Gibson vintage guitars have their roots in Kalamazoo, Michigan where, in 1894, an eccentric, self-taught luthier named Orville H. Gibson began making stringed instruments using the archtop design of violins as his guide. Although he began by making both guitars and mandolins, his first and only patent was granted in 1898 for a mandolin design.
Orville Gibson sold his company in 1902 and died in 1918, but his early affinity for mandolins presaged the first major success for the company that bore his name. In 1922, a Gibson engineer named Lloyd Loar designed the F5 mandolin, which featured an elevated fretboard over the instrument’s body and decorative f-holes.
Banjos would dominate the mid-1920s to mid-1930s for Gibson, but all along the company continued to make guitars. It was not recognized as a leader in this field until the 1930s when the guitar enjoyed a rise in popularity.
As with the Loar mandolin, these new 1930s Gibson guitars were archtops, usually with a trapeze tailpiece below the bridge to secure the strings and pickguards that seemed to float above the instrument’s body. The L4s of this period, which are not especially collectible despite their age, had round soundholes. The L5s, which are far more collectible, had f-holes. Other models of the day are the L7, L10, and L12, none of which were as desirable then — or as collectible today — as the L5.
The 1930s was also the decade when Gibson introduced its first electric guitars. Jazz guitarist Charlie Christian made the 1936 ES-150 famous — today, that guitar’s pickup is actually known as a Charlie Christian. After World War II, during which the company halted production due to a lack of supplies, Gibson introduced its first solid body electric guitar, the Les Paul.
There is some debate about who actually designed the Les Paul, which was introduced as a Goldtop in 1952. To hear guitarist Les Paul tell it, he is the man responsible for his namesake, but guitar author and collector George Gruhn believes the great musician may have had little do to with its design, and historians generally give Gibson president Ted McCarty most of the credit.
The collectibility of Les Pauls varies greatly depending on their vintage. Of the original, Standard models, the first Sunbursts are considered the Mother Lode of Les Pauls and e...
Another Gibson line that has proved very collectible are semi-hollow body ES 335s from 1958-1964, although the presence of a Bigsy vibrato on the guitar (a so-called whammy bar) makes it less valuable.
Key terms for Gibson Vintage Guitars:
Archtop: A stringed musical instrument whose top is rounded, either by carving a solid piece of wood or subjecting a laminated sheet to heat so it can be molded into the desired shape.
Sunburst: A finish for musical instruments that is light in the center and darker around the edges. Two of the most common sunbursts are cherry (yellow in the center fading to reddish on the outside) and three-color (yellow in the center, then reddish, then black at the edges).
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Gibson Guitar factory smokestack found structurally sound after second inspectionWKZO, January 23rd
KALAMAZOO (WKZO) -- The smokestack on the site of the former Gibson Guitar factory on Parsons Street in Kalamazoo will not be destroyed. An initial inspection of the aging structure suggested that the collapse of the smokestack was imminent and that it ...Read more
Gibson Guitars smokestack seen up close by Kalamazoo Gazette photographer ...MLive.com, January 21st
KALAMAZOO, MI — I got a phone call Tuesday morning from a friend who works at the Heritage Guitar Company letting me know that a "boom" was parked alongside the railroad tracks behind the old Gibson Guitar factory. A crew was going up to the boiler ...Read more
Gibson Unveils Les Paul Reference MonitorsPremier Guitar, January 20th
Nashville, TN (January 20, 2015) -- Gibson Brands, Inc. continues to honor the roots of Les Paul, who first pioneered the solid body electric guitar and later introduced multitrack recording with the release of the Gibson Les Paul Reference Monitors...Read more
Alternative fixes have been considered for old Gibson Guitar factory ...MLive.com, January 19th
KALAMAZOO, MI – A manager of the property that includes the former Gibson Guitar Company factory says his company and PlazaCorp Realty Advisors have been considering alternatives to demolishing the factory's smokestack. Rick DeKam, property ...Read more
WWII vet's guitar appreciates to $25K while neglected for half a centuryYahoo News, January 14th
Stutman explains that the J-35 was Gibson's first guitar to sell well and set the standard for most of their subsequent models. Many of the features of the J-45, widely considered Gibson's most popular acoustic guitar, were already present in the J-35...Read more
What's Semi-hollow, Hot and Cool? Six New Guitars from Gibson MemphisGibson, January 14th
Think of the fresh 2015 crop of semi-hollow and hollow body guitars from Gibson's Memphis factory as the good, the bad — as in wicked, hot, slaying, and awesome — and the beautiful. These instruments promise nothing less than a new chapter in the ...Read more
Smokestack bricks from Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo are likely to be ...MLive.com, January 14th
KALAMAZOO, MI -- PlazaCorp Realty Advisors says consideration has been given to saving the bricks from the former Gibson Guitar Company smokestack and possibly using them if the Kalamazoo Enterprise Center building is redeveloped. But the decision ...Read more
Former Gibson Guitar smokestack in line for demolition pending permit reviewMLive.com, January 12th
KALAMAZOO, MI – Demolition of the old Gibson Guitar factory smokestack on Kalamazoo's North Side is being planned, but will not start immediately. The new owner of the Kalamazoo Enterprise Center building, 225 Parsons St., needs to properly complete a ...Read more