Among the key challenges of recreating specifications from guitars originally crafted a half a century (or more) ago, is that we often find ourselves as the sole consumer of some very small-run parts. Today’s example is the plastics and tooling used to create some of the reissue details of Gibson Custom’s Historic Reissue guitars. In the picture above, you see a rhythm/treble toggle switch washer, which would seem run of the mill. What’s not obvious from the photo is that this humble little piece represents a great deal of research, engineering and investment. Over the last 20 years of continual refinement of the Historic Reissue series of guitars, Gibson Custom has faced the challenge of locating, analyzing and recreating much of the minutia that adds up to recapture the original essence of the finest guitars ever made.
The Story of Reissue Plastic: Back in the 1950s, there was much less emphasis put on the efficiency of manufacturing compared to the trends of later decades. This simple, round washer is a small but telling example of that trajectory. On the original Les Pauls of the ’50s, the R/T switch washer was cut from a sturdy plastic, where a machine tool would cut multiple pieces from a single sheet after the sheet had been silkscreened with the words “Rhythm” and “Treble.” Because the tool and the silkscreen process were separate, it was possible to use a thinner, slightly more flexible plastic. The original specification of this plastic, not constrained by a fervent desire to squeeze efficiency out of every pore of manufacturing, more closely formed around the carved top of the Les Paul and also could accommodate the fine look of a silkscreened font.
Over time, the process was changed to cost less and be more efficient. Thicker plastic allowed the tooling to cut and stamp the washer at once. As the tool cut the plastic into washer shapes, a stamp built into the same tool added the words “Rhythm” and “Treble” in a foil that replaced the original silkscreen process. The manufacturing benefits were a reduction in motion, time and materials, the new measure of manufacturing vitality in the 1960s and 1970s. What was lost was one of dozens of intricate details that had made the most substantial, ornamental and beautiful sounding guitars in the history of the craft.
For the last 20 years, and continuing today, Gibson Custom has poured through every detail that made the original guitars in Gibson’s history some of the magical instruments ever created. From the tiniest details to the most substantial specifications, we remain on a constant mission of research, craft and passionate dedication to capturing every aspect of our own history of craft so that we can bring our fans a piece of time, history and a playing experience that would otherwise remain for a privileged and dwindling few. Whether through the general specification of our Historic Reissue Collection of guitars, or through the “bench copy” replication of specific serial numbers in the Collector’s Choice series, Gibson Custom remains fanatical about bringing every detail of tone, feel and performance to the world.