Orville Gibson

Luthier Orville H. Gibson was born in Chateaugay, New York. In 1856 he moved West to Kalamazoo, Michigan. City records from 1896-1897 indicate a business address of 114 South Burdick for O.H. Gibson, Manufacturer, Musical Instruments. By 1899-1902, the city directories indicate a change to the Second Floor of 104 East Main.

The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company, Limited was established at 2:55 p.m. on October 11, 1902. Theagreement was formed by John W. Adams (pres.), Samuel H. Van Horn (treasurer), Sylvo Reams (sec. and also production mgr.), Lewis Williams (later secretary and gen. mgr.), and Leroy Hornbeck. Orville Gibson was not one of the founding partners, but had a separate contract to be a consultant and trainer. Gibson was also the first to purchase 500 shares of the new company's stock.

In 1915, Gibson and the company negotiated a new agreement in which Orville was to be paid a monthly salary for the rest of his life. Orville, who had some troubles with his health back in 1911, was treated in 1916 at the psychiatric center of St. Lawrence State hospital in Ogdensburg, New York. Orville Gibson died of endocarditis on August 21, 1918.

In 1906 the company moved to 116 East Exchange Place, and the name was changed to Gibson Mandolin Guitar Company. In 1917, production facilities were opened at Parsons Street (the first of a total of five buildings at that location). Chicago Musical Instruments (CMI) acquired controlling interest in Gibson, Inc. in 1944. Maurice H. Berlin (president of CMI) became general secretary and treasurer of Gibson. From this date, the Gibson Sales Department became located in Chicago while the Kalamazoo plant concentrated on production.

In 1935, Gibson began investigating into a prototype electric pickup. Musician Alvino Rey started research with engineers at the Lyon & Healy company (See WASHBURN) in Chicago, and a year later the research was moved in house to Kalamazoo. In late 1935, Gibson debuted the hexagonal pickup on a lap steel model; this same pickup was applied to an archtop guitar and offered as the ES (Electric Spanish) 150 in 1936. The ES-150 was used by jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, and this model is still known as the "Charlie Christian" model.

After the release of Leo Fender's Broadcaster (later Telecaster) model, Gibson and guitarist Les Paul collaborated in the release of the solid body Gibson Les Paul in 1952. This model was refined with the introduction of the tune-o-matic bridge/stop tailpiece combination, and P.A.F. humbuckers through the 1950s. Under the direction of then Gibson president Ted McCarty, the Gibson company attempted to throw off the tag of being "stodgy" and old fashioned when they introduced the Flying V and Explorer models in the late 1950s. In this case, they pre-judged the public's tastes by about 10 years! As guitar players' tastes changed in the late 1950s, Gibson discontinued the single cutaway Les Paul model in favor of the double cutaway SG in 1960. As the popularity of the electric blues (as championed by Eric Clapton and Michael Bloomfield) grew during the 1960s, Gibson reissued the Les Paul in 1968.

Gibson acquired Epiphone in 1957, and production of Gibson-made Epiphones began in 1959, and lasted until 1969. In 1970, production moved to Japan (or, the Epiphone name was then applied to imported instruments). In December of 1969, E.C.L. Industries, Inc. took control of CMI. Gibson, Inc. stayed under control of CMI until 1974, when it became a subsidiary of NORLIN Industries (Norlin is named after H. Norton Stevens, President of E.C.L. and Maurice H. Berlin, President of CMI). A new factory was opened in Nashville, Tennessee the same year.

In 1980, Norlin decided to sell Gibson. Norlin also relocated some of the sales, marketing, administration, and finance personnel from Chicago to the Nashville plant. Main Gibson production was then handled in Nashville, and Kalamazoo became a specialist factory for custom orders. In 1983, then-Gibson president Marty Locke informed plant manager Jim Deurloo that the Kalamazoo plant would close. Final production was June 1984, and the plant closed three months later. [On a side note: Rather than give up on the 65 year old facilities, Jim Deurloo, Marv Lamb, and J.P. Moats started the Heritage Guitar Company in April of 1985. The company is located in the original 1917 building.]

In January of 1986, Henry Juszkiewicz (pres), David Berryman (VP of finance and accounting), and Gary Zebrowski (electronics business) bought Gibson for five million dollars. Since the purchase in 1986, the revived Gibson USA company has been at work to return to the level of quality the company had reached earlier. Expansion of the acoustic guitar production began at the Bozeman, Montana facilities. Many hard rock bands and guitarists began playing (and posing) with Gibson guitars, again fueling desire among the players. Gibson's Historic Collection models were introduced in 1991, and custom pieces built at Gibson's Custom Shop began sporting their own Gibson Custom * Art * Historic logo on the headstock in 1996.

This new division is responsible for producing Historic Collection models, commemorative guitars, custom-ordered and special edition guitars, as well as restoration and repair of vintage models. In the tail end of 1996, both the Dobro production facilities in California and the Montana mandolin guitar facilities were closed down. New production facilities for both named Original Acoustic Instruments (O.A.I.) were opened in Nashville, Tennessee, and just recently moved into the new Gibson Bluegrass Showcase at the Opry Mills mega-mall. The Bozeman, Montana operation was reopened during late 1997, and most acoustic guitars (with the exception of the Chet Atkins series) are now made in their expanded and redesigned facility.

In 1998, Gibson opened up a new dealer level for specialty guitars. The Gibson Historic Collection Award models are only available through the (estimated) 50 Award Level dealers, and feature specific year/model designated instruments at an upscale price. Whether or not Gibson is building "reproductions" with these designated models, the bottom line is that they are damn fine instruments that any Gibson fan would be honored to own (and play).
(Source: Walter Carter, Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon; and Tom Wheeler, American Guitars)

Acoustic instruments are currently produced in Nashville, TN from 1974 to date, and in Bozeman, MT from 1997 to date. Most acoustic models are now produced in the Bozeman, MT production facility. Distributed by the Gibson Guitar Corporation of Nashville, Tennessee. Acoustic instruments were previously produced in Kalamazoo, MI from 1896 to 1901. The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company, Limited (which evolved into the Gibson Guitar Corporation) produced acoustic instruments in Kalamazoo, MI from 1902 to 1984.

For much more information on the various models produced by Gibson the Blue Book makes a handy reference tool. Available from:

Blue Book Publications, Inc.
8009 34th Avenue South, Suite 175
Minneapolis, MN 55425 U.S.A.
Phone: 800-877-4867 (U.S.A. and Canada orders only)
Phone: 952-854-5229
FAX: 952-853-1486
Web site: www.bluebookinc.com>

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