Orville Gibson philosophy: Employ highly qualified people who have handicrafts, craftsmanship, a feeling for the instrument as well as a good musical ear. Orville Gibson

workshop Orville Gibson

workshop Orville Gibson, Kalamazoo

catalog 1942

Gibson catalogue 1942

Lloyd Loar

Lloyd Loar

Mandolin F5

F-5 Mandolin

Gibson L-5
detail es-150

ES 150 (1937)

Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian with the Gibson ES-150

Gibson fabriek

The old Gibson factory early seventies



Gibson SG

Gibson SG

digitale Les Paul digitale Les Paul

The digital HD.6X-PRO


For more than 100 years, quality and innovation have been the foundations of the success of one of the world's greatest guitar builders.

Orville H. Gibson was born on May 8, 1856 in van Chateaugay, New York.
He was the youngest of the family with five (brothers Orzo and Lovell, and sisters Pluma and Emma) from father John W. and mother Amy Nichols Gibson. Orville's father was an immigrant from England and his mother Amy was from New York.

In 1881 he moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to work as a clerk in a small shoe store. In his spare time he played the guitar. The love and passion for music led him to think about the design of guitars and mandolins.

In the early eighties of the 19th century he started his own business and rented a small workshop measuring three by four meters. To get quality wood, he took apart furniture made from spruce, walnut and cedar wood. He then built mandolins and guitars from it. When Orville Gibson was working in his small music store in Kalamazoo in 1894, he could not yet imagine the influence of his instruments in the course of the history of music.

Orville Gibson created a completely new style of guitars and mandolins and thus laid the foundation for the production of one of the noblest musical instruments that the world had seen until then. He discovered that untreated solid and mature wood led to the best results. Inspired by violin art, he did not construct his guitars and mandolins as usual with a flat, but with a curved body. Orville 'tuned' the top and back blade into a complementary resonance unit, by giving soft blows with a chisel. This time-consuming construction required more than a month per instrument. But his designs became a resounding success immediately after their introduction in 1894.

Because demand quickly reached a size that Orville could no longer meet, he was forced to set up his own company that could produce these instruments. Thus, on October 12, 1902, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co. Ltd. a fact. In the following 15 years, the mandolin orchestras experienced their heyday, and Gibson became the number 1 instrument manufacturer.

Orville Gibson had his own theory about the production process: He believed in a combination of manual work and machining to build as many high-quality instruments as possible. At that time, two basic principles of the Gibson philosophy were established, which still apply today:
1. Employ highly qualified people who possess craftsmanship, a feeling for the
    instrument as well as a good musical ear.
2. Use machines where the work process is repeated over and over again or for
    which extreme precision is required.

Lloyd Loar

The mandolin virtuoso, composer and acoustic engineer Lloyd Loar, was born on January 9, 1886 in Illinois and was at home in classical music. A year after the death of Orville Gibson, in 1918 Lloyd Loar joined Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co. Ltd. employed.
He was a pioneer in the development of the electric guitar. In 1923 he applied for a patent for the electrostatic pickup and in 1934, together with Lewis A. Williams, founded the Acoustic-Lectric Co. in Kalamazoo. They produced acoustic guitars, mandolins, mandolas (10-string violins), mando cellos (also 10-string) and also magnetic pickups for guitars. They also brought an electric violin to the market.

Loar made some improvements to Orville's original designs, which resulted in the production of F-5 and L-5, mandolin and guitars series respectively. These were the first wound string instruments with 'F' holes. The F-5 mandolin soon became a legend and the L-5 guitar model clearly appreciated the position of the guitarists within jazz orchestras. The guitar soon replaced the tenor banjo, as an accompanying rhythm instrument, and laid the foundation for the conquest of the music world by the guitar. The L-7, L-10 L-12 and the L-150 were released around 1922.

Gibson produced some innovations in the 1920s, such as a height-adjustable comb and the adjustable neck developed by Thaddeus (Ted) McHugh, which was patented in 1921. Easy and direct to handle, the adjustable neck offered the possibility of counteracting the stretching of the strings, thereby achieving a perfect string length.

Often the Gibson innovations of general development were years, sometimes even decades ahead. An example of this is Loar's prototype of an electric double bass in 1924, which at that time already had many characteristics of the current generation of bass guitars. But Loar's radical ideas encounter incomprehension in Gibson management. Lloyd Loar therefore left the company in the same year. Together with two other employees, and they set up the 'Vivi- Tone Company' that introduced various electrical instruments, including Loar's ingenious electric double bass. However, these attempts did not get the attention they deserved, because they were far ahead of their time. As a result, the company had to stop its activities.

The economic depression in the late 1920s also hit the Gibson Company. Gibson even produced temporary toys to survive. Ironically, Gibson also produced instruments that originally inspired Orville Gibson. His mandolins and guitars were made according to a new concept. The development of new guitar models was not neglected even in these difficult times. The new, larger L-5 was introduced in the early 1930s. An entirely new model was also introduced to the market at that time for the not-too-small amount of $400,00. This jazz guitar with its extremely large body could even handle sections of a large orchestra with the wind. Many still see this model as the coronation of guitar-making art. Around 1932 Gibson made the Super 400 and an adapted version of the L-series, since guitars with all kinds of F-holes became very popular.

In 1934 the time was right for the first electric guitar, the ES-150.

This guitar combined the tried and tested Gibson models with magnetic coils, which offered the possibility to play them through amplifiers. The success of this first electric guitar is inseparably linked to one name: Charlie Christian. The pickups on this guitar were named after him.
This young musician raised the electric guitar to solo instrument through his unmistakable riddles in Benny Goodman's band, in which he played from 1939 to 1941. He played like a blazer and his single-string soli strongly deviated from the existing approach in which the melody was played with chords. In less than five years Christian caused a revolution in playing technique and together with people like Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young and Charlie Parker he developed the bebop. This completely new function of the guitar conquered the world in a short time and until now sets the tone in all facets of popular music. Charlie Christian died at the age of twenty-three.

Gibson also built acoustic basses. They started with this in 1937.
The violin-shaped EB-1 (Electric Bass 1) was released in 1953 and reintroduced in 1969. This was followed by the double-cutaway EB-2 bass guitar in 1958, EB-O in 1959, the six-string bass EB-6 in 1959, EB-OF with built-in fuzz in 1962, the Thunderbird in 1963 (redesigned in 1965), EB-3 Les Paul Bass in 1970, Les Paul Triumph in 1971, Les Paul Signature in 1973, L9-S in 1973, Grabber and Ripper in 1974, and the RD artist and RD-standard 9 in 1978.

Amplifiers for Gibson were made in the 1930s by Lyon & Healy, while in the 1940s the BR series was released, named after the designer Barnes Reinecke. The Les Paul amplifier and the GA series were produced in the 1950s and early 1960s. Piggybacks, with its separate amplifier and separate speaker cabinet, and case amplifiers such as, Titan, Mercury, and Atlas, appeared in 1963, while shortly thereafter the GSS solid-state models were launched.

During WW II, the production of instruments at Gibson had to be temporarily suspended due to scarcity of materials. Gibson was taken over by the Chicago Musical Instruments (CMI) company in 1944. CMI started production again in 1946, and with the appointment of Ted McCarty in 1948 a new era began for Gibson.

Ted McCarty

Theodore (Ted) McCarty

During the period that McCarty took over at Gibson, from 1950 to 1966, the company became an economic boom. The innovation of the electric guitars of models such as Les Paul, ES-335, Byrdland, Explorer, SG, Flying-V and Firebird, which brought the McCarty team to market, were the guarantee of this success. The development of the Humbucker pickups and many other new developments also emerged in the period.

As early as 1946, Les Paul had presented the Gibson firm with a solid-body electric guitar design. But the sale of the traditional Gibson models went so well that Les Paul was initially rejected with his design. But soon McCarty changed his mind and contacted Les Paul again.
In 1952 the first model of this now famous guitar came on the market. For the first time, two types of wood were combined, maple for the upper and mahogany for the underside, to connect the brilliant sound characteristic of the maple and the warm, full sound of the mahogany. In 1956 the traditional bridge was replaced by the 'Tune-O-Matic' bridge, and in 1957 Humbucker pickups were installed.
The introduction of the Cherry Sunburst Les Paul followed in 1958, becoming one of the most beautifully built electric guitars of all time. Epiphone was taken over by CMI in 1957 and in 1959 the production of Epiphone instruments began.

The ES-335T (later ES-335TD) was first produced in 1958. This semi-acoustic guitar was copied a lot by other companies. More than a thousand are sold every year. Other semi-acoustic guitars were also introduced, including the ES-355. The flat-top LG-O that was entirely made of mahogany was made in large numbers. The annual turnover of this model regularly exceeded Gibson's total annual turnover in the first 25 years of the last century. The factory was expanded no less than eight times during this successful period. The demand for Gibson instruments was so great that they had orders for years..

In the 1960s there was a huge growth in the music business, both in a general sense and especially for Gibson. The explosive spread of the Rock 'n' Roll, Jazz and Folk offered unprecedented opportunities for guitars. All major instrument manufacturers, led by Gibson, started experimenting with new materials. Design and production alternated in short distances to be able to follow current trends.

Norlin period
CMI was acquired on December 22, 1969 by Ecuadorian Company Ltd (ECL). Until 1974 Gibson remained under the control of CMI and a new company was started, 'Norlin Musical Instruments'. This period was characterized by deteriorating quality and business mismanagement.
A new Gibson manufacturing facility in Nashville, Tennessee went into operation in 1975. Between 1976 and 1984, production was moved from Kalamazoo to Nashville, Tennessee. The Kalamazoo factory continued to operate as a Customshop until 1984. In January 1986, Norlin was sold again.

Gibson was also aware of the resession of the early 1980s. Looking for new ways, the Gibson team discovered a stronger interest in Vintage instruments. That is why Gibson brought classics like Les Paul and the ES-335 back to the market with their original specifications. At the same time, a completely new model was released with the 'Chet Atkins'.
Norlin was sold again in January 1986.

In addition to the Les Paul, the SG is also a very successful Gibson guitar.
In 1960 the sales figures of the Les Paul started to decline. To bring this back on track, it was decided to modernize the guitar.
The body got a thinner and flat-topped of mahogany with more contours. The neck was also made thinner and the heel smaller.
The neck joint was moved by 3 frets to make the upper frets easier to reach. With the new and simpler body construction, the production costs would be a lot cheaper. The SG was introduced in 1961 as the Gibson Les Paul SG.

All this happened without the knowledge or consultation of Les Paul himself, and he was very dissatisfied with the quality, such as the strength of body and neck.
Les therefore also asked Ted McCarty to terminate his contract with Gibson.
This request was granted, and his name was removed from the guitar.
The new guitar is now called SG, which stands for "Solid Guitar".

In early 1986, Gibson was sold to Henry Juszkiewicz and David Berryman, who manage the company to date. With the knowledge of the long Gibson tradition in instrument building and the basics to produce every Gibson instrument with the highest quality level, the new Gibson team joined, to continue consistently in the spirit of Orville Gibson and Ted McCarty.

Henry Juszkiewicz

Henry Juszkiewicz and David Berryman

Gibson celebrated its centenary in 1994, and both then and now Gibson instruments offer an unbeatable combination of quality and sound for every musical genre.

They are currently working on a digital Les Paul guitar with ethernet connection. The interface is up to 30,000 times faster than the older midi standard. Gibson has been working on the MaGIC concept for a while: a protocol that makes transport over Ethernet cables a lot faster than we are used to. With a normal Cat5 cable, Gibson can now send 32 channels of audio at 192 kHz back and forth in real time.

An adapter is applied to the guitar that converts the vibrations of the strings and translates them into a digital signal. Sending the data packets from guitar to amplifier "30 to 30,000 times as fast" as a normal midi interface. That is a very wide margin, but the accuracy of, for example, a printed (raised) or vibrating tone is a lot greater than with midi. Midi is a 10-bit signal with a bandwidth of only 31.25 Kbit per second. MaGIC packages are 32 bit and even have a delay of less than 250 nanoseconds over a 100-meter Ethernet cable. In addition to audio itself, MaGIC can also send 100 midi signals simultaneously.

There are still some disadvantages to the digital guitar. For example, the adjustment of the pick up is extremely accurate. The prototype - a digital sunburst Les Paul - did not sound very stable yet. Gibson will therefore not remove the analog output on the Les Pauls, SGs and ES guitars for the time being.