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Why Gibson Sucks Right Now

Not my favourite brand this week, but in the interests of impartiality I will begin with a list of what I like about Gibson.

The Good:

Gibson is without doubt one of the most important and innovative brands when it comes to fretted instruments.

Gibson has made the world’s most sought after banjos and mandolins.

The Gibson Les Paul has been a staple of the electric guitar market since it’s very inception. On top of that, the Les Paul is my favourite electric guitar. It may be back-breakingly heavy, but I think that all that mahogany is what helps it sound better than any other electric.

The Bad and the Ugly:

In my opinion, the litigious behaviour of the Gibson Guitar Corporation has become increasingly bizarre.

Gibson failed in its suit against Paul Reed Smith after PRS released its single cutaway electric guitar. It appears that Gibson believed that it infringed their copyright on the Les Paul.

From left to right: a Bigsby Merle Travis, a Gibson Les Paul and a PRS Single Cut.

Now it strikes me that all three of these guitars are similar.  Admittedly the first has a more pointed cutaway, but in essence, they are all the same.   Certainly compared to a Strat, or even a Tele, which is a single-cutaway guitar.

The years that these three were released go, from left to right, 1947, 1952 and 1998.  Now I know that the PRS and the Les Paul do look similar, but the concept that one guitar company might have the copyright on single cutaways is ludicrous.

Even stranger is Gibson’s lawsuit regarding the sale of guitar-shaped game controllers for Guitar Hero style games.  What is the deal with these people?

As a guitar repairman, I’m also cross with Gibson because the company no longer using a parts distributor in the UK. Instead, Gibson has decided that it will only sell parts to authorised guitar retailers.  In other words, if a repair shop wants to replace Gibson parts on Gibson guitars, it must now stock a range of Gibson instruments.  I didn’t ask what my minimum stock requirement would be – but even if it was just a couple of guitars, it would be a heck of a lot of money to spend just so I could replace a green tulip tuner on an old SG.  The result: I now must go to a guitar shop and buy parts at retail in order to fix people’s guitars.

This is more than inconvenient; it demonstrates an attitude towards fans, customers and prospective suppliers that baffles me. When I was at the NAMM show in California a couple of years ago, Gibson would only allow “authorised dealers” to view their guitars.  I was there representing an independent guitar store in Oregon and was therefore a potential dealer – but although other exhibitors were extremely welcoming, Gibson was just the opposite.  It’s all so odd.  The Gibson Guitar Corporation is like an elderly relative whose behaviour is getting more and more eccentric.  You feel like you shouldn’t mention it, because they’re such a staple. But it ticks you off all the same.

All that said, when I win the National Lottery here’s my shopping list:

Gibson F5 Mandolin

Gibson Mastertone Banjo

1952 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top.

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