What famous guitar company dates all the way back to 1894? That would be Gibson, created right here in Michigan...Kalamazoo, to be exact.

Born in 1856, Orville Gibson was the man responsible, who started making string instruments as a hobby when he was 38. After word got out and a few sales were made, public interest took off. In 1902 he acquired the cash needed to open up the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company.

1930s: Epiphone Guitar Company is Gibson’s biggest rival
1935: Gibson’s first attempt at manufacturing an electric guitar
1944: Gibson was bought out by the Chicago Musical Instrument Company
1948: Leo Fender begins mass-producing guitars and becomes Gibson’s main rival 1951: Guitarist Les Paul joins forces with Gibson to manufacture his own guitar brand 1957: Gibson buys Epiphone Guitars, turning it into a ‘budget’ line of guitars
1958: The Les Paul Standard guitar is released
1960: The Les Paul stops manufacturing due to poor sales
1965: The rock boom  causes 100,000 guitar sales for Gibson
1974: Gibson becomes part of Norlin Industries, bringing about a decline in quality 1974: Gibson opens another facility in Nashville, Tennessee
1983: Gibson leaves Kalamazoo permanently. The factory is taken over by Heritage Guitars
1986: Gibson is bankrupt 1986 and is purchased by David Berryman, bringing a resurgence
1987: Slash from Guns ‘n Roses makes the Les Paul guitar cool again

97.9 WGRD logo
Get our free mobile app

I bought my first bass guitar in 1966; in 1967 I traded it in and had to pay an extra $500 for a Gibson EB2, sunburst with fuzz switch. It was worth it. I still have it.

The 60s seemed to be all about Gibson guitars...it was the one you had to have - Fenders came in second. Many of Michigan's local garage bands had at least one or two members that owned a Gibson. All of us who did have one were disappointed (and mad) that they decided to tear down that iconic Gibson smokestack that had been up for decades. It meant that Michigan's Gibson reign was truly over.

What a legacy...unfortunately, Orville Gibson passed away in 1918, at the age of 62, wayyy before he could witness the outstanding success and heritage his company brought to the world.

The images below are from a Gibson documentary that was made in 1967 and unseen by the public until recently.

Gibson Guitar Company, Kalamazoo


Old Michigan Musicians: 1865-1952

Michigan Rock Musician, John Petersen

More From 97.9 WGRD