The Gibson Guitar Corporation,
of Nashville, Tennessee, USA, is a manufacturer of acoustic and electric guitars. The company's most popular guitar, the Les Paul Standard, is a solid-body electric guitar. 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 namesake Orville Gibson made 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 guitars. Charlie Christian, one of the first well-known electric guitarists, 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. Gibson Guitar is a privately 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 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, Orville Gibson characterized them as "potato bugs." Gibson's innovation made a better-sounding mandolin that was immensely easier to manufacture. Orville Gibson's 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.
In 1902, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd.
was founded to market the instruments.
During the 1920s the Gibson company 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 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 would be changed, and that was his only contribution. (Ironically, this tailpiece was changed in 1954.) 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 Studio, the Supreme, 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. 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 Keith Richards, 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, Slash of Velvet Revolver and Ace Frehley of Kiss are known for their preference for a Les Paul. Pete Townshend of The Who, Angus Young of AC/DC, Frank Zappa of Mothers Of Invention and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath are some of the more well-known SG players.
Between 1974 and 1984 production of Gibson guitars was shifted from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee. 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 is dedicated to acoustic instruments.
Today, one model of Gibson guitars ("Robot Guitar") can tune itself in about 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 "world's first" similar—some external—systems have been in use for decades for example to tune guitars made by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation and Washburn Guitars.
Many other instrument manufacturers are owned by Gibson including Kramer and Steinberger guitars. 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.
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 former Kalamazoo premises, and manufactures handmade guitars that are very similar to the Gibson originals.
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 Epiphone's 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 and China. Orville by Gibson was another Gibson authorized brand of guitars that were made and sold in Japan.
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 appearance. The lawsuit against PRS was unsuccessful, however. In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court decision and ordered the dismissal of Gibson's suit against PRS. The decision also immediately vacated the injunction prohibiting the sale and production of PRS’s Singlecut Guitar. Paul Reed Smith Guitars announced that it would immediately resume production of its Singlecut guitars.
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.
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.
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 the "production run" number.
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, Montana.
Gibson is especially well known for their electric guitars, especially the Les Paul, the SG, the Flying V, the Explorer the ES-175 and the ES-335, among many others.
Gibson's acoustic guitars are widely celebrated and used by many professional rock and country musicians.
Despite being such a revered six-string guitar manufacturer, Gibson has had much success from their line of bass models such the Thunderbird (based on the Firebird), the EB-3 (based on the SG), the Ripper, and the Grabber, both first manufactured in the 1970s.
- Prewar Gibson banjo
- Kramer Guitars
- Heritage Guitars