27 Mar 2014

The History of Gibson Guitars and Other Stringed Instruments

Gibson GuitarWhen it comes to guitars, no one does it better than Gibson. The company, currently based out of Nashville, has a rich history that is unmatched by any other musical enterprises out there.  Gibson Guitar Corporation builds one of the world’s most iconic guitars: The Gibson Les Paul. Designed in collaboration with musician Les Paul himself, the solid-body electric guitar was a hit as soon as it hit the market.

But before we delve a bit further into the unique properties of the Les Paul, let’s take a quick look at Gibson’s earlier history.

1898: Gibson’s founder, Orville Gibson, patents a single-piece mandolin design that is much more durable than other models on the market. It can also be manufactured in high volume, making it a nice addition to a fast-growing business portfolio. Back then, Gibson’s instruments were sold out of a one-room workshop in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

1918: Orville Gibson dies.

1919: The company hires sound engineer Lloyd Loar to create new instruments. Among his most famous creations are the Gibson F5 mandolin in 1922. Loar leaves the company in 1924.

1936: Gibson introduces its first “Electronic Spanish” model (ES-150). This is followed by other electric stringed instruments, including banjos, mandolins and steel guitars. 

1952: Gibson sells its very first Les Paul, which boasts the following advantages:

  • Solid-body design, resulting in less amplifier feedback and the ability to sustain notes for longer durations than hollow-body electric guitars
  • Trapeze-style bridge and tailpiece
  • Steels fitted under a steel-top bar, instead of over it

Gibson continued on this path until the late 1950s when interest in the Les Paul started to wither. By then, the once-beloved guitar was suddenly considered too heavy and old-fashioned.  Fender’s Stratocaster had put up some fierce competition and was outselling Gibson’s prized model. By 1961, the company stopped producing the original Les Paul and decided to push forward with a redesign. This revamped model was called the SG.

Oddly enough, the mid-1960s saw a revival period for the Les Paul. And that resurgence was all due to one man, Eric Clapton. When recording ‘Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton’, the singer had plugged a Les Paul into a Marshall 1961 guitar amplifier. The sound that originated from the merging of these two pieces is what set the sound and standard for ‘British blues-rock’. Other musicians began experimenting with this new discovery, sending sales of Les Pauls to new heights over the next several years. The company eventually introduced a new version of the famed guitar model. A series of other instruments were also launched in the same blueprint as the Les Gibson — contributing to the continued success of this iconic company!

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