Heritage Guitars Co-founder Dead at age 79

J.P. Moats, a co-founder of Heritage Guitar Inc. died on September 18 as the result of injuries suffered from a car accident near his home in Moulton, Alabama, days prior. He was 79 years old. Moats suffered a seizure while driving his wife to a doctor's appointment, according to the Decatur Daily, a local newspaper.

The music industry has lost a very important guy.

“The music industry has lost a very important guy,” said Marvin Lamb, Heritage co-founder. “It was a surprise to all of us. We all thought he was doing well. And he was. It’s the kind of thing that could happen to anybody.”

Moats worked as a guitar maker for Gibson Guitar for more than 25 years. He started with Gibson in 1957, rising from the “white wood room,” where he sanded guitar bodies and swept floors along with Lamb, who had started with Gibson a year prior.

“I’m the guy who broke him in. Me and J, we started right down at the bottom! We were good friends,” Lamb said. “He was a sober-type guy, and a fun guy, and knowledgeable. He was great at selecting wood.”

Modern Heritage Golden Eagle

Moats rose to quality control manager at Gibson, until the original factory closed in 1984.

Moats, Lamb and Jim Deurloo, formerly Gibson’s plant manager, decided to remain in Kalamazoo, MI and launched Heritage in the old Gibson Guitar factory building at 225 Parsons Street just six months after Gibson left. Heritage still builds guitars by hand in that plant, using many of Gibson’s traditional methods and tools.

Among Moat’s many contributions to the musical instrument industry is the Heritage American Eagle model.

“J was the guy who came up with the idea,” Lamb said, “but we always did things together. No one was in charge, it was consensus management. Over the years, we probably built 25 of them. If you ordered one today, it would probably be $14,000 to $15,000. Those guitars take a long time to build.”

After 26 years with Heritage, Moats entered semi-retired in 2010. He is survived by his wife, Priscilla Oman Moats, as well as two sons and four daughters. “We are going to miss him very much. He was a friend and we all loved him,” Lamb said.

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