Gibson’s Bankruptcy Isn’t a Shock For Indie Guitarists

Gibson pioneered electric guitars after creating the Les Paul in 1952. They’ve been the instrument of choice for musicians like Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Slash. Despite all the historical and musical glory, Gibson is another large company struggling in the marketplace.

Established in 1894, the Nashville-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Tuesday. In recent years, Gibson acquired headphones, record players and other music gear companies in hopes of becoming a jack-of-all-trades for the music industry. However, it seems they overextended their reach, landing $500 million in debt. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection means that the company is given room to reorganize and pay off creditors slower over time.

So, will this affect dedicated Gibson guitarists? Do musicians even actually care about Gibson anymore? We reached out to indie rock guitar players to see. They questioned the praised guitar company’s recent moves and priorities, saying quality has been plummeting overall in their experience. While they doubt Gibson will ever disappear entirely, they plan to cling to their vintage Gibsons for dear life.

Notable guitar-nerd outlet Reverb seems to think that the bankruptcy was not only a “validation of long-standing predictions,” but also potentially a good thing—with the possibility of quality improving and the company re-focusing back to what they do best: guitar-making. But, they say that if quality does suffer with newly made Gibson guitars, people might flock to used ones and the price may skyrocket.

“Gibson’s new models have been lackluster in my opinion and way too expensive for what they actually are—and that’s coming from a Gibson fan,” Elijah Sokolow, guitarist for NYC-band The Living Strange, says. “This is the golden age of smaller guitar companies (Luthiers) and if that means there isn’t as much of a monopoly on the guitar industry by bigger companies, I’m with it.”

Sokolow wasn’t the only guitarist noticing a decline in quality of Gibson products. Rich Gold of Darkwing says the beginning of the end for Gibson was with the “robo-tuner,” aka the Min-ETune.

“They thought they were the Cadillac of the guitar industry, but they dropped the ball with the quality of their newer pieces,” Gold comments. “While fans are mad at Fender for copping out and concentrating on aesthetics (and also reducing the quality of their products), Gibson didn’t get the memo—their style was played out and they didn’t really show us consumers much effort as far as making changes.”

Alex Knoche, guitarist for Vamanos and bassist for Newborns, thinks Gibson’s not actually going anywhere, but agrees that their quality has been going down. “Quality will continue to diminish [and] they’ll start setting up more factories in other countries,” he comments. “I bought one long enough ago to where it’s still pretty high quality—it’s my literal child and I don’t want to play anything else ever.”

Six-stringers worry that Gibson’s bankruptcy won’t really change anything. Jay Heiselmann, guitarist of Roya and Grooms, calls it a “fake” bankruptcy. “They won’t go away, just maybe some electronics brands they own,” he says, adding that he also believes the Min-ETune was a bust.

Mike Metzger has been the guitarist for Memphis Mike & The Legendary Tremblers for the past thirty years and says Gibson has been in trouble for a while now and also believes the bankruptcy won’t affect anything. “[Gibson’s] not going anywhere,” he comments to BTRtoday. “[They] might change a bit, but I don’t see them vanishing—did Twinkies disappear?”

Many musicians these days tend to purchase used guitars over new anyway due to the expensive price tag of new and the current trend of being “vintage.” Gibson will most likely be sticking around for much longer, but it would probably be a smart move for them to go back to their roots. What would Les Paul say?