The history of Gibson Guitars is not only a fascinating story but stretches back further than most people realize. Gibson's beginnings trace back to 1894 and started in Kalamazoo, Michigan with a luthier named Orville Gibson. Orville was a top-notch craftsman and had strong opinions about instrument design and quality. In 1902 Orville incorporated the Gibson Mandolin and Guitar Company, LTD. One of the greatest guitar brands in history was born.
A Change of Hands...
Orville's only patent was to an innovative mandolin design. In 1900, he met a group of investors who wanted to manufacture guitars and violins of his design under the protection of his patent. In 1904 Orville sold the rights to his patent to the group.
A Period of Serious Innovation...
In 1919, Lloyd Loar joined Gibson. Loar cultivated Orville's original carving ideas and brought about the creation of the L-5 guitar. The L-5 became the first guitar to take a serious role in the orchestra scene, replacing the tenor banjo as a rhythm instrument.
The 1920's saw a flurry of innovations - elevated fret boards, adjustable bridges and the adjustable truss rod. In 1924, Loar came up with an instrument that was ahead of its time - the electric bass. Loar's bass was totally radical for the time and neither Gibson Guitars management nor the public accepted it. The rejection of his bass led to Loar's resignation.
Gibson Goes Electric...
The Big Band era of the 1930's was in a large part responsible for the development of the electric guitar. Gibson up-sized the L-5 to give it the oomph to cut through the horn sections of the orchestras. Called the Super 400 it was a wonderful guitar but quite unwieldy.
Gibson's solution was the ES 150, a Spanish style guitar designed to be electrified and fitted with a hexagonal pickup. The ES 150 was the first commercially successful electric guitar.
Gibson Gets Solid...
Gibson Guitars was doing well in the aftermath of World War II and the purchase by Chicago Musical Instruments. However, all the electric guitars of the period suffered from one flaw - resonance. They all were engineered from acoustic guitars and were either hollow-bodied or semi-hollow-bodied and very resonant. This is a bad thing in an electric guitar because it causes feedback that can manifest itself as an ear-splitting howl.
The solution was the solid-bodied guitar. Les Paul had been working on the idea since the 1930's and had proven that a solid body guitar not only solved the resonance problems but also produced a unique sound and great sustain. In 1952 Gibson collaborated with Les and one of the most popular and iconic electric guitars of all time were created - the Les Paul.
Time to Rock...
Gibson Guitars was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the musical boom that the 1960's saw. Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk and Jazz music quickly became popular and Gibson had a guitar for everyone. Gibson's solid body guitars were perfect for the burgeoning Rock and Roll and Blues styles. The Les Paul led the way followed by the SG (now one of the most popular Rock guitars of all time) and the Firebird.
The latter part of the '60s was not a good time for Gibson Guitars. Quality was perceived to have dropped and union issues reared their heads causing further problems. In 1969 an Ecuadorian brewery, ECL, bought enough of Gibson's parent company’s (CMI) stock to control the company. ECL and CMI merged to form Norlin Industries, Inc. In 1975 Gibson opened a new plant in Nashville, Tn. By 1977 the Nashville operation had become Gibson Guitars corporate headquarters (and still is).
The late 70s and early '80s were not a good time for the industry in general due to the recessions of the period. In 1979 Norlin merged Gibson into Norlin Industries and Gibson became just a brand name. Eventually, Norlin decided that it had no further future in the industry. In 1986 Norlin sold their fretted instrument division to three Harvard MBAs - Henry Jusckiewicz, David Berryman and Gary Zebrowski. The three named it Gibson Guitar Corporation and later renamed it to Gibson Musical Instruments. Gibson Guitars was reborn.
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