The Gibson Guitar Corporation, formerly of Kalamazoo, Michigan and currently of Nashville, Tennessee, manufactures guitars and other instruments which sell under a variety of brand names. With a history of over a century, Gibson has been one of the companies that have revolutionized the development of the acoustic and the electric guitar, and along the way have built one of the world's most iconic guitars, the Gibson Les Paul. Many of their instruments continue to increase in value, and some Gibsons are among the most collectible guitars.
The company was founded by Orville Gibson, who made mandolins in Kalamazoo, in the late 1890s. He invented archtop guitars by using the same type of carved, arched tops found on violins. By the 1930s, the company was also making flattop acoustic guitars, as well as one of the first commercially available hollow-body electric guitars, used and popularized by Charlie Christian. Gibson was at the forefront of innovation in acoustic guitars, especially in the big band era of the 1930s; the Gibson Super 400 was widely imitated. In the early 1950s, Gibson introduced its first solid-body electric guitar and in 1952 began producing its most popular guitar to date—the Les Paul, designed by Ted McCarty and Les Paul. After being purchased by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s Gibson's quality and fortunes took a steep decline until early 1986, when the company was acquired by its present owners. Gibson Guitar is a privately held corporation owned by its chief executive officer Henry Juszkiewicz and its president David H. Berryman.
Orville Gibson (born 1856, Chateaugay, New York) started making mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States. The mandolins were distinctive in that they featured a carved, arched solid wood top and back and bent wood sides. Prior to this, mandolins had a flat solid wood top and a bowl-like back similar to a lute. These bowl-back mandolins were very fragile and unstable. Disdainful of the shape, Orville Gibson characterized them as "potato bugs". Gibson's innovation made a distinctive, darker-sounding mandolin that was easier to manufacture in large numbers. Orville Gibson's mandolin design, with its single-pieced carved sides and a single-pieced neck, was patented in 1898; it would be the only innovation he patented. Orville Gibson died in 1918 of endocarditis (inflammation of the inside lining of the heart chambers and valves).
Orville Gibson began to sell his unique instruments in 1894 out of a one-room workshop in Kalamazoo Michigan. In 1902 Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd. was incorporated to market the instruments. Initially, the company produced only Orville Gibson's original designs. Aware of changing trends, the company hired designer Lloyd Loar in 1919 to create newer instruments.
During the 1920s Gibson was responsible for many innovations in banjo*, guitar and mandolin design. In 1922, the Gibson F5 mandolin model was introduced. That particular model later became known as the ultimate bluegrass mandolin. Gibson soon became the leading manufacturer of archtop guitars, particularly theL-5 model, also a Loar design. Loar left the company in 1924.
In the 1930s, Gibson began exploring the concept of an electric guitar. In 1936 they introduced their first "Electric Spanish" model, the ES-150. Other companies were producing electric guitars but the Gibson is generally recognized as the first commercially successful electric guitar. Other instruments were also "electrified"; such as steel guitars, banjos and mandolins.
During World War II, instrument manufacturing basically stopped at Gibson due to shortages of wood and metal. Only a few instruments were made with whatever parts were at hand. Gibson did war production instead, making wood parts for various military needs. Such shortages continued for a few years after the war and the only notable change occurred in 1946 when the Gibson name on the instrument headstock changed from a cursive script to the block style used to this day. This is seen at the head of the information block at top.
In 1944 Gibson was purchased by Chicago Musical Instruments, which took over marketing and sales of Gibson products while allowing the Kalamazoo factory to operate largely independently.
The ES-175 was introduced in 1949. The model has seen some variations over the years but it is still in production.