Former Gibson Chief Ted McCarty on Tonewoods and the Problems of 'Top-Heavy' Management | Bacon's Archive

Photo by Kalamazoo Public Library Historical Photographs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series of unpublished interviews from the personal research archive of noted guitar writer Tony Bacon. These interviews will be appearing on Reverb in the coming months.

Stay tuned for more interviews from Bacon's Archive coming soon. For previous installments, check out Tony's interviews with Tom Petty, Chet Atkins, and George Fullerton, as well as a deep look into the recording of Sgt. Pepper's with George Martin, Geoff Emerick, and Ken Townsend.

I interviewed Ted McCarty in 1992 at his office in Kalamazoo, Michigan, just a short distance from the original site where Ted made his mark as the boss of Gibson from 1948 to 1966. I talked to Ted for The Gibson Les Paul Book, my first book about those great instruments, and so Les Pauls were the focus of our conversation.

Ted was in his early 80s when we met, a frail man with poor eyesight, but for the most part his memory seemed in good shape. Since he left Gibson in ’66 he had run the Bigsby accessories company alongside a more recent flashlight firm. Ted sold Bigsby to Gretsch in 1999, and he died at the age of 91 in 2001.

Do you play an instrument, Ted?

No, I’m not a musician at all. I never had the opportunity to learn. I went through college back in the big Depression, graduated in ’33. When I wasn’t in school I was out scrambling to make a buck to pay for my way in school. My mother died when I was three years old, and I was raised by a great aunt and uncle—marvelous people, like a mother and father to me. They weren’t by any stretch of the imagination wealthy people either. I scrambled, you know, to bring home as much as possible.

Where did you work before you went to Gibson?

I was with the Wurlitzer company, where I’d started shortly after college, in January 1936, and stayed for 12 years. Then I left—I was going to get out of the music industry. I was just fed up with it after 12 years. See, by degree I’m an engineer. ‘Course, I have an accounting background as well as engineering. So I was doing lots of other things, retail things, for the Wurlitzer company. I lived in about eight different cities, moved around the country with my family. I liked the company very much, but it somehow didn’t fit into what I had as the future.

You were ambitious.

Ambitious, yes. So I left Wurlitzer on January 1, 1948. Long story short, I was waiting to hear about a job as assistant treasurer to the Brock Candy Company. I got talking to Mr. Maurice Berlin at Chicago Musical Instrument company (CMI), which owned Gibson, and he asked if I would be willing to come to Kalamazoo and spend a week or more at the factory, study the situation, and give him a report as to what I thought the problems were. So I did.

The original Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan (1941). Photo by Kalamazoo Public Library Historical Photographs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

It’s only 150 miles from Chicago, and after spending a week I had a pretty clear idea of what I thought was wrong. I wrote it all up in a nice brochure and gave it to him. Later he called me down and asked me how I would like to be general manager.

What did you say in your report?

It was top-heavy in the office. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Fundamentally that’s what it was, plus the other thing was that the employees were not at all compatible with Guy Hart. He was one of these men, and this is not a nice thing, but when I was here nobody ever referred to him without putting the prefix SOB. He was the kind of a man that would walk around the factory with a pad [acts like someone snooping around and busily writing things down], and they didn’t know what he was up to, you know? They hated the guy and they were afraid of him. So that was very bad.

More I thought about it, the more I realized that the opportunity at Gibson was much greater to do something for myself, particularly if I got to be president. So I called Berlin and told him that I would take the job. I think I called him on a Thursday. I said, "When do you want me over there?" And he said, "Monday" [laughs]. So I said, "Alright, it’ll be a little bit difficult, but I’ll be there." So I came over on March 15 and took over.

What was the first thing you had to do?

The question was how long would it take to get the thing turned around for a profit? They had been losing money steadily since the fall before. You see, they were getting back into manufacturing guitars, because during World War II they could not do it. The government regulation was that if any instrument such as a guitar, brass instrument, or whatever had ten percent or more of metal, it could not be done. And Gibson always had a steel truss rod in the neck.

So they got into war work. They did electronic work during the war, for the Army and the Navy and all the rest of it. Now they’d been trying to get back into making guitars, but with the employee attitude and all the rest of it, nothing was being accomplished, except that they were losing money.

The Gibson Guitar factory. Photo by Kalamazoo Public Library Historical Photographs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

What did you do?

I discovered there wasn’t one person in that factory, such as the superintendent, who was responsible for all the sections. They had foremen in this department, that department, but here would be one that didn’t have anybody in charge. You can’t run it like that. So I chose a man, Mr. John Huis, who had been with them a great many years—he was a foreman at that time in the finishing department. I made him superintendent, and he and I worked together. We decided that every day we would go through the factory and find one operation that we thought could be improved.

In the meantime, I made friends with the people there. I knew them by name—there was only 150 of them—and completely changed the attitude of the employees toward management. They had a union at that time, the United Steelworkers, which had got taken into there during the war, and they were still there. They were a problem.

I went there on March 15, we lost money in March, we lost money in April, we made money in May, and we made it for the next 18 years—never had a loss. I left there in ’66, when I bought this company from Paul Bigsby.

In the meantime, we built a new office in 1950. The factory was about 250,000 square feet, took in two city blocks, and we had two other factories in town there when I left, a 60,000 square-foot building and another 20,000 square-foot building—factory one, factory two, and factory three. At the end of the calendar year at that time, Mr. Berlin gave me a very handsome bonus, and in the spring I became president.

So what year were you made president at Gibson?

The Gibson Guitar factory (1936). Photo by Kalamazoo Public Library Historical Photographs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

I think it was executive vice-president in June of ’49 and president in June of ’50. Those were the dates, but for all intents and purposes I was president from the day I walked in the place, the CEO. Mr. Hart resigned in November of ’48—he was no longer there, so I was the chief executive officer. I was only 38 years old at the time, and they were a little hesitant about making it too soon. So although, as I say, I was actually president, I operated as CEO—there was nobody there who had authority over me. The only man who had was the chairman of our board, Mr. Berlin himself.

Who would decide about new models at this time?

Well, I came up with the ideas of what I thought we could build, and the sales department, which was Chicago Musical Instruments primarily, they would... we had a number of salesmen out on the road all the time. These were highly-paid men, most of them drove big Oldsmobiles, Buicks, or Cadillacs—they were making good money. We were growing, from 150 employees, growing and growing and growing, and we had about 1,200 when I left in ’66.

Trade shows in those days were in June and then in winter, generally around January some time. One in Chicago in June. One in New York in January or so. We always had displays at the trade shows. Originally they were what we called hotel shows, room shows—the different companies would rent a suite or a room in the big hotels like the Palmer House, the New Yorker, and you’d go around from room to room to room, see what was available.

So we would take these prototypes to the show, show them, they’d get a reaction from the dealers—because this was a dealer show, you had to be a dealer to get in. According to the reaction, we’d go back to the factory and the salesmen would say, "This is a good seller, this is a good seller, but I couldn’t do much with this one." OK, you’ve got it. That’s how we chose the line, you might say.

1940 Gibson ad for the L-5 and Super 400

I can remember that after that first year we came up with a number of guitars, and I thought, What am I going to do next year, what can I come up with that’s new? Well, in 1948 the most popular guitars we made were the lap model steel guitars—they were the quantity units. We still made the L-5 and the Super 400, but the big volume were these solidbodies.

They had started to make some designs for those things before I got there—a design company known as Barnes & Reinecke, in Chicago. [Notably, Gibson’s solid maple and plastic Ultratone/BR-1 steel, introduced in 1946.] Chicago was home plate for everything in those days, and that company designed the guitars that we were making at that time, the solid lap models.

We did not make any solidbody Spanish guitars, and at that time the only one... Paul Bigsby made a few custom-built solidbody guitars. Leo Fender was an amplifier man. He had a little company making amplifiers, pretty good ones, but he didn’t make any guitars. He had a fellow working for him as a sales manager, Don Randall, and somehow or other they decided to go into making guitars, because actually Leo almost went bankrupt a couple of times on amplifiers.

There weren’t as many electric guitars in those days, so there wasn’t the demand for amplifiers that came along later. So, they saw this electric guitar that Paul Bigsby made [for Merle Travis], and they copied it, and they went into production. Now they were beginning to grow. We didn’t make any solidbodies, Gretsch didn’t make any solidbodies, Kay didn’t, Epiphone didn’t—there just weren’t any others that were making it.

You had your eye on what Fender was doing?

Yes, we realized that he was gaining popularity in the West. He didn’t get anywhere in New York or this part of the country—it was strictly in the West. I watched him and watched him, and I said, "We’ve got to get into that business. We are giving him a free run—he’s the only one making that kind of guitar." Had that real shrill sound, which the country and western boys liked. It was becoming popular. So we talked it over and decided, let’s make one. Now, Les Paul was known to me. Les Paul was a bit of an innovator, but he played Epiphone. And I had been trying to get him to play Gibson, oh, for a couple of years.

He was not going to get shaken away from Epiphone. He was loyal to them. He had made some improvements, some changes, in his Epiphone that he used. They didn’t make an Epiphone with his name on it—everything they made was Epiphone. So we started out to make a solidbody for ourselves. We had a lot to learn about the solidbody guitar. It’s different to the acoustic—built differently, sounds different, responds differently.

When did you start work on this project?

About 1949 or 1950. We spent a year.

And when you say "we," who do you mean?

Oh, the factory, and my engineers. By this time I had over a thousand employees. My top engineers in electronics, amplifiers, and pickups. Because we made our own pickups, and we designed guitars. We started trying to learn something about a solidbody guitar. For instance, the stiffer the material—the harder the wood—the more shrill is the sound, and the longer is the sustain. Hit the string and it would ring for a long sustain period. It could be too long.

One of the things we did was to take a piece of iron rail from the railroad track, put a bridge and a pickup and a tailpiece on it, and test it. You could hit that string, take a walk, come back, and it would still be ringing. Because the thing that causes it to slow down is the fact that it gives a little bit—wood gives, you know? So we started. We made them out of maple—they were too shrill. Leo was using ash wood, always made of ash, and we didn’t think much of that as a wood. We didn’t use it.

What was wrong with ash?

Oh, it’s an incredibly soft wood. And it was not a particularly attractive wood—didn’t have much in the way of appearance. Anyway, we used a lot of Honduras mahogany, we used maple, and, of course, we used ebony and rosewood.

We made a guitar out of solid rock maple. Wasn’t good. Too shrill, too much sustain. And we made one out of mahogany. Too soft. Didn’t quite have that thing. So we finally came up with a maple top and a mahogany back, made a sandwich out of it, glued ‘em together. Then we decided, now what about the shape? We wanted something that wouldn’t be too heavy. The Fender was a much larger guitar, heavier. So we made ours a little smaller bodied, in a traditional shape.

At first, what did you call the guitar that became the Les Paul Model?

It was just a solidbody guitar that we were building, it was... a project. We had always carved the tops of our fine guitars, and we had real fine carving machines. Leo Fender didn’t have any carving machines. They joined their neck with a plate in the back of the guitar. We always glued our neck in, made it an integral part. So I said, OK, let’s carve the top of this thing. So we did, we carved the maple top, like we’d do on an L-5 and an L-7.

Whose idea was it to do that?

I was working with the rest of the engineers, and we would sit down, like in a think tank, and we would talk about this guitar: Let’s do this, let’s try that.

How many of you?

Maybe there were four of us. Mr. Huis, one of the fellows in charge of the wood department [probably Larry Allers], and one of the guitar players in final assembly [probably Rem Wall]. Of course, Julius Bellson [assistant treasurer and personnel manager] and Wilbur Marker [service and custom-instruments manager], people who worked for me—they were in on this thing. And we finally came up with a guitar that was attractive. And as far as we were concerned it had the tone, it had the resonance, and it also had the sustain, but not too much.

How long did it take to get to that point?

About a year. Tony Mottola was probably the number one guitarist in New York City at the time. I sent one to Tony for his opinion. He was strictly an acoustic man—he didn’t think too much of any electric guitar. It was attractive.

So why choose him to send it to?

Because I knew him very well. He was a fine musician, one of the best in this country. So I got an opinion from him and from several other people.

What did he say about the guitar?

Well he didn’t particularly care for it. It was a solidbody and he was a hollowbody man. But he did say that it was an attractive guitar and it played well, and that was an end of it. Wasn’t a bombshell by any means. So we thought we had the guitar, and now we needed an excuse to make it. None of the other major guitar companies had anything to do with a solidbody. Their attitude was forget it, because anyone with a bandsaw can make a solidbody guitar. Bandsaw and a router, that’s all you needed.

Was the guitar you had at that stage exactly as it turned out in production?

You’re talking about the Les Paul? Oh, absolutely. So I got to thinking, you know, at that time Les Paul and Mary Ford were riding very high. They were probably the number one vocal team in the United States. They were earning a million dollars a year. And knowing Les and Mary, I decided maybe I ought to show this guitar to them.

They were at a hunting lodge, borrowed from a friend of theirs, in Delaware Water Gap, which is up in the mountains in Pennsylvania. Carol, who was Mary’s sister, had an almost identical voice. They could sing a duet, with one of them off-stage—they did this frequently—and it sounded like Mary was singing a duet with herself. Their bass player was Wally Kamin, and Wally was Carol’s husband—so the four of them were a group. They were all together in this lodge up in the mountains.

I had been talking to Les by phone, and I talked to Phil Braunstein, his financial manager, a New York accountant. So I made a date with Phil, flew into New York, had breakfast, got in his car, and I had this guitar with me.

You had a business deal in mind?

Yeah, business. We’d pay Les a royalty for using his name. So it was an all-day drive from New York down there. We got there at night, pouring down with rain, a miserable night. Anyway, we got up there, got through the usual whatnot.

Les Paul and Mary Ford (1955). Photo by: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer. Getty Images.

"So, I’ve got something here, Les, that I’d like you to see." We had an amplifier and we hooked this guitar up to it. He took it, and he played it… and he played it and he played it. And he went, "Hey, hey!" There’s this balcony upstairs with bedrooms leading off it, and Mary was upstairs, so he hollered up, "Mary, come down here, I want you to see this." Mary came down. He says, "Play this, Mary, I want to hear and see what you think of it." She took it and played it, and she said, "I love this."

She was a good player, I think.

Oh yes, a good guitarist as well as a good singer. And also a very pulchritudinous lady. So, Les said, "Let me have it," and he played it some more. He turned to Mary and said, "Look, they’re getting too close to us, Mary, I think we ought to join them. What do you think?" She says, "I like it."

What did Les mean by "too close to us"?

Well, you see, Les Paul was one of these fellas—he had designed some pickups, he was one of the first men in this country who did the multiple recordings. He had taken his Epiphone and had made a lot of changes to it, put some pickups on it that he had made. I had been after him, as I told you, for a couple of years, trying to talk him into Gibson—hadn’t been successful. So I said that’s what we want to do, we want to call this the Les Paul model.

Les had put a solid block in the middle of a few guitars. And he tells people he took that guitar to Gibson in the early ‘40s.

Oh yeah, before I got there, he came to Gibson with what he called the plank guitar. He showed it to Mr. Berlin, didn’t get anywhere. It had no shape, no appearance. The cosmetics were not there. Our guitar was beautiful.

Anyway, I told him that we would pay him a royalty. I’m not an attorney, and nor was Phil Braunstein, nor was Les. So we started making a contract. And I have a theory about contracts. The more simple they are, the better they are. If you have five pages of gobbledygook, what I call boilerplate, you hire a smart lawyer and he’ll find loopholes in it. A simple one, anyone can understand. So we started out on it. First thing we did was write out how much we would pay him per guitar. That was satisfactory for him, satisfactory with Phil.

Can you remember how much that was?

Oh yes. I don’t know whether that’s germane.

Les Paul and Mary Ford (1955). Photo by: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer. Getty Images.

I would be very interested to know.

A dollar apiece. So, we were talking about a five-year contract to start with. We agreed that night. We each had a copy, wrote it out longhand. Les could take it to his attorney and I could take it to ours, and if there were any questions then we would get together and work it out. And do you know, there was not a single word in that contract changed. Not one. So I came back to the factory and now we had a Les Paul model.

From your point of view, presumably it made good business sense to have his name on your guitar, because of his prominence.

Oh yes, absolutely. That’s right. I’d been trying to get him to let us make him a guitar for years [laughs], with no success, but we finally had something that he liked. So then we started to produce them. The only change... we had a regular trapeze tailpiece, and Les came up with the idea, instead of having the strings hooked into the tailpiece, he had a solid steel bar wrapped around. He liked that, so we changed to it—we made them that way. Then a few years later we went away from that to the one they call the McCarty bridge and tailpiece, which has the studs—you could move it.

Did you use existing techniques at Gibson to make the new solidbody Les Paul?

Yes—don’t forget that when we started doing this, we had always been making hollowbody guitars. This was our first solidbody, so surely some of the craftsmanship of the hollowbody guitar would be found in this first solid. One of them was the arched top, but I did that mostly because I wanted to have something that Leo couldn’t do.

Gibson Les Paul 1955

You may get the idea I never liked Leo [laughs]. Nobody in the industry did. Because he wouldn’t join any of the associations. He wouldn’t meet with us. He had nothing whatsoever to do with any of us. As a businessman he was very successful. He got a big fancy price from CBS when he sold up. Anyway, there’s more to the story of Les and Mary. They came here many times. We became very good friends. My wife and Mary were very good friends.

At the end of the fourth year of our contract, Phil Braunstein called me. They were still making big money. He said, Ted, let’s extend the contract—we won’t wait for the end of the fifth year. So, what we did was to extend the contract after the fourth year, and the same things were in there, the same contract, but the date is extended.

How far was it extended?

Another five years. And along sometime during that next period, probably, oh, eight years after we got started, Les and Mary started to get a divorce. And Les... well, you know him. This was around 1960, maybe. So he didn’t want money, didn’t want it tied up with the divorce, and we didn’t want the contract any more. So we dropped his name on the guitars.

In the meantime, we had the Les Paul Custom, the Les Paul Junior, we had about four or five models. These instruments, each and every one of them, carried this one-dollar royalty for him, and we were making thousands of them. So we continued to make the same guitars, and we just called them SGs instead of Les Pauls. We didn’t put the Les Paul name on ‘em—we called them SGs, meaning Solid Guitar.

Now, when we first brought out the Les Paul and Les started to use it, he was very valuable in those days. He was on television, he was playing in Vegas, very much in the public eye, him and Mary, and it was a fine thing as far as we were concerned, and Les and I became personal friends. They would stay at my house (my daughter was at high school), we socialised—good friends.

I was a little upset with Les, of course, when they did this sort of thing. We kind of drifted apart for a little while. And he got really down as far as popularity. It was the worst thing that ever happened to him in his life, I guess. Mary was the epitome of the girl next door. She didn’t have a great voice, an operatic voice or anything of that sort, but she had a very pleasant voice, and she was a very attractive woman, a very nice person, and she was thought of as the girl next door. And of course they had a lot of gold records. They’d come out with a new song and it would be a hit.

Anyway, when we introduced the Les Paul at the trade show, Fred Gretsch, a personal friend of mine, said, "How could you do this? Why and how could you do that for Gibson?" We were good friends, and I said Fred, somebody’s got to stop this guy Fender, he’s just about trying to take over. He said, "Ted, anybody with a bandsaw and a router can make a solidbody guitar. But for Gibson to do it, I just couldn’t believe it." Do you know that none of them ever made a solidbody guitar for years?

Not for a while, no.


Was Les Paul’s only contribution to the design the long tailpiece?

That’s the only one.

He’s said that he designed more than that.

What? What does he claim he did?

In one interview he said he designed everything but the carved top.

[Laughs.] Well, actually, I have told you exactly how it got to be a Les Paul. We spent a year designing that guitar, and he never saw it until I took it to Pennsylvania.

So why would he say that?

I don’t know. But what is there, outside of the carved top, and the shape, to the design?

I suppose the combination of the maple and the mahogany is important to the design.

The sandwich? He never saw it, I’m sure he didn’t know it for years.

How about the gold-finished top?

Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty 1957

We did that because the gold finish covered the blemishes in the wood, the cosmetic appearance. Because guitar players are strange. Now [speaking in 1992] they’re making guitars with maple with... what do they call that? Quilted maple, yes. In the early ‘50s you couldn’t give one away. If it was maple it had to be fiddleback maple, had to be perfect, couldn’t have any blemishes, couldn’t have any mineral streaks in it.

But we used to cover it up with that paint. Then we made the Custom, painted it black. So as long as the wood was solid, any streaks or blemishes didn’t make any difference—it was all black.

Why was the Gibson Les Paul Custom introduced?

We just had another one. You know, you have all kinds of players out there that like this and like that. Chevrolet has a whole bunch of models, Ford has a whole bunch of models, we had... and also there was a good reason for it. We were having more and more of a problem getting real good clear mahogany from Honduras. We’d get mahogany and it’d have streaks in it and whatnot.

So that Les Paul Custom was a solidbody—it was not a sandwich. It was solid mahogany, but painted black. So you had some with streaks in it, you made Customs out of it. Dolled it up fancy with binding and other things on it, and sold it for a higher price.

So why the change to all-mahogany? For sound?

We liked mahogany. It was an excellent wood to work with. We used a lot of it in necks for our lower-priced guitars, instead of maple and rosewood. I never allowed ourselves to be in love with something that I had designed or that other people had designed. If the market wanted it one way, that’s the way we made it. And quality, always quality. I would not approve of something that was not good.

How about the Les Paul Junior and the Special models?

Well, they were low price. Opened up a whole new market of the kids who couldn’t afford the other models. We made one for them.

Those models seemed to be competing more directly with Fender.

Gibson Les Paul Junior Double Cutaway 1959

[Long pause.] I never paid that much attention to him. I just didn’t like Leo’s manner of working with people, treating people, and whatnot. And he was always trying to sue somebody, and I never particularly liked that.

Did the name of the Les Paul TV model have anything to do with the Fender Telecaster? It was more or less the same colour.

No. I never knew what they made. I never saw one of their catalogues.

Later, you changed the Junior and the Special to a double-cutaway shape. Why was that?

Well, the players wanted to be able to thumb the sixth string, and they couldn’t do it if the only cutaway was over on the treble side. So we made them with another cutaway, and they could thumb it. We did things that the players wanted, as much as anything. They were the ones that came to us.

I’ve built a whole business here [speaking in 1992]. We have a subsidiary making flashlights—bought it from some other people in ’68, had two models, didn’t amount too much. Now I’ve got a whole catalogue of different kinds of flashlights, flexible-shaft flashlights, and a lot of the ideas came from people coming to me and saying, "Can you make this?" So we make it, and then it’s, Hey, that’s a good idea. We’ll put that in the catalogue. It’s the same old story. If you’re a manufacturer and you’re in business to make money and stay in business, you’ve got to keep up with what the people want.

Did you see much of Les Paul after the contract was cancelled?

Oh sure. You see, Gibson, later on, put his name back on. He’d come to town, go down to the factory—which is still there—he’d come in and see me. We’d sit and talk. We were friends. We’re still friends. There was never any animosity that he split up with his wife. That was his business. But it was my business when people wouldn’t play his records, and he got down to the point where he was playing mostly fairs, summer fairs, state fairs, county fairs, and whatnot.

Why did you leave Gibson?

Why? [Laughs.] Well… the basic reason was that I felt I wanted to get out, because I could see down the road that I was going to have a problem with a certain party, and I didn’t think I wanted to go through all that. I was 56 years old. I talked to Paul Bigsby, agreed to buy his business, and then back here in Kalamazoo our real estate man found this building. Wasn’t anything in it, an empty clubhouse.

Would you have bought Bigsby if you hadn’t foreseen this personal problem at Gibson?

My own personal feelings would have been different. I wouldn’t have been so susceptible to making a change. I never regretted it. All my friends said they thought I was crazy, absolutely out of my mind. Said, "You’ll be broke in six months. That little company?" They said, "You just can’t do it." OK. That first year, 1966—there’s two buildings here attached together—we built the second building, and paid for it. We had the contractors come in and put these offices up here.

Gibson, meanwhile, would become part of Norlin.

Yes, CMI sold out to ECL, a few years after I left. There was Norton Stevens, the president of ECL, and Maurice Berlin, president of Chicago Musical Instruments. So when ECL bought Chicago Musical Instruments, Norlin was made the new name, "Nor" from Norton, and "lin" from Berlin. Stupid! Absolutely stupid! Didn’t mean a thing! Chicago Musical Instrument had a great name, all over this country. Stevens thought it was too insular to have the name of a city.

People always seem to have a particular image in mind of what Gibson is, or ought to be, or was.

That’s right, and Gibson knows this. Recently [speaking in 1992], I told a couple of their fellas from the factory [laughs]. You know, they made some very poor guitars out of Nashville when they first got started down there [in 1975]—very bad. And there were a lot of dealers throughout the country that would buy Gibsons, and they insisted on ones that were made in Kalamazoo. They would not buy one if it came from Nashville. Over the years, they have improved, and I’m told by some guitar players that they’re pretty good guitars now.

Ted's business card in 1992

About the Author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. He is a co-founder of Backbeat UK and Jawbone Press. His books include The Ultimate Guitar Book, The Gibson Les Paul Book, and History Of The American Guitar. His latest book is Electric Guitars: Design And Invention (Backbeat). Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at

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