Gibson Original Series

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by Gary in Boston, May 9, 2019.

  1. Gary in Boston

    Gary in Boston Friend of Leo's

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    Thanks, oddly most of, if not all the music we collectively cherish was performed on stock, standard, even budget guitars. So if Gibson wants to issue a straight ahead "standard" or "junior" or "special" in the three price categories then it makes perfect sense and we can all go back to making music instead of aspiring to own a Gibson so we can look at it on the wall or under glass etc etc.
     
  2. stanger

    stanger Tele-Meister

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    Gibson owned factories in Nashville, Bozeman and Memphis domestically, and owned a factory in China before the bankruptcy. Each is a separate division with different managers and staff. The products overlapped somewhat, but Nashville makes almost all of the solid-body electric guitars, Memphis makes all the hollow and semi-hollow bodied electric guitars, and Bozeman makes all the acoustic flat top guitars. China made all the Epiphone branded products.

    Sometimes rough parts are made in one factory and shipped to another, and at one time, each had its own custom shop, but in the corporation's latter days before the bankruptcy, the custom shops were all combined under the Nashville roof.

    For quite some time, the Gibson banjos, mandolins, and the Dobro brand guitars (a Gibson-owned company), were made in the old mall in Nashville that the company rented.

    Originally, the mall was to be a Gibson-owned competitor to Opryland- partly instrument manufacture as a tourist attraction, part auditoriums, where concerts and live shows could be presented, and part studios where recording and TV production could be made.

    The concept never panned out, and the mall was mostly a failure, but the banjos and mandolins, which were all made in an area surrounded by glass walls, proved to be a fairly popular tourist attraction. (It wasn't a shop I would have liked to work in, though).

    The 2009 Nashville flood wiped out the mall and flooded the Nashville factory. The flood ended the banjo manufacture totally, and the mandos became a tiny little workshop in the big factory after the mess was finally cleaned up. Gibson had an increasingly hard time competing in the banjo market before the flood, so the decision was made to just drop that part of their business.

    There were also some stray products that dropped between the cracks in these divisions. Gibson's most expensive guitars were always the hand-made, high end acoustic archtop jazz guitars, the Super 400, L-5, and others. They were all made in Nashville, but for some time, the L-7, the bottom of the pro archtop line, was made in Bozeman.

    The Chet Atkins solid-body classic guitar was created in Nashville, was made there through most of it's long run, but by the end, was made in Bozeman.

    There's no good way to know where a Gibson guitar is made by the serial numbers. The label inside the guitar included the address of where it was made, but if the label isn't there, that was the only place the info was included. The address is probably on the guitar's registration form that comes in the case.

    While Gibson is thought to be an industry giant, the entire corporation was actually pretty small. Nashville employed about 250 workers, Bozeman around 85, Memphis 50 or less. China probably employed more than them all combined.

    The company never was the size of an average city hospital in it's employee numbers.
    regards,
    stanger
     
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  3. schmee

    schmee Poster Extraordinaire

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    Solid wood or swiss cheese?
     
  4. stanger

    stanger Tele-Meister

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    Folks always complain about the prices of American-made guitars, but there's simply no way any of the American companies are able to successfully compete with the rest of the world on price alone.

    60% of the cost of a guitar is the labor that went into making it, and over 60% of the labor is in the finishing work. The cost of materials, sales costs, advertising, and overhead makes up the rest. The labor costs aren't ever going to be competitive again until the rest of the world has no workers who won't work for $3 a day.

    Guitars are made everywhere. India, Indochina, Indonesia, Central and South America, and lately, Africa. They are all competing in price with America, Canada, Japan, Europe, China and Korea.

    Since they can't compete in price any longer, the American companies all quit trying to crank out the 2-3,000 instruments a day that cheap guitars have to be produced to be profitable. They all turned to producing the highest workmanship with the best woods and parts that could be obtained instead.

    The difference in labor between a $100 guitar and a $1,000 guitar isn't actually all that much different except in the time spent on each of them. The best work a person can do takes the most time to do it.

    The worker with the highest skill is also the worker who gets the highest wage, and cheap depends on speed, not quality. The highest skill jobs are seldom the fastest work, and all the work has to be coordinated so the fast work doesn't get backed up in a clog behind the slower work.

    High quality also can be wasteful in materials. Some of the best wood available becomes sacrificed when a worker makes a mistake working it, and the mistake can be quite small, but if it can't be invisibly repaired, the guitar has to stop and it cannot be sold with a mistake, so it goes half-completed into the wood stove. The wood itself only comprises less than 3% of the cost.

    Perfection is usually perceived as visual perfection. If a guitar looks great, the mind declares it sounds as good as it looks. Our eyes rule us all this way. That's why the finish work in the American factories now takes up so much time, has so many workers, and is such a costly part of manufacturing.

    High quality pays of bigger dividends to the player though; a very well built, very good looking guitar is essentially more durable than it's cheaper counterpart in the long run of things, and with the use of only the best parts, a high quality guitar that's made today can easily outlast a player's lifetime in durability and remain completely functional much longer than the original buyer's life.

    There's also a pride of ownership that comes with very well-crafted items.

    If a buyer intends to play one guitar for the next 30-50 years or more, a guitar that announces this guy is a serious musician, can meet the player's abilities as the increase, and the guitar has the ability to help the player become steadily better, the cost actually isn't that great.

    $3,000 over 40 years is $75 a year, and the good guitar will still be good in 40 years, and will be so familiar it's by far the best musical tool it's player could ever own.

    While price is always a consideration, there's always the spot where price and quality meet happily at the professional level. For me, buying a cheap guitar was the way I learned what I wanted in a better guitar. As time went along, I gradually learned what I wanted and needed the most to make the sound I wanted to make, and when I found it, I simply had saved up the money while searching and bought it.

    And after I bought it, I never sold the guitar. They are all sonic tools to me, and like any expensive, complicated tool, I take care of it, use it a lot, keep it clean, and repair it if necessary.

    All the qualities that were there from the first are still there 20 or more years later, and my best instruments have all become so familiar that I never have to think about what to do with them or about them when I play them. They know what I'm going to do, and I know what they're going to do. It's the best working relationship that can be, as they never let me down.

    Most of them made me far more money than what I paid for them, and the few that I never used as money-makers have always delivered more pleasure for their cost than anything else I own. To me, it was all money that was very well spent.
    regards,
    stanger
     
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  5. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Friend of Leo's

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    Hard to believe that a company would struggle to survive when taking a couple hundred dollars max worth of materials, running them through a mostly automated production line and receiving $1500 plus for them. I think the mistakes on their part with model choices and specs over the past few years were only magnified by poor management and dead wood within the company. Like most large businesses these days theres probably way more people sitting behind a desk than in production/ making guitars and they probably get paid more too.
     
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  6. stanger

    stanger Tele-Meister

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    Actually, Gibson was never automated like you think. The Bozeman shop was intentionally set up for human hands producing the guitars with the aid of machines. The guitars made in Bozeman were made in the same way the Gibsons of the 1930s were made as a point of pride and to make the guitars uniquely hand-made.

    The peak production at Bozeman was never more than around 100 guitars a day. Compared to Taylor, Martin, and its competitors, which all made 2,000 a day at their peak, the Bozeman factory's output was miniscule.

    But that small production was also the way the Bozeman factory was one of the few remaining profit centers when the Gibson Co. collapsed.

    The factory always met the world-wide demand, but it never over-produced any guitars, so when the entire guitar market shrunk dramatically over the past 25 years, Bozeman was still meeting its market reliably.

    The thing about robots is they either operate at full speed or full stop. When the guitar market was hot, the robots were great, but when the market slumped, there was no way to slow down total robotic production except by running them for a shorter time. It's very hard to slow robots efficiently.

    The human workforce at Gibson could easily slow down production in a slumping market, spend a bit more time on each guitar, double-inspect them for possible flaws, and send better guitars out the shipping door.

    So when Taylor had a warehouse of unsold guitars filling it, Bozeman's low production was still selling every guitar that left the factory, somewhere around the world.

    Sometimes those guitars weren't ever sold in the United States. When I worked there the second time, there was a 45-day period when almost all the Gibson acoustics we made all went to Japan.

    They were all made with colors and features the Japanese wanted and liked the most, and some of the colors were never available here. (And for good reason. I would never have wanted to own some of them. The Japanese definitely have their own tastes.)

    I worked for them twice, 10 years apart, and never saw any dead wood in the work force. The office workers, the upper-level managers, etc. only were a crew of about 10 people out of the 90 or so who worked there.

    The work was quite physically demanding, and the attrition rate was high because of the skill level that was always needed.

    Most of the folks who applied for work never could meet the tests they were all given before they were hired. The few who got a job were all chosen to go where their best work in the tests was done.

    But the repetition of the production line did cause a lot of repetitive injury over time in some areas, and that was most often why employees left.

    I was one of them; while I liked the work a lot, I just wasn't physically built to stand the physical wear and tear of the production line. The first time I worked there, one shoulder went bad over a year's time, and the second time, the fingers in my right hand went bad after 2 years' time. But there were other people who worked doing the same jobs I did for decades with no physical problems.

    There are some areas in the work that always depended on the correct delicate physical touch to do it, and those areas were always the most critical. Other areas were much less dependent on that subtle touch. So sometimes, there were always only 2 or 3 people in the factory who could do the work, and if they went, the production stopped until a replacement was found.

    Making guitars is not like other jobs. Don't believe it is. It's not like what most folks think it to be either.

    There aren't any jovial gnomes in leather aprons patiently shaving away minuscule curls of wood at their workbenches all day. The wood was shaved, for sure, but the job took 10 seconds. It was all a balance between speed and quality. Speed was always sacrificed for quality, but never to the point of lagging or loafing on the job.

    All that patient gnome stuff is nothing but marketing. People who don't make guitars expect it to be done slowly, but that's because they don't know how to make a guitar. A person who works at the job all day long, every day, either becomes quick or they're out the door.

    The work is hard, goes fast, and has to be done right every time. Every time the first time on every guitar. It was good satisfying work, but I very seldom did not come home tired.
    regards,
    stanger
     
  7. adjason

    adjason Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Oh yeah- these look like good Gibsons
     
  8. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Friend of Leo's

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    Thanks for that insight into the goings on within Gibsons production. I have worked on a production line when younger (not guitars but making timber pergolas) although only for 3 months before being offered a job in construction which I preferred and realise it's a balance of speed and quality and managers are employed to maximise production to increase profits. Bad choices must have been made somewhere within the company, one being producing guitars with features and finishes few wanted. Considering how long Gibson have been in the game I imagined that they would own their facility freehold and could just tailor their workforce to suit required production quotas. Looks like a few just lost count of the beans or miscalculated somewhere along the way.
     
  9. John C

    John C Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Depends on the model - the Original Series are solid wood; the Modern Series have weight relief. I think the LP Classic is swiss cheese and the the new LP Modern, Studio and Tributes have that "ultra-modern weight relief" that they've been using for a few years now.
     
  10. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Friend of Leo's

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    That $1500 bucks could probably be knocked down considerably by waiting a few weeks for customer returns to show up, discount codes etc.
    I bought my 2011 Traditional fat necked plus top for $1600 shortly after they released them.
     
  11. 985plowboy

    985plowboy Tele-Afflicted

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    I am willing to spend my money on made in USA Gibson.
    In doing so, I understand my purchase is eventually going, in part, to pay a fellow countryman's salary.
    I'm ok with it.
     
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  12. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Tele-Afflicted

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    That's my plan. Although, I'm curious with the new management if Gibson will follow their typical pattern of year-end sales, etc... Can get some pretty good deals on new previous year models. I'm hoping that will be the case. With the smaller and more focused lines this year, though, I'm wondering if flips and sales will be any different.
     
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  13. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Thanks for the heads up, Gary. Your post made me go check these out if only to see if they got the model names correct. You noted the 1961 Standard with “P-90s”. I thought surely did NOT misnamed a guitar in an ‘original’ series. Two P-90’s is a Special. Well, Gibson got it right. The 1961 SG Standard in this series carries the proper humbucking pickups that a vintage Standard of that year would have had.
    My first Electric was a white SG Jr....I was 12 in 1963.
     
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  14. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Tele-Afflicted

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    I think he meant the 50s Les Paul w/P90s. Just no punctuation.

    Question, though. I read somewheres on the interwebz that the new Les Paul Original series (50s and 60s) are not fairly spec close to the oldies. That right? I'm only now edumacating myself on Gibsons, as I can finally afford to buy one haha.

    EDIT: I want the 50s Original Gold Top w/P90s, really bad. Hopefully, I can snag one next year at discount.

    EDIT EDIT: drool

    https://www.guitarcenter.com/Gibson/Les-Paul-Standard-50s-P-90-Electric-Guitar.gc
     
  15. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    No....in his post he stipulates the 1961 SG Standard with P-90’s.......I had to check with Gibson. Cheers to the new management for getting it correct. They call this guitar the Standard, and they call the Sg body with 2 x P-90’s a Special...as it should be. In the modern era, Gibson often got it incorrect. But...it matters not unless one knows the old guitars’ model names, right?
     
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  16. John C

    John C Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    If Gibson follows their recent pattern the "2019 Series" will get the blowout-type sales over the next few months - they've already cut the price on them somewhat. That being the models that Gibson brought out in September 2018 under Henry's "change them every year" model. I would also imagine that the models that were retained unchanged like the SG Standard, the SG Standard Tribute, the Les Paul Studio, and Les Paul Studio Tribute won't get the fully deep discount - the only difference is that the Modern Series ones don't have the "2019 Model" stamp on the back of the headstock and come with .010 gauge strings instead of .009-.046 gauge strings (note that my 2019 Series SG Standard Tribute was finished and boxed on January 19 and it does not have the "2019 Model" stamp on the back of the headstock, but did come with the .009-.046 strings).

    The recently introduced Original and Modern Series will not be annual models; they will be ongoing like Fender's models. I'm sure they will change things up periodically (particularly colors), but my suspicion is that the Original Series will be kept long-term - think of them like Fender's old AVRI series that had only minor changes during their run from 1982-2012. I also suspect the Modern Series will get periodic changes - more like Fender's American Standards/Deluxes/etc. that get refreshed periodically (for example Fender has refreshed the American Deluxes/American Elites every 6 years).

    But no more annual model years probably mean no more annual blowout sales.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  17. Whatizitman

    Whatizitman Tele-Afflicted

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    But also no hurry, and no spontaneous buys. That means I can save up, and in the meantime keep my marriage intact. :D
     
  18. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I have a killer cherry red shiny finish L.P. special from ??.2012??? that has a (factory) upgrade in that it has an ABR bridge that can actually be installed orated accurately. It doesn’t get much love in the market...even though it can make an amp sit up and take notice WITHOUT using a boost pedal as do some single coils require!!!!
    All of those uncompensated one piece tailpiece/bridge guitars cannot be made to play in tune......physics prevents it.
     
  19. Gary in Boston

    Gary in Boston Friend of Leo's

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    Wow thanks for the insight x 2

    Was Martin & Taylor really making 2,000 per day at their peak?

    If this went on for one year there would have been 730,000 of each maker.

    Is the demand for guitars still that high.......? I kinda like that.

    Now this doesn't even count all the other guitars that are being made

    Yikes!

    I can sort of see Taylor able to produce at a high clip because the necks are bolted on but set neck Martins?


    Yowza who'd a thunk it?

    Gary
     
  20. deytookerjaabs

    deytookerjaabs Friend of Leo's

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    Great posts....

    but....riddle me this:

    Everyone likes to "adjust for inflation" when comparing new to old Gibson and after years of studying/reading I'd like to point out some observations.


    Back in the late 50's when a guy like Marv Lamb (former Gibson employee) started out on the floor he was pulling equivalent of $15/hr and quickly moved to $20-$25/hr with pension/dental/health after 6 months probation period and tons of mobility. To get the job he started out sanding assembled white wood flat tops, the big quota he had to meet: 5 guitars per day (which he says was tough).

    During said "golden era" they also had to do a lot in house because there wasn't this huge aftermarket. Tailpieces machined on the factory floor, upstart for molds/production paid on pickup parts, strings wound in house, binding layers glued/cut, etc etc etc

    Also, you had this entire team of foreman/engineers then who had to design new parts from scratch to prototype to production to patent office. Then, the big deal road salesman making fat commission.

    Now, 2019, you have way higher quotas and much lower man hours per instrument AND per part. People think it's a CNC, no, the humans are also a lot faster regardless of the body roughings (and there are some nifty tools). Almost everything I can think of as cost beyond specific endangered woods has paced behind inflation, parts are way behind inflation, as are cheaper stuff like ABS binding, cases are way cheaper, most wood species, the glues, shipping is cheaper, again..labor too, all of it behind inflation. Even the main production facilities in the 50's were company built.

    Productivity way up + Cost Down. What happened, was the 50's an enigma?


    YET..... The new prices are basically on par or higher with inflation as compared to the 50's beyond a few of the bottom dollar models, the rest of the prices like Custom Shop & many ES or Carved models are a good bit more expensive compared to the 50's.


    Why is this? I get supporting American Made, all my current guitars are. But shouldn't Gibson (and others) guitars be cheaper considering every aspect of their production is cheaper now? The only thing I know is Ted McCarty was supposedly pulling 250k equivalent (inflation) when he ran the company through the roof...rumor is the new guy pulls 3 Mil with others up top making some heavy bank too. I don't know the marketing costs, or the factory housing costs.


    But damn, it sure seems like over the past 50 years Gibson has cut costs in labor, sped up quotas, reduced man hours per instrument, and benefit from tons of other lower costs. Yet, prices don't reflect that.

    So, I'm really wondering if that 60% cost factor rings true any more?
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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