Vintage Gibson VS Brand New Gibson: You can not be a fan of both....


 There are SOOOOO many dyed in the wool Gibson folks out there that think Vintage and New Gibsons are EXACTLY the same.

So I am putting this forward.

There is no shame in being a huge fan of the Vintage Gibson brand, and it does not take anything away from disliking all the Gibson factory has done in the last few decades. 

 After reading much of why the new Gibson's are ending up in repair shops their very first week of ownership, and Gibson's lack of a 'real world'  warantee, I have no idea why this is ever a real conversation anymore.

  I draw your attention to the story I heard about from these pages a 4 years back.

This one story made me loose 100% respect for the company.

   A Luthier who works for a guitar store Gibson dealership had a two week old LesPaul come into his shop. The 19 year old New owner had wanted one for 10 years, so bought a new one after coming up with $2600 (I think that was the # anyway).

The reason it came back into the shop was that the axe could be tuned up, but would go wildly out of tune whenever the neck was handled, then would go right back into tune when no longer touched. 

 The repair guy had a look at it, and saw that even though the guitar was only delivered a few weeks beforehand, there were quite a few lacquer cracks at the neck to body join. On closer inspection, and after putting a straightedge on the fingerboard, he saw that the neck WAS moving around whenever the neck was touched.  He started to hold the body and move the neck around to get a better idea of exactly what was going on.... And with a loud CRACK the entire neck snapped off the guitar!

 Upon examination, and measuring everything over the next hour, he figured out exactly what the problem was: The neck block was about a 64th of an inch too big on both the sides  AND the end of the fingerboard! The neck was only partially glued to the back of the tongue, and the black lacquer was mostly what was holding the neck in place. 

 He contacted the factory, and after explaining the problem several times, got to talk to a shop foreman. What he said was shocking. He said that he was well aware  of the problem, and that this particular phone call was about the 35th that he had received about it.

The problem had been with the necks, and was discovered by a line worker when she  went to glue up the first neck of that lot.

The worker showed that exact Foreman, and he had gone and measured all the necks that were in that lot. The number of miss-cut necks was around 125 guitars. They all needed significant shimming to be actually glued in, but the Foreman could not OK this process

He brought the problem to HIS boss, and the decision was made.

The boss said that since the necks were already to be glued, to do the glueing up process With No Shimming and ship them out.

The Foreman had no choice but to tell his workers to do what they were told. 

 The repair guy/luthier  was told to do the shimming repair,then do as much lacquer work was absolutely needed. Then the Foreman told him that Gibson would not honor the guarantee  on that guitar. 

 The kid got his guitar back, the store swallowed the repair cost and , in this case, the young'un ended up with a Better Than New LesPaul.

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I wonder if Henry's ears are ringing....

In Gibson's defense (no worries I just put on my athletic cup...) the vintage instruments that many of us adore were never meant to be "high-end" or at least most of them weren't.  Gibson made instruments for the common man (woman too) and if you check out John Thomas's excellent book " Kalamazoo Gals" you will read about Gibson's approach to the middle market, not the high-end market.  They also made toys IIRC.

Other than some historic collaborations with Lohr and later Les Paul Gibson was simply an American manufacturer trying to make a go of it.

Here in Michigan one kind of sort of has to be a Gibson fan because it's part of our local heritage along with making some of the worst automobiles ever made....  Remember the Pacer but I digress... and how many GM cars are currently under recall...

Nonetheless even though I am a fan of the vintage Gibson stuff from the Michigan years on Parson's street I'm not a fan of Gibson today or their dear leader who was narcissistic enough to write an op ed piece for the WSJ claiming that Obama stayed up late at night trying to figure out a way to get Henry....  Instead Henry got caught poaching plain and simple and then screamed like a girl (no offense to women or girls..) never accepting personal....... responsibility.

I'm a student of how companies are run and have quite a bit of personal experience with this from a former life in corporate America - please don't hold this against me though....  As such those of you who have said that nothing will ever change unless the market makes demands are very correct.  If Gibson can over price, under build, conduct predatory practices with the distribution chain insisting on dictating what a Gibson dealer can sell and folks still buy the things why would they change?

I'm also in complete agreement that the status quo is indeed a crying shame.  What an opportunity to have such an iconic brand, countless loyal followers/clients and waste it all away with poor quality and questionable business practices not to mention poaching....

Then we see Paul Reed Smith who's offerings are what Gibson should be today - high quality and no attempt to be everything to everyone.  PRS don't need no stinkin robo tuners.... ;)  Pardon my poor english please...

I'll always be a fan of the Gibson instruments that were built in Michigan that is before the Harvard grads who are likely compensating for some shortcoming.... took over Gibson.

A very prominent dealer told me the truth about modern Gibson, something like: "they're mostly in it for the money.  Quality is only as good as needed to get it."  This was as I was looking at a mandolin endorsed by a prominent player with lousy finish on the fingerboard extension.  There may have been other areas, too--I stopped looking after that one.  They could at least have sanded it smooth before applying stain and finish--it looked like rough cut lumber.

This was shortly before the same dealer dropped the Gibson line.

I like what Tim O'Brien used to say, riffing on the old Banner Headstock statement: "A Gibson is only good enough."  He may still repeat that if Henry's lawyers haven't visited with him.


PS: I'd look back way earlier than '67 for the good ones.  My first "good" guitar was a J-50 from '62 or '63 that I got new back then.  It has the plastic adjustable bridge and a thick top with thick finish.  It was one of the quietest guitars I've ever owned.  Even an upgrade with a real bridge, bone nut and saddle and a thin celluloid pickguard couldn't make it speak out much better.  It did record well with the right mic, however, and I suspect the thick top wouldn't feed back easily, although I never gigged with it.  The sound improved quite a bit after I left it overnight in a VW bug in below freezing weather. The checked finish added instant age and some extra sound.

I have mixed feelings about Gibson.  I was a big fan when I was a teenager - not because of brand name recognition, but because I liked shorter scaled guitars and you could usually find a decent deal on a used, low end Gibson just because there were so many out there.  I bought a 1964 B25-N when I was about 19.  It was a low end model, but I loved that guitar.  I sold it a few years later so I could buy something better for gigging and I have missed it ever since.  Every time I see one in a store I'll try it out and every one of them (dozens of guitars) is wildly different than the next.  Should have kept that one.

I once worked with a guy who often said "I would rather push a Ford than drive a Chevy". Some people are so loyal to a brand that they don't even care if it is functional, just so long as it has that logo!

Now that I am repairing full time there is two things I have seen on many, many Gibsons that irritates me to no end. 

1) Nearly every new or newer gibson that comes into the shop has unbroken lacquer overspray on the truss rod nut and washer.  That means that no one even adjusted the truss rod after the guitar was finished!  It seems really wrong to charge so much for an instrument and not even adjust the neck after finishing and final assembly.

2) The nuts on Gibsons (particularly on SG's) is often cut at so steep of an angle that the strings make contact with it only on the fingerboard side and do not support the string at all, sometimes causing strings to bind.

Having said that, I will occasionally come across a Gibson that I just can't put down.  I guess that is part of wild inconsistency - there are some good ones and some bad ones.  I worked in quality control for years (not at Gibson!) before making the switch to repairing full time.  When there was a problem with production, the product was either scrapped or reworked. Then the cause of the problem was addressed to prevent it from happening again.  Inspection of that particular product or flaw was increased so that it if it did happen again it would be caught sooner with less "rejects" produced before correcting the problem.  I'm not sure if they have completely inadequate QC or if higher-ups make the call to ship product anyway as indicated in the original post, but there is definitely a problem there somewhere.

In most cases, once a Gibson has spent some time with a qualified luthier they turn out to be great guitars.  Just more added cost for the consumer though...

 I am still getting questions about Gibson s on some of the Forums. It is amazing tome, the brand loyalty, and the things said by folks who are VORACIOUS in defending these $600 axes. No amount of problems will stop them from defending the company. 

Last Year I had a 6 month old Advanced jumbo come in for setup

 Now in Australia it is a $3500 or so guitar

The bridge wings were unglued thank god for the bolts!

Looking inside, one of the x braces was flatsawn one quartersawn . Split waiting to happen?

The soundboard would not have rated as A grade,  good thing it was sunburst

And the sound was quite uninspiring

The owner loved it.

Last spring the guy who runs a very small local music store asked me if I could repair a finish crack on a new 'factory second' Gibson acoustic. The finish crack was right along the fingerboard extension, and I showed him how it moved when you applied pressure to the neck. He called them about taking it back for a warranty repair. You can guess what their response was - even though the guitar was not a second because of a neck joint problem, they would not honour a warranty. So the guy is out about a grand because he has a faulty guitar that he cant sell at list (1200) because it needs a repair that could potentially push 600 bucks to do properly (who knows what youll find when you get the neck off). I might do the repair for him when I get time, seeing as he sends me work, and gives me good prices on stuff.

Same store, some time earlier, I was regluing the (terrible) pickguard on a very new Hummingbird for a customer of his, and came across a squeak, leading me to finda brace that had only been half glued. At least that was a quickie.

Ill admit that I do find Black Beauties alluring, but Id never buy one new, and Id never play anything else made buy Gibson (doesnt say much anyway cuz Im a hack :P).

Hi Andrew, all,

Interesting you mention that, a year or so ago I had a supposedly brand new Gibson presented (little acoustic number) with a crack running the length of the fingerboard, both sides.  The new owner was lucky enough to bring it in for a setup literally the day after it was bought (in Melbourne) and the damage was noticed immediately which leveraged a replacement (which had further issues anyway).   I suspect these instruments are seconds - which we haven't heard of here.  Anyone know for sure whether Gibson does "seconds" on the market?


Russell, I have a Gibson Dove here in the shop now, that was a factory second. Back of headstock is stamped. 


 Gibson's CEO sends an incredibly nasty Email:

Kerry, thanks so much for that link.  I nearly laughed my way into a seizure!

I make no pretense of being a 'luthier'. I am a huge fan of vintage Gibson guitars, however. Since being a kid, a lot of my musical heroes played Gibson guitars. They 'speak' to my inner soul aesthetically. I cannot help it. If that makes me a "fanboy" then so be it.

I regret the poor quality and mis-direction of the current offerings.

I romanticize about the Kalamazoo factory-era ( I have Michigan roots). I do not think that every guitar they built or build  is perfect. I am not enamored with the current offerings and see and hear many complaints and poor quality.

I love the old Gibsons with their various sunbursts and just the 'right' amount of 'bling'.

I may not know a 'great' guitar if it bit me in the butt. I have,however, known some vintage Gibsons that were "good enough" ....! 

....For ME, at least... they bring joy to my eyes,ears and fingers.



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