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. Today, Gibson moves forward into 2014 with its eyes trained firmly on the future while also paying homage to its illustrious past.
1921 Two of the most significant innovations in guitar history are developed by Gibson employee Ted McHugh—specifically, the adjustable truss rod and the height-adjustable bridge. To this day, all Gibson instruments are equipped with truss rods based on McHugh’s design. Traditional jazz guitars continue to feature the bridge he designed as well.
1922 Gibson sound engineer Lloyd Loar designs the legendary F-5 mandolin. The company also responds to the growing demand for acoustic guitars by introducing several new models. Chief among these is the L-5, also designed by Loar and considered by many to be the first “modern” acoustic. By the end of the decade, Gibson is producing several flattop models and an economy series known as the Kalamazoo line.
1935 Gibson introduces its first electric guitar, a Hawaiian style instrument called the EH-150. The legendary ES-150 quickly follows in 1936. Jazz great Charlie Christian adopts the ES-150 as his primary instrument, forever enshrining it unofficially as the iconic “Charlie Christian” model. To this day, many jazz players regard the ES-150’s “Charlie Christian” pickups as the finest jazz pickup ever produced.
1937-45 Cowboy film star Ray Whitley orders a super-large acoustic guitar from Gibson, thus paving the way for the J-200, or Super Jumbo. Two cutaway models, the Super 400 Premier and the L-5 Premier, are subsequently introduced, as is the legendary J-45 and Southern Jumbo. In 1944, as World War II nears conclusion, the Chicago Musical Instrument Company purchases Gibson and prepares to meet the pent-up postwar demand for guitars.