In 1894, Orville Gibson created the first documented Gibson instrument in his Kalamazoo, MI wood shop. He continued to produce instruments, particularly acoustic guitars and mandolins with the arch-top design of a violin.
In 1902, Orville entered into an agreement with five financiers and formed the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company. About 20 years later, the company’s employee, Ted McHugh, developed the adjustable truss rod and height-adjustable bridge, both great guitar innovations still in use today. By the late 1920s, Gibson was producing a few flattop models and an economy series.
Gibson’s first electric guitar, the Hawaiian style EH-150, was introduced in 1935. Nine years later, as WWII neared its end, the Chicago Musical Instrument Company purchased the company.
Gibson saw major innovations in the years following the war. Ted McCarty, company president from 1950 to 1966, perfected the P-90 single coil pickup and introduced the first triple-pickup guitar (ES-5). In 1952, Les Paul was enlisted by the company for their launch of their first solid body electric. This instrument became dubbed, appropriately, the “Les Paul Model.” Two years later, McCarty invented the tune-o-matic bridge, which features individually adjustable saddles.
Seth Lover, Gibson engineer, perfected the humbucker in 1957. The next year, the company introduced two new innovations: the ES-335 (a semi-hollow-body electric guitar) and three futuristic body styles (the Flying V, the Explorer, and the Moderne).
The mid-60s marked the beginning of a tough time for Gibson. Their parent company, CMI, merged with an Ecuadorian brewery called FCL, in 1969. The companies merged to form Norlin, which included Gibson guitars, Moog synthesizers, and Lowrey pianos and organs. The company’s Nashville plant opened in 1974, and production was split between the new facility and the plant in Kalamazoo.
Norlin was purchased by Rooney Pace and Piezo Electric Products in 1983. The new owners put the Gibson music division up for sale. The Kalamazoo plant shut down and the Nashville facility became their headquarters. Just three years later, Henry Juszkiewicz and David Berryman purchased the company.
Gibson debuted the Nighthawk in 1994 to mark its centennial. This instrument would win an award for Most Innovative Guitar at the January NAMM show. In 2002, the company introduced the world’s first digital guitar to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Les Paul Model. The next year, the company opened a plant in China to manufacture Epiphones, and the Gibson Foundation was formed.
In 2014, the company celebrated its 120th anniversary.
Learn more on Gibson’s website.