Gibson guitars have always lagged behind Fenders in the popularity stakes, but that’s not because Gibson are inferior in any way, it’s more a matter of different guitars being for different styles of playing, and historical influences, which may be a matter of luck – if Hendrix and Buddy Holly had been seen playing Gibsons would it have been a different story?
The Gibson corporation started with Orville Gibson who created a mandolin which was easy to manufacture, but, unfortunately he died in 1918. The corporation brought Lloyd Loar onboard in 1919 to design new instruments, and during the twenties they went on to produce banjos, guitars and more mandolins.
In the thirties they turned their attention to electrified instruments, and produced the ES-150, one of the first commercially successful electric models. In 1949 after the company had been taken over by Chicago Musical Instruments, they produced the ES-175, which has to date not gone out of production.
The birth of their modern prominence started with the creation of the Les Paul in 1952, which was a response to the popularity of the Telecaster. A chunky guitar, it didn’t quite match the sleek modern look of the Tele, so Gibson went on to release a Thinline range, although it never really caught up with Fender sales.
During the fifties several variations were produced, but the real departure in style and design was the ‘Flying V’, a highly innovative design which didn’t really take off until the seventies. During the sixties however, the Gibson SGs and Les Pauls started gaining a reputation as being the guitars for heavy rock. This started with players such as Jimmy Page of led Zeppelin, Angus Young of AC/DC, and Pete Townsend of the Who. Heavy rock guitar players have continued to play on Gibsons, although many punk bands have also used them to get that hard edged sound.
Gibson have claimed that their models were being copied by other guitar companies, but, as yet they have never won a court case, and this is probably because they have generally focused on the look of the guitar, something which if you take Gibson’s logic on board, they have been guilty of over the years. Having said that, many fake Gibson’s are manufactured, although these are literally exact copies by forgers, not similar models by other brands.
In the 1970s Gibson purchased Epiphone, and produced Gibson Epiphones which were and still are more affordable versions of Gibsons, although manufactured outside of the US, and using cheaper components and production methods.
Despite having gone through a series of takeovers over the decades Gibson remain as one of the preferred brands for many guitarists, and the influence of these guitarists is unlikely to wane over the years, and so the future of the Gibson guitar looks rosy.