Monday, May 7, 2018

Gibson Brands Files For Bankruptcy Protection - A New Hope

Gibson Guitars
Gibson Guitars has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This is a legal way for companies, or people for that matter, that cannot pay their bills, to reorganize, and develop a plan to repay their debtors. Gibson has overextended their business, possibly due to numerous acquisitions of companies unrelated to the guitar industry.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy
Gibson has at least 100 million dollars of debt. It may be as much as 500 million dollars. This was noted in documents filed on May 1st, 2018 in a Delaware court.

The company states its goal is to emerge from bankruptcy, “…with working capital financing, materially less debt, and a leaner and stronger musical instruments-focused platform,"

Gibson Factory Nashville
Gibson Brands not only includes Gibson guitars, but also owns Epiphone guitars, which manufactures wonderful replicas of original Gibson guitars that are nearly as good, and sometimes superior to the US made instruments, and sell for a much lower price point.

Maestro Guitar by Gibson

Gibson Brands also owns the name Maestro, which was once a productive brand, but now has been applied to inferior guitars made in Pacific Rim countries and sold by Walmart and Amazon.

 mid 1970's Kramer metal neck guitar

They also own the name brand Kramer, which was a guitar company started in the 1970’s by building metal neck guitars.

1983 Kramer Pacer guitar
The company then went on to produce more exotic and pointy electric guitars which include many improvements to the Stratocaster shaped guitar, and eventually gave us the Super-Strat.  One of these improvements was the Rockinger tremolo.

Kramer guitars were a mainstay for Heavy Metal rockers and got a shot big in the arm from rocker Eddie Van Halen.

Sadly the Kramer brand was sold out to bankruptcy and purchased by Gibson Guitars. Kramer guitars are now made in Japan and Korea.

Vintage Steinberger Bass Guitar
Gibson Brands owns the Steinberger name, which was originally designed by Ned Steinberger, who produced unique basses and guitars made out of graphite, that had headless tuners, and resembled a Cricket bat. The original instruments were expensive, but prized by their owners.

Hohner B2 Licensed by Steinberger
Eventually the design, and shape were licensed to other manufacturers that sold similar instruments, usually not made of graphite, at a lower cost. The latest Gibson/Steinberger models are manufactured in South Korea.

Vintage  Pre-Gibson Tobias Bass
Tobias Bass guitars were established by Michael Tobias in 1977. These were asymmetrical instruments with neck thru-body that featured a neck that was thinner on the lower side than on the upper. Gibson purchased the brand in 1990 and changed to a bolt-on style neck.

1941 Kalamazoo KG-14 guitar

Gibson still owns the Kalamazoo brand name, but has not used it on instruments since the mid-1960’s.

1930's Dobro Angelus

Gibson Brands also purchased the Dobro brand name of resonator guitars. This company started in 1928 and produced acoustic steel guitars, and guitars that are used by Bluegrass, and Blues performers. There was much turmoil within the company, and eventually the remaining Dopyera brothers established OMI, the Original Musical Instrument Company in 1967.

1967 Mosrite D-100 Dobro
By 1970 Semi Moseley acquired the Dobro name and company assets that were being liquidated. Moseley subsequently filed bankruptcy, and Gibson bought the brand in 1993.

Gibson's version of these guitars are made under the Dobro brand, offshore under the Epiphone brand.

Valley Arts Guitar
Gibson also owns Valley Arts guitars brand, a company started in Hollywood, California by Mike McGuire and Al Carness in their guitar repair shop. In 1977 these instruments caught the eye of many well known players. In the late 1990’s a fire destroyed their shop. To rebuild, the partners sold half of their assets to Korean manufacturer Samick, but quickly became dissatisfied with the arrangement and sold to Gibson. By 2002, the remaining partner McGuire retired, and the brand ceased production.

Garrison G20 guitar
Gibson also purchased Garrison Guitars, a Newfoundland, Canadian company. The company made instruments using the unique Griffiths active bracing system. Gibson acquired this brand in 2007, and let it languish.

1970's Slingerland
Buddy Rich Drum set

Non-guitar brands owned by Gibson include the Slingerland Drum Company which once produced the best drums ever made and was founded in 1912. The company continued flourishing until the 1970’s and ‘80’s when the ownership changed multiple times.

In 1994 Gibson Brands acquired it, and demanded that in order for a retail business to sell Gibson guitars, they must sell Slingerland drums. Individually owned music stores could not comply with this demand. It not only killed off Slingerland Drums, but caused smaller dealers to lose their Gibson franchise.

Gibson also purchased four piano manufacturing companies. Count them; four piano companies!

Wurlitzer Piano

One of the oldest piano manufacturer in the United States was Wurlitzer, and was established by Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer in Ohio in 1861. By 1880 he was building and selling pianos.

1960's Wurlitzer 140b Electric Piano
By 1955 the company introduced the first electronic piano. This was originally built to train students in large classrooms, but went on to become a mainstay in rock and pop music.

In 1995 Baldwin Piano, another Ohio company, acquired the Wurlitzer name and assets. Baldwin was undergoing a lot of changes at the time and before the acquisition they had moved their manufacturing business offshore to be built by the Young Chang Piano Company. Production later moved to Samick, the largest piano builder in Korea, and in 2001.

Gibson Brands acquired Wurlitzer, Baldwin, Hamilton, and Chickering Piano companies. All were popular brands and once manufactured in the United States, but now are made offshore in Korea. Out of all of the piano companies that Gibson acquired, only Baldwin pianos are still in production.

Vintage Baldwin
baby grand piano

The Baldwin Piano Company was started in 1857 and began building pianos in 1880 in Cincinnati, Ohio and made some of the most popular pianos in the world. My own father worked for the company when he was a young man. In 1961 the Baldwin Company began manufacturing organs. By the 1970’s Baldwin not only had acquired the guitar company Burns of London, but Gretsch Guitars as well.

Baldwin United Stock certificate
Baldwin management decided to diversify and  also got in the financial business. At one point they  owned over 200 savings and loan and insurance companies. By 1977 they merged with the United Corporation to become Baldwin-United. By 1983 they were forced into bankruptcy.

The piano and organ business remained until 2001 when the company once again was on the verge of bankruptcy and sold their assets to Gibson Brands. Gibson maintained a small staff at the Baldwin Arkansas factory to build artist grand pianos. The main piano manufacturing is done in South Korea. Hamilton Pianos, were a subsidiary of the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company and were acquired by Gibson with the Baldwin acquisition.

1854 Ad for Chickering and Sons
Piano Company

The Chickering Piano Company was a Boston Massachusetts based company that started building pianos in 1832. By 1853 the name was changed to Chickering and Sons.

Jonas Chickering made great developments and improvements to the modern piano. By 1985 the company went out of business and the assets were acquired by the Wurlitzer Piano company, which eventually went to Gibson Brands.

Onkyo TX-8160 Stereo receiver

Gibson Brands includes a division known as Gibson Innovations which owns multiple audio manufacturing companies, including the Onkyo Corporation, which also makes Pioneer Brands.

Teac Tascam DA-78HR

Gibson owns both the TEAC Tascam Companies which manufacturers recording and audio equipment.

KRK powered monitors
and 2 x 2 audio interface

They also own the KRK Systems company which manufactures audio equipment used by DJ’s. Prior The audio company acquisitions occurred between 2011 through 2014.

Raid on Gibson Factory

In 2009 and 2011 agents from the United States Fish and Wildlife Department raided Gibson and seized illegally imported ebony, and rosewood from India that was questionably obtained.

These were violations of the Lacey Act of 1900 that protects fish and wildlife, including plants, to preserve species. The Act was amended in 2008 to include wood illegally harvested.

Fish and Wildlife Service
raid Gibson factory
Gibson fought the charges and tried to recover the wood, but by 2012 they reached a settlement with the United States Government and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine and a $50,000 community payment. The agree stipulated they forfeit the seized wood. Gibson Brands has never recovered from this chapter in their history.

One other issue that I am aware of is that in 2011, Gibson pulled the plug on many of their loyal franchise holders, awarding much of their business to Guitar Center, Musician's Friend, and other large music retailers. I visited one of my favorite music stores this past week. They had been selling Gibson products for years, but there was no sign of a Gibson guitar in sight.

Musicyo Kramer

At one time Gibson attempted to sell some inferior instrument direct to the public through an online website called Musicyo. Many of these budget instruments were low quality Pacific Rim knock-offs of Fender Stratocaster style guitars under the Kramer brand.  These were made with cheap parts, such as PVC material for pickups, wiring, nuts and fret markers. Not all of those products were bad. Apparently the venture was not successful as Gibson abruptly shut down the web site.

Gibson Factory Memphis

Last year Gibson announced it was looking to sell off it's plant in Memphis to consolidate manufacturing to the facility in Nashville, Tennessee. Their acoustic guitar facility is headquartered in Bozeman, Montana.

Gibson was not the only company to go on a acquisition spree in the past few decades.

Fender Owned Brands
The Fender Musical Instrument Company has done the same, and some of their ventures have not turned out too well.

The fiasco from back in the 1960's and 70's when the Baldwin Piano company made a futile attempt to venture into the guitar manufacturing business is legendary.

Reading this history of other musical instrument manufacturers is a real eye opener. Piano companies, brass and wind instrument manufacturers, and some guitar business have all experienced financial ups and downs, and some were eventually consolidated or purchased by other companies before they folded.

Norlin era
Gibson Maurader 
Even Norlin Brands, who owned Gibson Guitars was within three months of going out of business before it was bought by Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman, and Gary A. Zebrowski in January 1986.

Gibson's turnaround plans include giving some of the company's lenders equity ownership, while its lenders have agreed to an operating loan of up to $135 million to keep the company afloat. The company sells over 170,000 guitars annually in more than 80 countries and says that it sells over 40 percent of all electric guitars costing more than $2,000.

Gibson Factory Bozeman, Montana
They will continue to operate their guitar-making factories in Nashville and Memphis, at least until the Memphis plant is sold, and Bozeman, Montana.  The restructuring will allow Gibson to focus on its most profitable ventures, such as musical instruments.

No changes will be made to its guitar manufacturing business, and all Gibson and Epiphone branded guitars are expected to continue in production uninterrupted.

I sincerely hope that Gibson will emerge from this chapter in their history as a stronger, leaner, and smarter company. Gibson guitars are an iconic American brand with a incredible history of innovation.  May they concentrate on what they do best; build incredible guitars.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further reading.
©UniqueGuitar Pulbications (text only)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Josh White Guitar - The First Signature Guitar named for an African-American.

Josh White

Recently I was talking with a friend about recordings, and he brought up Josh White. I knew very little about this man. What I did know was that the first signature Ovation guitar was The Josh White Model.

Josh White Jr. and Elyse Luray
of the History Detectives.

So I did a little digging, which involved watching a most interesting episode of History Detectives about a Guild guitar that belonged to Josh White.

1965 Guild Josh White Guitar

In the program it was claimed this could possibly be the first signature model ever named for an African American guitarist.

If we are referring to all guitars, acoustic and electric then dispute that fact.

Fernando Sor

For many years, guitar manufacturers and luthier have created guitars for well known players in hope that customers would purchase products named for these players. Players purchased signature guitars in hopes of sounding like their favorite players.

1836 Rene Lacote Guitar

As far back as the 1830, builder such as Johann Stauffer, and René Lacote built signature guitars for players such as Luigi Lagani, Fernando Sor (whose guitars studies are still in use at conservatories), and Napoléon Coste. In fact the first known 7 string guitar was designed by Coste, and built by Lacote.

Nick Lucas with his
signature Gibson model

The first American company to produce a signature guitar was Gibson. In the 1920’s singer-guitarist Nick Lucas was all the rage on phonographs. By 1926 Gibson produced a signature Nick Lucas model. This was updated in 1935 to a 14 fret neck.

Though the C.F. Martin Guitar Company created some early models for popular recording stars, it was not until recently that signature models were produced.

Leadbelly with 12 string Stella guitar

The same could be said for Stella guitars, which were played by so many Blues guitarists. There was never a signature model.

Josh White

Josh White had a fascinating life and career as a musician. He went on to become a torch bearer for the Piedmont Blues style of music.

At the age of 5 Josh White’s mother, who was in dire financial straights gave him to a Blues musician named Blind Man Arnold, who took him around the country for the next 8 years.

Arnold would sing and play guitar, and young Josh would dance and collect coins in a tambourine. Blind Man Arnold sent White’s mother $2 a week.

Arnold then rented out young Josh White other Blues street musicians, to help them attract customers. Finally a record producer for Paramount records recognized White’s talent and  through legal action was able to free him from this indentured servitude.

A young Josh White 
By the 1930’s Josh White began a career singing Gospel songs as The Singing Christian. During this period of time White injured his hand. It went untreated and became gangrenous. For a while White went to work a dock worker and during this time exercised his hand by squeezing a rubber ball until he could once again play guitar chords.

Josh White and Leadbelly 1940's
By the 1940’s he starred in a musical called John Henry, playing the part of Blind Lemon Jefferson. This lead to a meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt, and many visits to the White House, including a performance at the inauguration of President Roosevelt.

Society Blues

A Greenwich Village club called the Café Society was frequented by a racial mixed audience and racially mixed musicians. This not only opened the door to New York society, but to European society as well.

1950 brought the onslaught of McCarthyism, and the witch-hunt for Communist sympathizers. Many actors, artists, and musicians fell prey to the House Committee on Un-American Activity, and were black-listed from working in their respective industries. Although White was neither a Communist or a sympathizer, he interjected protest songs into his stage act, to express human rights for all people, including people of colour.

Josh White found little work after that in the United States, and went to England to start playing in London Clubs. He stayed there for the next five years singing and acting in performances for Granada Television.
Odetta and Josh White
at March on Washington
Upon moving back to the United States, he performed at the 1963 March on Washington, alongside Reverend Martin Luther King, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and others. His career picked up steam as the popularity of Folk Music increased.

1962 Martin
00-21 New Yorker

For much of his career, Josh White played a Martin 00-21 12 fret guitar. This guitar has a wider neck and is sometimes referred to as a New Yorker model. The bridge on this guitar was a flat piece of rosewood, not typical of Martin guitars of the day. The bound top was solid spruce, and the back and sides were rosewood.  The rosewood fret board was wider than most  models. The headstock was slotted with open machine tuners.

1957 Josh White Zenith
Guitar by Boosey and Hawkes
While in the U.K. and Europe, Josh White was approach by the music company Boosey and Hawkes to put together a guitar method book. Boosey and Hawkes is still one of the World’s biggest publishers of written music, and at that time were manufacturing a variety of musical instruments.

To go along with their book, they also created a Josh White guitar under their Zenith brand name.

Josh White with Kay Kraft guitar

As a young man he also played a mid 1930’s Kay Kraft guitar, made by the Stromberg Voisinet. This was a very interesting instrument, since there is a small bolt on the neck heel that easily turns to adjust the string level.

Josh White with double pickguard
unidentified Martin guitar

He also played a variety of Martin guitars and usually favored a large pickguard; sometimes using two pickguards.

'67 Ovation Josh White Model

By 1965 Charles Kaman created the one of the first ever Ovation guitar with the fiberglass (Lyracord) back and solid spruce top, and the neck joined the body at the 12th fret. In 1967 the company offered the a signature guitar build specifically for Josh White and had a wider neck. The back had the parabolic fiberglass bowl. The name Josh White was written on the slotted headstock between the strings.

Prior to offering the guitar to the public, Josh White was presented with his signature model during an appearance at the Hotel America in Hartford Connecticut in 1966.

One of a kind Guild Josh White model

Later that same year, 1966, Al Dronge, owner of Guild Guitars, of Hoboken, New York, built a special model for Josh White. This was a gorgeous instrument and it featured a wide neck, a slotted headstock and an auditorium sized body.

Guild Josh White Guitar

Guild may of initially set it’s sights on producing this model as a production guitar, however by 1965 Folk Music took a downturn, being replaced by The British Invasion. The Guild instrument never went into production.

1967 & 1968 Ovation Josh White models

One interesting fact about Josh White is that in later life he suffered from psoriasis on his hands, which caused his fingernails to crack and break. This was tough condition for a finger-picking guitarist.

Through his relationship with Ovation Guitars, one of the foremen at Kaman Industries made a cast of his hands, and produced fiberglass fingernails for him. These were attached with a new type of glue called Eastman 910 (which later is still be sold as Super Glue).

1957 Zenith
Josh White model

I mentioned earlier that I disputed the fact the Josh White was the first African American to have a signature guitar named after him. This holds true if we count only United States Companies. However if we look at companies throughout the world, it was in 1957 that Boosey and Hawkes produced the Zenith Josh White guitar. So yes, Josh White would be the first African-American musician to have a signature guitar.

1958 Bo Diddley Gretsch

But in the United States, the honor of the first African American to have a signature guitar would go to Elias Bates, better known as Bo Diddley. In 1958 he went to the Gretsch Guitar Company and persuaded a designer named Juiliano to built his rectangular cigar box shaped guitar which he dubbed The Twang Machine.

1958 Bo Diddley
Gretsch Jupiter
That same year Gretsch Guitars also build another model for Bo that was based on the tail fins of a Cadillac of that same year. This was called the Bo Diddley Jupiter and was later re-christened the Billy-Bo Jupiter..

Other notable African-Americans to have signature guitars would include B.B. King, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix. Prince, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Tracy Chapman, and Charlie Christian had a pickup named in his honor.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further reading.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Here is the original 1957 Zenith Model