History of Gibson Guitars

Gibson Guitars Corporation is probably the best known of all the world’s thousands of guitar companies. They have had numerous hugely successful and iconic guitars in their range, most of which are still made today. Such guitars include the Les Paul, which is Gibson’s, if not the world’s best known guitar, and the ES-335, Explorer, Flying V , Firebird and SG models to name only a few.

The company was established in 1902 making mandolins and acoustic guitars. The company pioneered the style of mandolin now most used by players. The main Gibson headquarters are in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA. The company’s founder was Orville Gibson (1856-1918). Some of Gibson’s 1910s and ‘20s acoustic guitars include the L-5, one of the world’s first arch-top guitars. In 1936 the company made the semi-acoustic ES-150, which was widely acknowledged as the first successful electric guitar (the first electric guitar was made by Rickenbacker and was known as the Frying Pan, due to its shape The ES-150 was also the first to have a conventionally shaped body). This was the first radical Gibson instrument since Gibson pioneered arch-top acoustic guitars in the 1920s. 

In about 1950-51, Gibson had seen how successful Fender’s new Telecaster model was becoming- the Telecaster, or Tele for short, was the world’s first solid bodied electric guitar which was sold properly to the public. After noticing how successful the Tele was, Gibson were driven to make a solid-body of their own, and collaborated with famed jazz guitarist Les Paul. The new model took his name and has become immensely successful over its 56 year lifespan (as of 2008) at the hands of players such as Slash, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Keith Richards, Les Paul himself and countless more players.

In 1958 Gibson took a huge gamble with the three-guitar Modernistic series, made up of the Explorer, Flying V and Moderne. This series was sparked by people saying that Gibson’s rivals Fender were more imaginative and modern with their Stratocaster and Telecaster designs.

Initially the series was very unsuccessful, with less than 200 made in total (of all three guitars) until the demise of the series in 1959. This now appears somewhat ironic, as the Explorer and Flying V have gone on to become two of the world’s most successful and iconic guitars. However, the Moderne was never as successful, sadly. In 1958-9, the original production run, not one example was shipped, although some collectors are desperately searching for a single example. A 1958 Moderne will probably never surface, although it was “reissued” in 1982, and was only marginally more successful.

In 1977 Gibson filed a lawsuit against Japanese guitar company Ibanez, for making nearly identical copies of their Les Paul and Les Paul Junior models. Ibanez lost the lawsuit and moved on to make the radical Iceman model and to become a pioneer of the Superstrat movement- Stratocaster shape guitars with 24 frets, different pickups, normally no scratchplate and deeper cutaways. Also, in 2005 Gibson sued American company PRS, who normally make double cutaway guitars, but also have a single cutaway model similar to the Les Paul in shape. This lawsuit was unsuccessful and PRS continue to make the Singlecut model.

It was around this time that Gibson purchased guitar company Epiphone, who were known for making semi-acoustic guitars similar to Gibson’s designs. Epiphone became a subsidiary of Gibson and now make more affordable versions of Gibson’s famous designs alongside their own models.

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