The history of Gibson Guitars by the years – Part one (1894 – 1922)

The history of Gibson Guitars by the years – Part one (1894 – 1922)

Orville Gibson

Many people have heard about Gibson, they have saw that brand of guitars but maybe they didn’t know the history of how everything was started. This is first part of the whole history of Gibson guitars, by the years from 1894 to 1922. Enjoy!

The history of Gibson, simply put, is one of the great stories of American enterprise. From its humble beginnings more than a century ago, to its “golden age” in the ‘50s and ‘60s, to its phoenix-like return to glory in the late ‘80s, the company’s iconic reputation and inventive spirit have made it an American institution.

1894 The earliest documented instrument is made by Orville Gibson, a restaurant clerk in Kalamazoo, MI. Working in his home woodshop, Orville appropriates the carved, arched top design of the violin and applies it to mandolins and guitars. He designs two new mandolin shapes: the scroll-body F style and the teardrop-shaped A, both of which are the standard mandolin styles today. He is granted his one and only patent in 1898.

October 10, 1902 – “The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd.” is formed. Orville’s mandolins are far superior to the bowlbacks or “taterbugs” of his day, and he is unable to meet the rising demand. Five Kalamazoo businessmen buy rights to his name and patent for $2500 and hire him as a consultant. Orville is not one of the principals of the Gibson company, but he does own some stock. Within six months, however, he is at odds with the board of managers, and he sells his stock to his local saloon keeper. Orville continues to receive a royalty and later a pension until his death in 1918.

1903 – World War I – Gibson dominates the mandolin world in the golden age of the mandolin orchestra. Refinements such as a smaller size, rounded back and elevated pickguard, combined with aggressive marketing, make Gibson the leading mandolin maker. Gibson bypasses the conventional retail network by enlisting music teachers as “teacher agents.” Gibson encourages and supports teacher-agents in forming mandolin orchestras and features photos of ensembles in ads and catalogs over the caption “Every One a Gibson-ite.”

1921 – Gibson employee Ted McHugh, a woodworker who had sung in a group with Orville Gibson, invents two of the most important innovations in guitar history: the adjustable truss rod and the height-adjustable bridge. All Gibson instruments are still equipped with McHugh’s truss rod, and traditional jazz guitars still utilize the bridge he designed.

1922 – Gibson introduces the F-5 mandolin and L-5 guitar. World War I killed off the mandolin orchestra and given rise to the tenor banjo, threatening Gibson’s existence as a mandolin maker. In an effort to revive the mandolin, Gibson acoustic engineer Lloyd Loar designs the ultimate mandolin, the F-5. Its new features include f-holes, a longer neck and hand-tuned top, tone bars and f-holes. As a companion member of the Style 5 family, he designs the L-5 guitar. Loar and his creations will become legendary, but Gibson almost goes bankrupt, and Loar resigns late in 1924.

Lloyd Loar and F-5 Mandolin

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