The Top of The Guitar Food Chain
by Todd K Smith

“I have been a Gibson fan ever since I started playing guitar. It's wonderful to see how the guitars have changed, how the tone and shape of the instrument have morphed but for me it was always Gibson and will always be Gibson.” ~ Gary Moore

Based out of Nashville, Tennessee, Gibson Guitar is the world's best-known manufacturers of acoustic and electric guitars on the planet. The company's most popular guitar is the Les Paul Standard. It is a solid-body electric which Les Paul himself originally fashioned using a railroad tie. It is notably heavy and is often swapped out mid set with a lighter Fender to offer the guitarist some relief. Les Paul was a pioneer of solid-body electric guitar technology. He signed a contract to endorse the guitar to be named after him. At that point he asked that the tail piece be changed, but other than that it was remained as Gibson built it.

The signature Les Paul was released in 1952 starting the ball rolling with a number of innovative new designs quickly following. Most distinguished were the eccentrically-shaped Gibson Explorer, Flying V and the semi-acoustic ES-335. The introduction of the "humbucker" pickup was another innovative development giving the recordings of the day a unique ad distinctive sound. The Les Paul was offered in several models, including the Custom, the Standard, the Special and the Junior.

In 1961, the body design of the Les Paul was changed, due to the demand for a double-cutaway body design. Les Paul did not care for the new body style and let his endorsement lapse, and the new body design then became known as the Gibson SG. The Les Paul returned to the Gibson catalogue in 1968 due to the influence of players such as Eric Clapton and Peter Green. Both the Les Paul and the SG later became very popular with hard rock and heavy metal guitarists including Paul Kossoff of Free, Wally Stocker of the Babys, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, the twin-lead line-up of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy, Duane Allman, Slash (Velvet Revolver, Guns N' Roses) and Ace Frehley of Kiss all preferring the Les Paul Standard. Pete Townshend (The Who), Angus Young (AC/DC), Frank Zappa (Mothers Of Invention) and Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) are some of the more well-known SG players.

Gibson also makes a number of other guitars under brands like Epiphone, Kramer, Valley arts, Tobias, Steinberger, and Kalamazoo. Over the years they have branched out into pianos through Baldwin, Slingerland drums, and many accessory items. Many of Gibson's bluegrass instruments (such as the banjo, mandolin and the dobro) are assembled at the "Gibson Showcase" at Opry Mills Mall in Nashville. The mini-factory is open to the public and also houses a store selling the full line of Gibson products and a small concert venue which doubles as a restaurant.

The company’s namesake came from Orville Gibson who made mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1890s. Gibson used the same type of carved, arched tops in archtop acoustic guitars, and by the 1930s was also making flattop acoustic guitars and electric guitars. Charlie Christian, the first well-known electric guitarist, helped to popularize Gibson's electric guitars with his use of the ES-150 and ES-200. When Gibson was bought by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s their quality and fortunes took a steep decline. By 1985 the company was within three weeks of going out of business before it was bought by its present owners.

The Cutting Edge had the privilege of speaking the Car’s guitarist Elliot Easton about his custom SG after the band played a stellar gig at the Reno Event Center. “The essence of the guitar is the SG custom,” says Easton backstage. “The central difference between my custom is the two pickups. It was never available (to the public) as a two pickup guitar. I also prefer to leave long neck and stock in tack without carving it out. I always through the white SG Custom with gold parts was one of the most beautiful solid body electrics ever built.” Gibson approached Easton to have his guitar part of their “inspired by” series making it now available to the public.

Another highlight for the company came about this year when they turned the legendary Flying V upside down with the release of their Reverse Flying V, an eye-popping powerhouse that became an unexpected smash hit. The original limited run flew out the door selling fasted than any other model. Paul Weller states, “I am very proud to be associated with Gibson as it combines my passion and appreciation for the guitar. While they create new and exciting designs they stay true to the legacy of the instrument with a powerful and classic look.”

Editorial commment: December 10, 2007 heralded the concert of the century. Led Zeppelin played their first full concert in 27 years in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,000 fans at London’s O2 Arena. The capacity crowd went wild as the legendary rock band's three surviving members—guitarist Jimmy Page, lead singer Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones—took to the stage. They were joined by Jason Bonham on drums, son of the late John Bonham. The group played for nearly two hours resurrecting many of their classic hits including “Kashmir,” ‘Black Dog” and “Stairway To Heaven.” In the center spotlight was Jimmy Page and his signature yellow lame Les Paul.

“As a long time endorser of Gibson guitars I want to go on record saying they are what is great about rock n roll to me. The fact that this guitar has created the music it has over the years and touched the lives of everyone of us is a true testament to the historical greatness of the instrument and the company that makes it.” ~ Slash

Website: Gibson Guitars