Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gibson Guitar Tour!

Flying back from the Internet2 meeting in New Orleans (see earlier posts) I drove straight to the Gibson Guitar Factory out off Elm Hill Pike in Nashville. Friend Brenda Stein, a fabulously talented woodworker artist, had organized a special tour of the facility, led by her friend Herb Jenkins, Director of Purchasing at Gibson. There were 10 or 12 of us gathered around a table in a small conference room, which we reached only after signing waivers at the guard desk and passing through a very intimidating and obviously secure metal turnstile arrangement. Colin was wearing the required safety glasses, but I got a pass on that due to my four-eyes status.

After introducing ourselves to one another, we spent probably half hour, forty-five minutes getting the overview of the Gibson guitar-building straight from Herb, who was joined by his colleague Ron Moe. The addition of Ron was just great since the upcoming long tour through the huge facility was often loud, and Ron's presence allowed us to break into two groups as we marched.

The company uses all genuine mahogany for its guitar bodies, and some maple and rosewood for some tops and fretboards. They pretty much manufacture everything but the tuning keys right there in the huge building, and over the hour that followed, we would see it all. Examples of every step of the process are in that room, and it was fascinating to see, for example, the routing work that goes on to make the originally very heavy solid body Les Paul a bit lighter, essentially a series of holes an inch or so in diameter routed out on the backside of the front body, with an 8 or so inch one inch wide curvy line also cut out of the wood. When front and back body sections are joined, those are just weight reducing air pockets inside the "solid body."

We were also fascinated by the traditional method of wrapping a yards and yards long linen rope-like piece of fabric around the front and back pieces to let them bond together in the gluing process. Here's a pic of the station where that happens.

Colin was in utter thrall, perhaps most drawn to the Flying V, the guitar he's settled on for his birthday wish (augmented by all his allowance for months now, saved to help with the purchase). Toward the end of the small picture slideshow below you'll see the 50th anniversary model that he discovered at the very last workstation, where talented final fine-tuners made them ready for packaging. We also saw some of the new Gibson Robot SG Special LTD. models, the ones with the Swiss electronics that actually automatically tune the guitar. Even watching the wrapping of electronic coils with hair-fine copper wire to create humbucker pickups was fascinating.

I didn't get many pictures, because I was afraid that if I took my cam out early I'd be so in photojournalist mode I'd miss something. And I'm glad about that: Herb took us out to the massive storage shed where the raw mahogany, straight from Central America, is stored, and then walked us all the way through the complex process, some machine-facilitated but very much of it carefully done by hand, of making thousands of guitars a day. And I heard the first positive economic news I've heard in ages: Gibson will be hiring 200 new employees soon to keep up with the high demand for their products! It seems that when the nation has the blues, they want Gibson guitars to play and sing about it.

I told Herb at one point that I own quite a few of his company's guitars, only they're in Second Life. Gibson has a robust presence in SL and gives away its guitars, a novel and effective way to battle with forgers.

I want to thank Brenda, and Herb and Ron, and especially Gibson Guitars, for the experience today. It was one I'll always remember, and so, I'm sure, will me lad! Here are all the pics!


Dave Bircher said...

That is sooo cool and I am very jealous. I am a "three chord" goof around guitar player but would love to see that place!

Scott said...

Yeah, Dave, I totally put up this post to jeaousize my friends, including my dear pal James Morrison of "24" fame, who was the first to introduce me to the term "GAS," an affliction we share (though he has more means to indulge it, lol). That's, of course, "Guitar Acquisition Syndrome."

colin merrick said...

hey dad. yeah yesterday was pretty awesome. i couldn't (literally!) get to sleep for thinking about guitars! it was soooooo cool and herb was awesome. it makes me have a whole new appreciation for guitars (especially GIBSON!).

Josh said...

Sounds like a great time! I wish they had open tours of the Nashville office. I'd love to see the plant.