Why are Gibson guitars so expensive?
Gibson is a premium guitar brand that has been around throughout the whole history of electric guitars with the Les Paul being one of the first Solid Body guitars having been released in 1952, and before they they were famous for their ES (Electric Spanish) guitars.
Many famous guitarists have played Gibson's over the years, and still do up until this day, ranging from Eric Clapton to Billie Joe Armstrong. Their distorted rock tones being exactly what many musicians are looking for. The models they played are also mainly identical to the models you can buy in a store.
However all of this comes at a price. Gibson's are expensive, there is no way around that fact. A Les Paul Standard costs £2000 ($3000) and the cheapest Gibson (LPJ or Melody Maker) costs around $700. None of these are cheap, especially considering that Epiphone Les Pauls top out at around $700 and often are praised for their quality and how they sound. Thus you have to question, Why do Gibsons cost so much?
American (USA) Made
Being made in a 1st world country such as America is the main reason for the price being higher. The costs in the factory upkeep are higher as are the wages paid to workers compared to Indonesia or China. Whether or not you think that there is a difference in quality simply because of the location of the factory is up to you, however most premium guitars are made in 1st world countries such as the USA or UK.
This doesn't completely explain the reason Gibsons' are so expensive however, Fender American Standards cost roughly £1000, with Fenders most expensive non custom shop models still being cheaper than a Les Paul Standard. Thus simply being built in American does not completely justify the high price.
More Expensive Materials
Gibson pride themselves in using what they call "Premium Tonewoods", the idea of this is that Gibson make specific effort to source the best woods, thus the thinking is that that these will give the best transfer of vibrations through the guitar. Gibson Les Pauls also have thick maple tops, flame maple is expensive, other cheaper brands may only use a very thin veneer of this flame maple thus giving its impressive look but not its tonal qualities.
The pickups in Gibson guitars are designed and produced by Gibson themselves thus work very well when combined with their instruments. All other components are also of good quality, an example being the Grover tuners.
Gibson Factory Tour
More Expensive Production Techniques
Gibson still use many "costly" old production techniques compared to other manufacturers, the production by Gibson is also still very hands on with the finishing of each guitar.
Leo Fender invented the "Bolt on" neck for his fender guitars in the 50's, this technique is much faster and cheaper than a Gibson set neck which requires very precise fitting. The Gibson set neck allows supposedly better transfer of vibrations through the guitar, thus improving sustain. A "Bolt On" neck however gives a more snappy tone that some prefer.
Gibson guitars also are one of the few main guitar companies to still use Nitrocellulose lacquer, most (including Fender's main USA production and Epiphone) use a poly coating, Nitro takes much more time and effort to apply as many coats need to be applied and left to dry in between each coat. Some would say that Nitro due to it being thinner means that the guitar is allowed to resonate easier and thus gives better tone, however others just prefer the look of nitro.
There is one technique that Gibson employ however that is the complete opposite of traditional. All Gibson guitars are put through a machine called a Plex machine that is designed to perfectly level the frets by using lazers to measure the height of each fret whilst the neck is under strain and then automatically smooth down the frets to the correct height.. These machines are not cheap and Gibson are one of the few large companies to use them, thus the cost has to be passed on in the price of the guitar.
Larger Profit Per Guitar
Gibson make a significant amount of profit on their guitars. Much more than cheaper brands. All guitar brands may aim to make roughly the same percentage of profit, obviously on a £/$ 200 guitar this is works out to far less actual profit then on an £/$ 2000 guitar.
(10% profit on $200 is $20, 10% profit on $2000 is $200)