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Gibson Guitar History and Compare Instrument Prices on eBay and Amazon

Updated on February 17, 2013

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 found on violins. By the 1930s, the company was also making flattop acoustic guitars, as well as one of 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 purchased by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s Gibson's quality and fortunes took a steep decline until early 1986, when the company was rescued 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.

Gibson has enjoyed a double digit growth rate since the acquisition in 1986, growing sales revenues and market share. It is now the number one company in the electric guitar market, and continues to expand both market share and revenues. It is one of a handful of musical instrument companies that has invested in a proprietary global distribution system selling directly to dealers in most major countries. Gibson is the largest manufacturer of guitars in the United States.

Gibson Guitars
Gibson Guitars

History of Gibson Guitars

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. 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 distinctive, darker-sounding mandolin that was easier to manufacture in large numbers. 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. Orville Gibson died in 1918 of endocarditis (inflammation of the inside lining of the heart chambers and valves)


Orville Gibson began to sell his unique instruments in 1894 out of a one room work shop in Kalamazoo Michigan. In 1902 Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd. was incorporated to market the instruments. Initially, the company produced only Orville Gibson's original designs. Aware of changing trends, the company hired designer Lloyd Loar in 1919 to create newer instruments.

During the 1920s Gibson was responsible for many innovations in banjo*, guitar and mandolin design. In 1922, the Gibson F5 mandolin model was introduced. That particular model later became known as the ultimate bluegrass mandolin. Gibson soon became the leading manufacturer of archtop guitars, particularly the L-5 model, also a Loar design. Loar left the company in 1924.

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 World War II, instrument manufacturing basically stopped at Gibson due to shortages of wood and metal. Only a few instruments were made with whatever parts were at hand. Gibson did war production instead, making wood parts for various military needs. Such shortages continued for a few years after the war and the only notable change occurred in 1946 when the Gibson name on the instrument headstock changed from a cursive script to the block style used to this day. This is seen at the head of the information block at top.

In 1944 Gibson was purchased by Chicago Musical Instruments, which took over marketing and sales of Gibson products while allowing the Kalamazoo factory to operate largely independently.

The ES-175 was introduced in 1949. The model has seen some variations over the years but it is still in production

Gibson Les Paul on eBay

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Gibson and Ted McCarty

Gibson Les Paul
Gibson Les Paul

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 despite the fact many other guitar manufacturers were contemptuous of the concept of a solid-body guitar. Designed by the guitarist Les Paul, it was released as his signature model in 1952. 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 guitarists 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 guitarists Billy Byrd and Hank Garland. Later, a shorter neck was added. Other guitarists 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.

In the late 50s, McCarty was aware the Gibson was perceived as a "conservative" company, generally making traditionally shaped instruments. He decided to change that. In 1958, Gibson produced two new designs: the eccentrically-shaped Explorer and Flying V. These "modernistic" guitars did not sell initially. It was only in the late 1960s and early 70s when the two guitars were reintroduced to the market that they sold very well. The Firebird, in the early 60s, was a reprise 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 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" returned to the Gibson catalog in 1968 due to the influence of players such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Peter Green. Both the "bombs" "Les Paul" and the SG later became very popular with Southern Rock, hard rock and heavy metal guitarists; Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck with the Jeff Beck Group and solo in the 1970s, the twin-lead line-up of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy, Duane Allman, Slash of Guns N' Roses and 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, Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden, Robby Krieger of The Doors, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd (known also for his SG in "Free Bird") and Joe Solo are some of the better-known SG players.

Gibson Guitars
Gibson Guitars

The 1970s to today

In 1969 Gibson parent Chicago Musical Instruments was taken over by a South American brewing conglomerate, E.C.L., which changed its name to Norlin Inc. (for ECL president Norton Stevens and CMI president Maurice Berlin). This began an era widely perceived as being characterized by corporate mismanagement and decreasing product quality similar to Fender's period under CBS ownership.

Between 1974 and 1984 production of Gibson guitars was shifted from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee. Early Nashville-built guitars suffered from both inexperienced workers, and climate-control problems in the humid South. The Kalamazoo plant was kept going for a few years as a custom-instrument shop, but was closed in 1984.[8] The Gibson Guitar Corp. was within three months of going out of business before it was bought by Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman, and Gary A. Zebrowski in January 1986.[9] 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, 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.

In 1994, Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz asked an executive at Gibson to search out an organization that was working towards an environmentally conscious and sustainable wood supply. That executive found the Rainforest Alliances Smart Wood program. After months of discussions with little result Henry flew to New York to attend the Rainforest Alliance’s annual gala. He offered to subsidized the program to start certifying wood for Gibson and went on to join the Board for the organization and promote broadly intelligent use of natural resources. Today Gibson has supported many conservation organizations actively like Green Peace, Environmental Defense, and a variety of others. Juszkiewicz believes strongly that industry should show leadership in their use of natural resources.

Four years later (1998), Gibson had revealed the fruits of those relationships with the Les Paul SmartWood Exotics. The new line consisted of six guitars featuring tops fashioned from unusual, "smartly" harvested tropical woods. Each guitar listed for $1299 new, and in the spirit of philanthropy, Gibson donated a portion of the profits from the SmartWood guitar sales to the Rainforest Alliance.

Gibson in general has been very active in supporting numerous non-profit organizations, eventually founding the Gibson Foundation.

Juszkiewicz and Gibson also helped to found Music Rising, a non-profit devoted to helping in the recovery of the devastating flood in New Orleans, with music producer Bob Ezrin and Edge from U2.

Since 2007 the Gibson Guitar Corporation has teamed up with Music Saves Lives and donated several guitars to be designed by various artists (Mike Onclay, Ryan Seaman, Cory Burke, Josh Kenyon, Colby Nichols, Andrew Holder, Sara Antoinette Martin), signed by bands (Bad Religion, Pennywise, Coheed and Cambria, Reel Big Fish, NoFx, Bouncing Souls, Thrice, Katy Perry, Meg and Dia, Jack's Mannequin) and then auctioned off to support the non-profit.

In mid 2009 Gibson reduced its work force to adjust for a decline in guitar industry sales in the United States.,

Gibson continued to gain market share during 2009 and started calling people back in early 2010.

Gibson Les Paul Robot
Gibson Les Paul Robot

Recent Gibson Innovation

Gibson has spent millions of dollars in Research and Development, starting in the 1980s, pursuing improvements in the state of the instrument.

In 1999, Gibson developed an Ethernet-based protocol called "MaGIC" in partnership with 3COM; it was used in an instrument called the "Digital Guitar". This was the first Gibson effort to introduce high technology into an instrument.

Gibson has released a series of new technology models of which the Dusk Tiger was the latest new concept release in December 2009. Gibson continues to innovate in design and product features incorporating some of the most recent technology advances, including the use of German made Plek machines to significantly improve the performance of 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. Gibson had worked with a company that pioneered self tuning - Transperfomance (Colorado) but introduced the Tronical version which was simpler, faster and less intrusive.

They continue to manufacture the classic designs including the Les Paul, the SG and the ES-335.

Part of Gibson is the world's largest custom shop that manufactures historically accurate reproductions, artist-designed models and very limited run hand-crafted instruments.

In January 2010, Gibson released the Keb' Mo' Bluesmaster acoustic-electric guitar in honor of the 3-time Grammy winner.


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