The Gibson Guitar Corporation, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, is a manufacturer of acoustic and electric guitars. Gibson also owns and makes guitars under such brands as Epiphone, Kramer, Valley Arts, Tobias, Steinberger, and Kalamazoo. In addition to guitars, the company makes pianos through its Baldwin unit, Slingerland drums, as well as many accessory items. Company founder Orville Gibson made mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, 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 the first commercially available hollow-body electric guitars, which were used and popularized by Charlie Christian. In the early 1950s, Gibson introduced its first solid-body electric guitar and its most popular guitar to date – the Les Paul. After being bought by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s Gibson’s quality and fortunes took a steep decline until early 1986, when the company was rescued by its present owners. Gibson Guitar is a privately held corporation (company stock is not publicly traded on a stock exchange), owned by chief executive officer Henry Juszkiewicz and president David H. (Dave) 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) made of multiple strips of wood. 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).
In 1880 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 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 the L-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.