Legendary And Deservedly So
The history of Gibson Guitars is not only a fascinating story but stretches back
farther 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. He started
with mandolins and an "F-Hole" carved top guitar design. His reputation as a master
craftsman quickly spread and 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. After his sale of the patent, Orville's
contribution to the company is unclear. Orville's health began to fail and he was eventually diagnosed
with chronic endocarditis. Orville succumbed to the disease in 1918.
A Period of Serious Innovation...
A year after Orville's death, a virtuoso classical mandolinist and acoustical engineer named
Lloyd Loar joined Gibson. Loar cultivated Orville's original carving concepts and brought about the creation
of the L-5 guitar which sported the first "F-Holes" seen on a 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 and became the basis for
Gibson's dominance and superiority in the new field of arch top guitars.
The 1920's saw a flurry of innovations. Along came elevated fretboards, height adjustable bridges and one of the most
important guitar components, the adjustable truss rod. Not ony does the truss rod balance the tension of the strings
and neck keeping the neck properly aligned, it also prevents the neck from eventually warping under the tension of the strings.
In 1924, Loar came up with an instrument that was about 30 years 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
Gibson Goes Electric...
Gibson ES 150
The Big Band era of the 1930's was in a large part responsible for the development of the electric guitar. Gibson upsized the L-5
to give it the oomph to cut through the horn sections of the orchestras. It was renamed the Super 400, the name being inspired by
its price - $400. In that era that was a staggering sum of money for a guitar(now you'll pay thousands if you can find one). Not only
was the price huge, the guitar was huge as well. It was a wonderful guitar but unwieldy as all get out.
Gibson's solution was the ES 150. The ES 150 was a Spanish style guitar designed to be electrified and fitted with a hexagonal
pickup. The ES 150 was not only the first commercially successful electric guitar but also played a part in shaping the future
of guitar playing. A young swing and jazz player named Charlie Christian discovered the ES 150 and used it to develop
a single note style of playing inspired by the solo lines of horn players. Charlie's forceful style and techniques evolved
into lead guitar playing as we know it today.
Another Change of Hands...
During World War II materials were very scarce and Gibson's instrument production ground to a halt. In 1944 Gibson Guitars was
bought by Chicago Musical Instruments, a noted music wholesaler. Thanks to the war's affect on business there was an enormous
demand for musical instruments. This resulted in production resuming in 1946. In 1948 Gibson Guitars made what was probably one of
its best moves ever. They hired an industry veteran named Ted McCarty. In 1950, McCarty assumed the presidency of the company and remained
there until 1966.
Under McCarty's direction Gibson absolutely boomed. His tenure saw the development of some of the most iconic of the Gibson Guitars
such as the Les Paul, the SG, the Explorer, the Firebird and the Flying V. In addition, his tenure also saw the development of the
Tune-O-Matic stopbar tailpiece and the humbucking pickup. As a result of these developments and innovations Gibson Guitars workforce
increased by a factor of 10, profits by a factor of 15 and sales ballooned by over 1000%. McCarty's time at Gibson was definitely a
boom era for the company.
Next: Gibson Gets Solid...