Albeit younger than the legendary Stradivarius (by a few centuries), invoking the name Gibson around guitar players summons up the same kind of reverence and deep respect for a brand that has always made top of the line instruments, and contributed much to the development of the instrument in general. Luthiers and players the world over owe much to the Gibson company.
Orville Gibson, the founder and namesake of the company, built kalamazoos and mandolins in Michigan back in the late 19th century. His innovation was arching the top of the instrument, and using one piece for the side and another single piece for the neck. Before this, mandolins had a flimsier sound and they were harder to produce on a mass scale. Orville patented this innovation. Moreover, he used it in his guitar building with great success. At first, the company used only Orville’s designs.
After a couple decades and upon witnessing changing trends, a luthier named Lloyd Loar was summoned to revitalize the company’s designs. This ushered in a time of increased innovation and growth for different instruments in the company like banjo, mandolin, and of course guitars. Not only were they the standard company for bluegrass mandolin players, but their hollow arch-top guitar was at the top of it’s class.
In the 30’s, guitars around the world were becoming electrified. With increased volume the guitar took on another role, changing from a background rhythm instrument to one capable of playing loud melodies. Soloists emerged, and guitar manufacturers couldn’t ignore this trend. The ES 175 was the most successful, most well respected electric guitars on the market, and was famously used by jazz guitar legend Charlie Christian.
This was a mix of old and new, as it was obviously electric but still possessed the hollow style of old.
During the 40’s, like companies around the world, production was dramatically slowed down because of the war. Chicago Music Instruments took over marketing and sales, but the old factory in Michigan still ran the way it used to.
At the start of the 1950’s, a man named Ted McCarty became president and soon oversaw historical changes at the company. Aware of Fender’s success with the telecaster, Gibson issued a thin-line electric guitar made by Les Paul. This was a monumental contribution to guitar design as this model exploded on the scene at the time and enjoys probably even greater success today. Aware of their reputation as a conservative guitar company, they decided to branch out by making a guitar called the Flying V. It took years before it caught on, but it ended up selling well and did much to change Gibson’s image.
From the 60’s till the present day, the company continues to do extremely well with Les Pauls, the SG, and countless other makes. New plants have been opened and, though it’s not a tradable stock, the company continues to grow financially. It demonstrates its commitment to evolving the instrument by pouring millions into digital technology research, and can claim to have built the first digital guitar. In other words, it continues a proud tradition of quality and innovation.
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