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The Collectics Antiques Information & Education pages are designed to further knowledge of antiques, collectibles, collecting styles, periods, artists, designers, and manufacturers of fine and decorative arts. To learn more, our Antique Collector Bookstore lists only the best collector books and price guides, complied by surveys of top antique dealers and auction houses. For a different shopping experience, you can also browse our featured selections in a fun new way with the Antique Price Guides Slideshow or see current bestsellers by using Collector Books Topic Search.

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Orville Gibson was born in Chateagay, NY in 1856, but he had relocated to Kalamazoo, Michigan by 1881 and worked as a shoe clerk. He had joint passions for both music and woodworking, so to some degree it was natural that he started thinking about mandolin and guitar design. Gibson's research showed that the best vibrating characteristics were found in solid, unbent, unstressed, carved wood. Applying violin construction ideas and inventing some new ones, his new mandolins and guitars had carved tops and backs instead of flat ones. They became an instant success when introduced 1894, and Orville estalished a company to manufacture instruments with his designs. The Gibson Mandolin - Guitar Co. was incorporated on October 11, 1902 with Orville Gibson as a consultant, not as a manager, since he had no interest in running the day to day operations. The next 15 years saw the height of popularity of the mandolin orchestra, and Gibsons were quickly established as the best instruments. Innovations like raised pick guards, intonation - compensating bridges, slimmer necks, and more modern carving techniques developed rapidly, and Gibson sales increased. The company relocated four times, finally opening a factory at 225 Parsons Street in 1917. Because Kalamazoo was located in the furniture manufacturing area of western Michigan, the company had access to the best woodworking machinary available as well as a pool of exceptionally talented woodworkers. Orville Gibson had a vision of combining the best of manufacturing automation and machinery with the find craftsmanship that could only be done by hand. Gibson would buy or invent machines for dangerous or repetitive operations requiring great accuracy, while highly skilled workers for fine hand work or where a musician's ear is needed. Lloyd Loar, a classical mandolinist and acoustical engineer, joined Gibson in 1919 following Orville's death. Loar refined some of Orville's orginal carving concepts, introducing the Master Model F-5 mandolin and L-5 guitar with tuned tops and backs and the first "f" holes on fretted instruments. The F-5 was quickly judged the finest mandolin ever built, while the L-5 became the first guitar to be introduced to the sound of a symphony orchestra.

The 1920's was another period of innovation when bridges with height adjustment, elevated fingerboards, and Thaddeus McHugh's adjustable truss rod were introduced. The truss rod balanced the tension of the strings on the neck to keep the neck in perfect alignment. Gibson also developed banjo concepts in the 1920's such as the tone ring and resonator which revolutionized the tenor banjo of its day and laid the foundation for Earl Scruggs and Bluegrass music 20 years later. By 1924, Loar had a prototype of an electric bass with a strong design emphasis on the pickup and strings. Loar's radical design, ahead of the market by about 30 years, was not accepted by Gibson executives and led to his resignation in 1924. During the Depression, Gibson entered the toy market and expanded its stringed instrument production to include wiolins and an inexpensive Kalamazoo line of acoustic guitars. In 1934, the L-5 was expanded to a larger size to create a sound that could stand up to brass-heavy orchestras of the day, and the new Super 400 was introduced and sold for the staggering sum of $400. This large jazz guitar had the power to cut through any horn section and is considered by many experts to be the high point of arch-top design. Gibson engineers found another way to cut through the horn section, now with the new ES-150 electric guitar. This "Electric Spanish" guitar blended the new technology of magnetic pickups with arch-top design in an instrument designed to be amplified. When Charlie Christian plugged in with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, he turned the guitar into a lead instrument and music would never be the same. During World War II, Gibson's instrument production was suspended as the necessary materials became impossible to obtain. In 1944, the company was bought by Chicago Musical Instruments and resumed production in 1946 to fill an enormous pent-up demand for musical instruments. In 1948, industry veteran Ted McCarty was hired as President and presided over a period of explosive growth in revenues and profits. To fuel the growth, McCarty and his designers developed such guitars as the Les Paul, Byrdland, ES-335, Flying V, Explorer, SG and Firebird electrics, the Hummingbird and Dove acoustics, the Tune-o-matic, stop bar tailpiece, and the humbucking pickup.

Les Paul had been developing the concept of the solid body guitar since the 1930's, but in 1941 he split an arch-top Epiphone in half lengthwise and bolted both sides to a 4" x 4" solid block. This two pickup monster (Les called it "The Log") was not a pretty sight, but it established the idea that solid body instruments had a unique sound and musical future. Les had presented his ideas to Gibson in 1946, but "they poliely ushered me out the door" according to Les Paul. Soon however, Gibson executives recognized the significance and future of Les Paul's solid body design, and Gibson's Les Paul guitar was introduced in 1952. For the first time, 2 woods - maple for the top and mahogany for the back - were combined on a solid instrument for a musical purpose. This balanced the bright attack of maple with the warmth and richness of mahogany. The Tune-o-matic bridge was introduced on the Les Paul guitar in 1954, and humbuckers followed in 1957. When the Les Paul was offered with a cherry sunburst finish in 1958, one of the greatest electric guitar designs ever was firmly established. In 1957, Chicago Musical Instruments bought Epiphone and had all the remaining tooling shipped to Kalamazoo where they began manufacturing Epiphones in 1959. Although they shared parts with Gibson, they preserved many traditional Epiphone guitar names such as Emperor, Sheraton, and Coronet. The 1960's were a period of growth for the music business in general and Gibson in particular, and rock & roll, jazz, and folk music all produced unprecedented demand for guitars. In the 1980's, Gibson engineers took notice of the upsurge in vintage instrument sales and began to revise instruments like the Les Paul and ES-335 to their orginal specifications. In addition, completely new designs like the Chet Atkins CE solid body classic guitar were developed. The Chet Atkins family was expanded with the introduction of the SST and SST-12 string. Guitars like the Les Paul Classic resurrected traditional technology, and instruments like the M-3 set new standards in functional shapes and creative use of electronics. Acoustic instruments and banjos were also improved, historic models revived, and new designs created. Gibson celebrated 100 years of inspired musical instrument design and production in 1994, and Gibson continued to offer a great combination of performance and value for any musical purpose.

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Normans Rare Guitars: 30 Years of Buying Selling & Collecting 2008 Official Vintage Guitar Magazine Price Guide
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