Striking a Chord: Bozeman’s Gibson Shop Is One of a Kind
Some of the finest instruments in the world are built here in Bozeman, Montana. Since the late 80's, all Gibson Acoustic guitars have been hand crafted by folks that take their time and put in hours of detailed work.
The Gibson brand started over a hundred years ago in Kalamazoo Michigan. Back in the 80's, they left Kalamazoo and moved to Nashville. One of the things that was discovered was that Nashville wasn't the ideal place to build acoustic guitars because of the heat and humidity, so Gibson moved all of their acoustic builds to Bozeman in 1989.
I've long been a fan of the looks and sounds of the Gibson guitar brand, and had wished that at some point, I would be able to have a one on one tour of the Gibson shop. That wish was granted and I was able to see first hand all of the craftsmanship and detail that go into making this iconic brand.
John, who was my tour guide give me the rundown from start to finish and answered all of my questions regarding the making of a Gibson acoustic guitar. He took me through each phase of the process, explaining to me what each step meant and why Gibson does it the way that they do.
Let's just say, that quality comes first at Gibson and it takes about a month to build each guitar from start to finish.
First, the wood is selected and if the wood doesn't meet Gibson's high standards, it's sent back. Once they've settled in on the wood, they begin work on the "body and the neck of the guitar".
For the necks, they are machined out in the very beginning, only to get the rid of all of the wood that won't be used. They call this "cutting the meat off the bones". After that, everything is by hand. The shaping of the body, the sanding of the neck, all done by hand using molds that come from the original factory in Kalamazoo.
There are several stations, with highly skilled folks that take an enormous amount of pride in their work. The binding of the guitars is played by hand, with layer after layer glued to perfection. Even the pickguards are hand crafted, from the hand painting to each individual piece of Mother of Pearl that goes into the inlay, they make sure that quality is job one.
Once the guitar is put together, it is off to the paint shop.
I have to tell you, this was an amazing process to watch. Each guitar goes through the process whether it is paint or stain, they are each done by an individual, there is no mass production, which means there is no guitar the exact same. Think about that, every single guitar that leaves the Gibson shop here in Bozeman, is one of a kind.
An interesting fact, back during the second World War, wood was hard to come by, so in order to hide any blemishes that the wood might show, Gibson developed the "sunburst or burst" technique. The process is done by applying different thin layers of paint to the guitar in different colors. Interestingly, those "war models" are now some of the most sought after guitars in the world.
After the paint/staining process, they go to a section where the paint is scraped off the binding. The process? A person and a razor blade. That's right, each guitar gets extreme detailing.
The guitar is buffed, hand sanded, then buffed again.
It then goes through a rigorous set up process to make sure that it sounds as a Gibson should. This included putting on the strings, making sure the action is set properly and that there is no fret buzz. This process guarantees that the playability of the guitar is smooth and responsive.
Finally, the guitar is inspected one last time, if there are any flaws found, no matter how small, the guitar is sent back until it is perfect.
Gibson prides itself on making some of the finest instruments in the world, and all of those instruments are made in the United States. The guitars are not cheap, but after watching all of the detail and hard work that goes into making a Gibson, I would say they are worth every penny.
It is a guitar that will last generations. Something that you can pass down to your children, and they can pass down to theirs. Each one unique and slightly different, they aren't just guitars, they really are works of art, and their made right here in Bozeman.