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Gibson: A New Beginning for the Guitar Titan

Gibson: A New Beginning for the Guitar Titan

Leading the global icon into the future

With everything that has happened recently, you could be forgiven if you’d think they’d play things safe and stick to slow and steady progress. Well, if the latest press releases and recent NAMM 2019 extravaganza was anything to go by – Gibson news coming thick and fast -, 2019 is going to be a relentless thrill ride of epic proportions!

From humble beginnings

For over 125 years, the Gibson name has been synonymous with sublime craftsmanship and the development of instruments that excite and delight, inspiring musical innovators to push the sonic boundaries. Founded by luthier Orville H. Gibson back 1902, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company Limited started life in Kalamazoo, Michigan as a manufacturer of high-quality mandolins. Their beautifully crafted archtop design instruments quickly established Gibson as the go-to brand for mandolin players across America.

Archtop innovators

Gibson Custom 1934 L5 Acoustic Guitar

Fast forward several years and Gibson applied their archtop design from the mandolin in the construction of their first guitars. Though costlier than the flattops produced by their rivals, Gibson’s innovative models the L-5, developed by Gibson designed Lloyd Loar, and the Super 400 in later years achieved legendary status in next to no time. The L-5’s was home to F-holes rather than a central circular soundhole, which was inherited from their mandolin design. Hitting America Many notable players of the L-5 such as Maybelle Carter, Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery helped to secure its foothold in musical history. To this day the electric rendition of the L5 is still a much sought-after model with orders flying in frequently to the Gibson Custom Shop for the L-5 CES.

Flattop addition

Gibson 2019 J-45 Standard Electro Acoustic Guitar

Gibson eventually turned their attentions to the flattop market, which saw a rapid rise in popularity with the Jumbo series J-45 and ‘Super Jumbo’ J-200 providing outstanding additions to the Gibson family. Many a legend has adopted a Gibson flattop in their time from early blues masters such as Skip James and Pink Anderson, folk heroes a la Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, right through to modern rockers like Jeff Tweedy and Alex Turner.

Solid body superiority

Gibson Custom Historic '56 Les Paul Goldtop VOS Electric Guitar

Arguably, it was the development of their solid body models that would elevate the Gibson brand to legendary status. Teaming up with inventor and musician Les Paul, who built his first solid-body a decade before – affectionately known as The Log, Gibson released the first Gibson Les Paul solid-body in 1952. Adhering to the high levels of craftsmanship displayed throughout their mandolins and acoustics, Gibson’s foray into the solid-body world was far more elaborate than other brands at the time. Boasting an eye-catching gold finish, elegantly carved maple top, classic archtop-style headstock, and unusual trapeze tailpiece, it was miles from anything seen previously.

However, the trapeze tailpiece was changed for the patented Tune-O-Matic bridge and towards the latter half of the ’50s, Gibson started to hit their stride. In 1958, the Les Paul Standard featured a cool flame-top cherry sunburst finish and was accompanied by the classic Ted McCarty-designed PAF (Patent Applied For) humbuckers. Thanks to the glued-in neck and weighty body, tonal luxury and bags of energy were there for the taking and the Golden Era between 1958 and 1962 kicked off in style.

Overcoming recent issues

It is no secret that in recent years Gibson received flak from aficionados, who considered their shift towards a lifestyle brand as having a less than desirable impact on what they did best. Filing for bankruptcy was the last thing anyone expected or wanted, and it seemed like the once mighty instrument manufacturer was in the end times.

Thankfully, that’s far from being the case.

The next chapter for Gibson

Gibson President and CEO James JC Curleigh

Like a phoenix (or should that be Firebird?) Gibson are reborn and once again on the rise. With a new management team leading the way, headed by CEO James “JC” Curleigh, the US giant has been given a new lease of life. Keen to get back to their roots, Gibson shift focus back onto what made them a household name, awesome guitars built to exceptionally high standards with playability that is second-to-none, THAT tone, and the reassurance that you’re getting a partner for life. When it comes to buying a Gibson guitar, it isn’t just an instrument to knock out a few tunes on, it is an investment in your musical journey. From the bedroom rocker to stadium superstar, you want to know that the guitar in your hands is going to be there with you every step of the way.

Positives for the future

As announced at NAMM 2019, Gibson has big plans ahead including reviving historic specs across models to enable more players to get hold of those coveted Golden Era tones. Across the board they are implementing original neck shapes, historically-correct hardware such as tuning machines and volume and tone knobs, satisfying the most fervent of purists. They don’t just keep it to the Les Paul Standard either. Oh no, they roll out the treats across SG models too with plans to implement classic features as part of their core line up.

Though they are kicking things old school, Gibson are not dropping their modern appointments completely. Instead, they are offering them across their Contemporary range of models, which feature weight-relieved bodies, slim-tapered neck profiles and slimmer neck joint heels for easier access to the higher fret.

Signature model showcase

Chris Cornell

Gibson Chris Cornell Signature ES-335 Guitar

A surprise pre-NAMM announcement detailed the release of a limited-edition Chris Cornell Tribute ES-335, which was released in honour of the iconic singer songwriter. Originally designed in collaboration with the former Soundgarden frontman, Gibson included all the personal touches such as aged Lollartron humbuckers, clear “no number” Top Hat knobs, Olive Drab satin finish, and Mother-of-Pearl Chris Cornell ‘signature’ peghead inlay. Set to be unleashed in Spring 2019 there will be only 250 models available worldwide.

B.B. King

Gibson Chris Cornell Signature ES-335 Guitar

Another exciting piece of news was the Gibson Brands announcement of B.B. King as a “Gibson Legacy Artist” and the release of the beautiful Alpine White Limited Edition “Lucille”. With the declaration that the B.B. King Family Trust is to work closely with Gibson in the future on further renditions of “Lucille”, we are expecting big things in the future.

Chuck Berry

When Gibson revealed that they had been working closely with Chuck Berry’s family to design and release the Chuck Berry Tribute ES-350T, it is fair to say that it got a fair bit of attention. Berry’s son Charles Jr. and grandson Charlie took ran through a rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” with modern day bluesman Jared James Nichols to a rousing reception at NAMM 2019, setting the tone for the year ahead.

Exciting times ahead

With Gibson kicking off the year so strongly, it has everyone feverishly waiting for the next drop of information to see what they are going to deliver next. All we can say is that Gibson are listening intently to everything that their fans and critics are saying. They are responding dutifully to the demands and wishes of their fanbase and wider audience, and if you thought that what you’ve seen so far is good, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Get in touch

As always you can check out our extensive collection of Gibson models over at the Dawsons website, where you’ll find acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, and accessories. If you prefer to get your hands on something then head to your local Dawsons Music store, and our instore specialists will be more than happy to help.

If you liked that then you might like this

For a recap on what came through last year, check out our article on the “Gibson 2019” range of models.

If you want to rundown on some of Gibson’s most iconic models, then indulge yourself in our “Five Iconic Gibson Models” guide.

If you’ve been wondering what the differences are between the plethora of Gibson pickup options available, then check out our “Guide to Gibson Pickups“.

Finally, check out our “10 Interesting Facts About the SG“, and beef up your Pub Quiz knowledge!

About The Author

Jon Whittaker

Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and - pretty much - everywhere, he joined the Dawsons' Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.