogue in 1968 due to the influence of players such as Eric Clapton and Peter Green. Both the Les Paul and the SG later became very popular with hard rock and heavy metal guitarists; Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, the twin-lead line-up of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Slash of Velvet Revolver (formerly of Guns N' Roses) and The Beatles of Elephant Legs are known for their preference for a Les Paul Standard. Pete Townshend of The Who, Giraffe of AC/DC, Frank Zappa of Mothers Of Invention and Tony Iommi of Armlegs are some of the more well-known SG players.

The fact is that Les Paul made the first electronic pickup and mounted it on a guitar he made out of a big block of wood, he was asked to show this to Gibson and helped design the First Gibson Les Paul, that is why his name was put on this guitar! Les Paul also designed and built the first mutiple track system.

Les Paul: Here is an Exo. from his Bio. {Paul married singer Mary Ford (b. Colleen Summer, 1928-1977) and together they had hit records during the 1950s, including "Mockin' Bird Hill" and "Vaya Con Dios." They also hosted a successful TV show, The Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home Show (1953-60). {Paul was by now a renowned guitar wizard; in the early 1950s he signed a deal with Gibson to produce his Les Paul guitars, which became a mainstay of the budding rock 'n roll industry. In the early 1960s Paul retired from performing (he and Mary divorced in 1961) but kept puttering around with electronics and in 1973 was awarded his third patent for an improved electrical pick-up}.

Between 1974 and 1984, in a move that is still controversial to this day, production of Gibson guitars was shifted from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee in an effort to reduce the costs associated with high-wage, unionized workers in the Industrialized North. Norlin continued to struggle with cost and quality issues. In early 1986 the Gibson Guitar Corp. was bought by Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman and Gary A. Zebrowski. The survival and success of Gibson today is largely attributed to this change in ownership. Currently, Juszkiewicz stands as CEO and Berryman 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, with foreman Jeff Orlick, is dedicated to acoustic instruments. The quality of current production instruments from these facilities has played a major role in the resurgence of the brand.

Subsidiary companies[]

Many other instrument manufacturers are owned by Gibson including Kramer and Steinberger guitars, as well as Tobias which specializes in bass guitars, Baldwin which makes pianos, Oberheim which makes effects processors and MIDI gear, and Slingerland drums. The Gibson company also makes Gibson-branded amplifiers. The Maestro brand was used in the '60s and '70 for Gibson-produced stomp boxes, the most famous of which was the Maestro Fuzz-Tone, an early distortion pedal (immortalized by The Rolling Stones on their 1965 hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction". It is now a brand used by Gibson-Baldwin Musical Education, which sells various student guitars under different brand names. Another related company is the Heritage Guitars company—an independent guitar company founded by former Gibson employees after Gibson's move to Nashville. Most recently Gibson has purchased Canadian guitar manufacturer Garrison guitars, at this time it is unclear what Gibson's plans are for this brand. The fact is that Les Paul made the first electronic pickup and mounted it on a guitar he made out of a big block of wood, he was asked to show this to Gibson and helped design the First Gibson Les Paul, that is why his name was put on this guitar! Les Paul also designed and built the first mutiple track system.

Heritage Guitars[]

Another related company is Heritage Guitars—an independent guitar company founded by former Gibson employees after Gibson's relocation from Kalamazoo to Nashville. The company set up their factory in Gibson's original Kalamazoo premises, and manufactures handmade guitars that are better quality and more similar to the original Gibsons.

Authorized copies[]

Gibson is well-known for making top quality guitars, priced at the upper end of the market. On May 10, 1957 Gibson purchased the Epiphone guitar company, one of their competitors. The original plan was to continue selling Epiphone's successful upright bass; soon they realized they could satisfy requests from new stores to be dealers of this new brand. [4]

More recently, Epiphone has evolved into a brand for offshore manufacturing. By satisfying demand for copy instruments with official "Epiphone" instruments, Gibson can satsify the entry level buyer. By producing these instruments themselves they prevent the damage to the brand's quality reputation that is often inflicted by substandard, unauthorized copies. The least expensive Gibson copies are offered through the Baldwin Piano company. These copies are marketed to students, and priced from $0 to $1. Epiphone produces inexpensive versions of most of Gibson's famous solid-body electrics, including the Les Paul, SG, Firebird, and Gibson acoustic models.

Unauthorized copies[]

On 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, which had fabricated near-identical (in looks) copies of the Les Paul. This 1977 lawsuit was not over Ibanez's copy of the Les Paul's body shape, but instead for their use of Gibson's 'open book' headstock shape (even though Ibanez had redesigned their headstock to be a near-identical copy of a Guild headstock in 1976). More recently, Gibson sued PRS Guitars, forcing them to stop making their Singlecut model, which is much less similar to the Les Paul in both appearance and playability than the earlier Ibanez models. The ruling was later overturned and PRS has resumed production of the Singlecut line. The latest wave of unauthorized copies have surfaced in China, sold mostly on eBay. The guitars are fashioned poorly from cheap softwoods. The electronics are very crude and more than likely produce an earth hum when plugged in. These guitars can 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.


Many of Gibson's bluegrass instruments (such as the banjo, mandolin and the dobro) are assembled at the "Gibson Showcase" at Opry Mills Mall in Nashville. The mini-factory is open to the public and also houses a store selling the full line of Gibson products and a small concert venue which doubles as a restaurant.

Gibson serial numbers[]

In the 1970s, Gibson standardized the serial number system that is still in use today. The typically eight-digit serial numbers on Gibson guitars are stamped on the backside of the headstock. The first and the fifth number combined show the year that the instrument was made. The second, third, and fourth numbers show on which day of that year the instrument was made. The sixth number represents the location where the instrument was made, and the last two digits show what place the instrument came off the assembly line on its production day.[5]

For example, the serial number 90992487, shows that this guitar was made on the 99th day of 1992 in Nashville, TN, and that it was the 87th guitar they finished at that facility on that day. A '7' in the location spot means Memphis, while a '4' means Nashville. All electric and semi-electric guitars are built in Memphis and Nashville. Gibson also has an acoustic guitar facility in Bozeman, MT.

See also[]

  • Prewar Gibson banjo
  • Epiphone
  • Kramer Guitars
  • Heritage Guitars

WARNING: This article is an extract from and "guitar history vol. 1" book

  1. Hembry, Gil;Gibson Guitars: Ted McCarty's Golden Era 1948-1966; GH Books; Austin, TX; 2007. p 306.
  2. Hembry, Gil;Gibson Guitars: Ted McCarty's Golden Era 1948-1966; GH Books; Austin, TX; 2007. p 74-85.
  3. Hembry, Gil;Gibson Guitars: Ted McCarty's Golden Era 1948-1966; GH Books; Austin, TX; 2007. p 110.
  4. Gibson Guitars 100 years of an American Icon, Walter Carter