Gibson – Back To Basics

John Hawkins likes to talk about all the changes going on at Gibson guitars, but that's to be expected, since he's Gibson's national advertising manager. He was in town for Willis Music's Gibson Day promotion, along with Jim Hilditch, area representative. The crowd of shoppers in the Willis store was sufficient to cause Hawkins and Hilditch to spend time out in the Mall in front of the store, talking about the company's new direction.

With a brand new factory opening in Boseman, Montana, there is good deal to talk about. The factory, which is currently manufacturing banjo necks, will be making a full line of acoustic guitars, starting with the J-200. Master luthier Steve Carlson, former owner of Flatiron, is the manager of the factory. Carlson brings a great deal of experience in lining up exotic and high-quality wood, particularly curly maple, which is prized by banjo and mandolin makers and players.

The new factory is the most recent move by the new owners of Gibson. Purchased from the multinational corporation Norland Industries three and a half years ago by Chairman Henry Juszkiewicz, David Berryman and Gary Zebrouski, the company is getting back to basics. Bluegrass banjo maker Greg Rich was hired to build pre-World War II standard banjos, and several other master craftsmen were found and hired with the intent to firmly re-establish Gibson in the high-end market for acoustic instruments.

The re-introduction of the L-4 and L-5 archtop, built to the original standards, with only the addition of pickups, is the signal of Gibson's return as a serious player in the acoustic market. An authorized Les Paul model has been added to the Epiphone line and a solid-body acoustic, the SST, has been a big hit with such players as Sting and Guns 'N Roses. Gibson also bought Tobias basses and Steinberger guitars to complete their line of instruments.

Hawkins noted that all of the Gibson line of guitars are American-made and that the Epiphone line may be moved back to the US. A change from print and electronic media advertising to stressing artist relations and retail level promotions has resulted in a tripling of sales during the years of the new ownership, and Hawkins is confident that trend will continue. Judging by the number of guitar cases leaving the Willis store, he would seem to have a solid basis for his prediction.