China Business

Gibson Guitars — From Kalamazoo To China And Beyond

international attorneys

I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, two houses down from the Sweitzers. Mr. Sweitzer worked at the local Gibson Guitar factory and he would arrive home from work each day at around 3:50 p.m. and his dinner was to be on the table by 4 p.m. Near as I could tell, it always was. I was always envious of the extra post-dinner play time this early eating allowed.

Then one day the Sweitzers started eating at 5 pm and I soon learned why: Gibson had left its Kalamazoo birthplace in America’s industrial heartland and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. A part of my town went with it.

I just learned that Gibson Guitar will soon be returning to an industrial heartland, but in China’s Liaoning Province this time. Gibson just purchased China’s third-biggest piano maker, state-owned Dongbei Piano Group. Our international lawyers have lately been seeing more American and European companies getting their start at doing business in China by buying existing China companies/facilities.

The company will be renamed Baldwin-Dongbei Piano & Musical Instruments Co Ltd, incorporating the Baldwin piano name already owned by Gibson. Gibson already produces around 150,000 guitars a year for from a factory in Qingdao and it has a marketing office in Shanghai. Gibson also makes its cheaper Epiphone guitar line at a factory in southern Guangdong Province.

I wonder what time the Dongbei workers will get home from work and I wonder when Gibson will move its Dongbei factory to Vietnam or Thailand.

28 responses to “Gibson Guitars — From Kalamazoo To China And Beyond”

  1. Regarding Memphis, no one can truly understand delta culture through its institutions, whether business or governmental, present or past. You have to reach deeper than that, travelling around and outside the city. The remnants of feudal-agricultural society are still there. If you have no base of shared experience, you’ll be either repulsed or offended by what you see.

  2. well.hell Dan, I feel your pain. so can anyone out their
    explain the damm problem with manufacuring.in what used
    to be the GOOD OLE USA. looks like all manufacturing
    and i mean 75% will be done offshores. well i guess
    we all could be trained as carptners.if their was some
    iobs.but guess what! 99% of the damm mexicans has got
    that part wrap up. or least in the south.well,hell,
    iguess everyone should thank our good ole leaders.and besides,i dont see anything that can be done about it. and bye the way,dont see many people complaining
    either.i hope you get back your dinner time.i know i miss mine too.by the way could you send the other 1% of
    mexicans down here, i don’t think think these contractors have as many as they need.happy holidays.

  3. Randall —
    Division of labor leads to dislocation of labor, but it need not necessarily lead to no labor. What is happening right now in the US is that jobs are shifting, not necessarily evaporating. We Americans are a strong and resourceful people and I am confident we will do just fine. There will be pockets of pain along the way, as there have always been, and we must be cognizant of that. But at the same time, we need to focus on our future and our strengths, not on what was. I would guess that even for Gibson guitar, the overwhelming bulk of its revenues and profits flow to the US, not elsewhere.

  4. Hello Dan,
    are you sure, you mean that GIBSON manufactures
    Gibson Guitars in China, Qingdao (for example at sejung comp. Brand S101)for the american market ?

  5. Andy —
    Thanks for checking in. I do not know if the Gibson guitars coming out of China are for the American market or not. You raise a good point. If the Gibson guitars being made in China are strictly for the Chinese market, the factory there is probably increasing American jobs (and at the high end too), rather than decreasing them. But, I am pretty sure these guitars are both for the Chinese market and for export.

  6. Hi…
    Just a guitar players weiw.
    The guitars comming out of china are mostly very bad…
    If you take a pre china Epipone and compare it to a current china Epi guitar you will never take a china guitar in your hand again….
    If you want a low price guitar from the far east you need to find somthing from Korea.
    What they do/did in Kalamazoo they will newer be able to do in China. The crafmanship, the wood, the climate, the very soul of Gibson.
    From Denmark…

    • 2016 update: The Epiphone guitars that are coming out of China are catching up to the build quality of those in the U.S.A. The electronics are still a different matter and still lag way behind. Example, if you purchase say the Epiphone Sheraton II Pro, the build of the guitar and parts used are really good. Grover 18:1 (the real deal)… Graphtech NuBone nuts, Gibson hardware like the bridge and soapbar tailpiece. If you purchase one of these guitars, you are getting a very decent guitar…just upgrade the electronics and you got a nice instrument. Gary Clark Jr. plays the Epiphone Casino ($849)….the very one. In an interview he said it’s his go to guitar…yes, the $849 Casino. So, you need to watch what you are getting. Stay with name products and watch out for the fakes. Just be prepared to upgrade the electronics. Still you get a good guitar for a lot less money.

  7. I grew up and still live in Kalamazoo (I’m about age 30 now) and I own a couple original Gibson electrics that were made here. The sound of the original Gibson’s made here are magical. If you compare the same modern model and and a vintage one, the sound isn’t even close. A lot of the handcrafted art has been lost over the years. That’s why you’ll see the professionals playing old Gibson’s in famous bands … they know the difference. A few of the guitars made in Nashville by the craftsmen that moved from Kalamazoo were good, but that fell apart with the industrial outsourcing such as this work in China that is mentioned above.

  8. I sympathise. Here in the UK we don’t make much anymore. It becomes hard to understand how a modern economy can survive without actual production. I suspect we will find out when the Far Eastern economies become more sophisticated. I own several American guitars, five oldies from Kalamzoo, one from Peavey and an S&P from Canada, all great guitars. However I bought a second Peavey,a semi acoustic from China and it really is a very good guitar, not quite the Heritage H535 I wanted but incredibly good for the money.
    Alan

  9. if you go to the gibson usa site there is a box you can open and scroll down to see all the gibson factories in the different countries around the world.i’ve had the same les paul for over 30 years and it’s gone through hell and back but i would never part with it for any other guitar.oh and it was used when i bought it.

  10. hi guys. i actually live in china.
    i bought a guitar here, it is cheap but has a good sound. however like everything that comes from china, there are good ones and bad ones. the same as taiwan. the difference is, companies eaither produce cheap crap with the cheap chinese manufacturing. or they produce cheap crap, instigate quality control, export it and charge more. it is an interesting, changing world.

  11. I find all of these comments very interesting and I feel deeply for the families of the cities where Gibson has pulled out. That must have been difficult. I am disappointed that many of the great hand craftsman were not further employed to continue to make great guitars. Although I am sure that many continued to make fine instruments or other wood products that we still benefit from today. Unfortunately, Gibson has made many decisions over the years to climb the fortune ladder, and current affairs just smell kind of fishy to me.
    I would love to know if ANY of the Made-in-China (or any other foreign country) Gibson’s that say “Made in USA” were at anytime authorized by Gibson. Or were they ALL just made by some other company. I have seen many China made Gibson LPs on the market, but most say “made in USA.” I am sure that many are just Chinese knock offs, but are some of these guitars partial productions that Gibson USA planned to finish up in the US to satisfy the Made in the US labeling laws, and/or were some made for China and other countries in which there is a market for a USA-Made-Gibson?
    If you are asking why would Gibson do this, it is simple (not that I entirely agree with it) it reduces cost and augments production. Both of which increase profits while demand is high.
    Until the US economy bit the dust, Gibson guitars were being bought quite a bit, but now thats slowed. So, did Gibson cut back on their production in these asian facilities?
    When they bought the China Factory, they dropped the samick contracts in Korea, and I read on the web that people believe that Korea is supplying many of the parts for the knock offs.
    So, if the Gibson factories in china were being slowed, what would they do? Off load them to keep the profit margin OK to keep food on the table.
    And if you were one of the factories that was employed under the old Samick contracts, what would you do? Give up, close shop, or adapt?
    I would like to see more factories (guitars or what ever) in the US, but to do this we have to change the way we think as a society, and in return, business have to honor their craftsmanship an not gouge people!!
    I own two USA Gibson guitars and I had a difficult time hand picking them out. Not because they all look beautiful (to be sure they to), but because most of them suck in the area of fret work. I did not know why at the time, but I know now that Gibson leaves the crowns of the frets flat rather than round and this causes buzzing when you try to lower your action. Even though I carefully hand selected my Gibson guitars, the fret work was sub par on both. I think ESP is far superior on fret work (made in Asia). Plus, the toggle switches started sticking after a year. I called Gibson and they asked me what I thought they should do about it. I said I spent a lot, you should honor your craftsmanship. They did not seem to agree with me at first, but after talking to them for a while, they realized I was not going to go away, so they sent me to a Gibson Authorized guy in my local area. Boy was that a farce. He raised the action and tried to tell me that it was better. In the end, I worked on them to get the buzzing out, but my switches still stick. I called Gibson back and they told me that there was nothing that they would do, since they sent me to a service center already. Then they told me that I should be more discriminating in the future when I purchase a Gibson. Ha, Ha, yea, I should buy it for far less and pay for a re-fret or just buy an ESP if I don’t want it for the investment.
    I am sad to say the following, because i’m sure there are a lot of good people working for Gibson, but Gibson’s executives are either unscrupulous or blind to the day to day workings. Anways, because of all of this, I would not doubt it if Gibson was actually partly involved, if not at least morally responsible in these Chinese-made USA Gibson Guitar scams. I have heard that Guitar Center has been caught selling some of these guitars. They label them as used. No One has arrested anyone there, but I read online that a US man in Carolina has been arrested for copyright and trademark infringement laws. Quite serious trouble.
    http://www.sonicstate.com/news/shownews.cfm?newsid=4611
    I do not know the whole story, but I don’t think that this seems fair on the surface level. Gibson USA has turned its back on US factories for profit margin (which wrecked a lot of lives I’m sure), turned its back on US buyers of their guitars, and this guy gets arrested?!?! For what exactly, Gibson might be involved, here. It seems kind of funny that right after Gibson puts in a factory in China around 2004 that people in China starts selling “MADE IN USA” Gibsons in the US. They were selling knock offs before this, but only in China. This just smells a little fishy Gibson. Not to mention all of the PR that Gibson is getting out of this. Remember that this happened in the 70’s when Ibanez and Mann were making knockoffs. Gibson got even more famous and gained a lot of devout followers from that. It seems to me that these knockoffs have been being sold for quite some time and Gibson who owns a factory in China is just now deciding to do something about it?!?!? Fishy!!
    I would like to know what others out there think about all of this. Especially, if anyone knows if Gibson authorized this in the beginning and it just got out of hand when our market dropped and the Chinese decided to show the world that they have balls, too.
    I would love to know what the legalities are in this, too. If someone here bought a guitar and decided to sell it, why is that not within their rights to sell it, legally?
    As a closing, here is a quote from an Epiphone (Gibson owned) President, Jim “Epi” Rosenberg: We still build out our USA collection such as the John Lennon Casino and the John Lee Hooker Sheraton in Nashville. And our Elitist guitars are all made in Japan. We’re having a hard time meeting customer demand for both so we’re looking for ways to increase production on these in 2004 while maintaining their top-of-the-line quality standards.
    http://www.myguitarsolo.com/usenet/threads_guitar/113566-1.html
    -Dick

  12. People who blog need to get their facts straight. It is easy to spout off and talk badly of someone else, especially an company or company management.
    Gibson brand guitars are and have always been made in the states until last year. Gibson did acquire a Canadian acoustic guitar company and a very few acoustic guitars are made in this Canadian plant.
    Gibson has been increasing it USA work force since the current ownership took over in 1986. At that point there were less than 100 production workers in the entire company. Gibson is hiring 200 new American workers for it Nasshville plant this month.
    The Kalamzoo plant was closed in 1983 and the Nashville Les Paul plant was built originally in Nashville in the late 70’s. Gibson did not move to Memphis. It moved to Nashville which remains the company HQ.
    Gibson in the last 20 years opened new production facilities in the US, including one in Memphis, a new facility in Elgin, a new facility in Bozeman, MT, all employing American workers.
    The company has set up plants in China primarily for the piano business. China is the largest market for pianos and almost all the pianos they buy are Chinese made. By taking the American Brand to China, Gibson is saving that brand. Baldwin was purchased from the bankruptcy court approximately 6 years ago. If Gibson did not step up, the company would have been liquidated.
    Baldwin pianos continue to be manufactured in the US in Truman AK, another Gibson plant. Yes, Gibson imports product primarily under the Epiphone brand. They are competing aggressively against foreign owned brands like Ibanez and Yamaha which manufacture their products almost exclusively in the orient. Yamaha had piano production in the US but shut that plant down last year.
    I can assure people counterfeiting is illegal and not something any company wants to deal with. Counterfeiting is not new. There were Japanese counterfeit guitars in the 1960.s which is how Ibanez got its start.
    It is understandable that when a company leaves, there is disappointment and even anger. When that happens 30 years ago and there is a change in ownership and management it really is not right to demean people who had nothing to do with those decisions.
    Gibson is committed to making product in the USA. It also values its employees wherever they be. Gibson has a manufacturing plant in Germany manufacturing Wurlitzer brand product.
    The company is proud of presenting the very best product in all price points. It is easy to tear people down. Before you do, get your facts straight.

    • I will never bad mouth Gibson guitars. I think they are the best guitars made in the USA, but if the Chinese Gibson guitars are made equally good with minor changes, which I always have to do with every USA made Gibson made in the USA.They are still Gibson guitars as far as I am concerned. To save $1,000.00 and get the same guitar that sounds the same is what concerns me. Bob Hardison. Columbia, Tn.

  13. I have purchased three gibsons brand new. They all needed fret work……..not until I learned how to do my own frets was I happy…now I buy cheap guitars and fix them my self……..my last one was a faded V. It had some high frets, a screwed up bridge, bad volume control, and I did not like the neck pick up. I repaired and replaced parts and now it screams….(Seymour duncan 1959) on the V I can blend bridge and neck. This is like the Ford Model T days …….just take the lemons make lemonade …and do not waste your bucks on junk unless you pay the right price.

  14. I ordered a 1962 Gibson Barney Kessel outstanding rare original guitar from TradeTang.com China and when I received it, it was a beautiful guitar, double cutaway, semi-hollow, similar to Gibson 535 . It was marked Les Paul Custom and was also marked made in USA. I love the sound of the guitar and it’s playability but wonder about authenticity. I welcome comments.

    • It isn’t authentic, but if it is the same as the original Gibson Barney Kessel, you have the same Barney Kessel Gibson. If you bought it from Gibson, you probably would not sell it, so do not sell this one as you really have the same guitar. Bob Hardison

  15. NO matter where your guitar is from, if it plays sounds well, who cares? I have a couple of Chinese Gibsons and they work fine for the money and are worth more then they selling them for. They come with hard shell cases too. Dig that.I am right now using Teisco and Italian guitars and they sound really good. I got rid of my 72 Les Paul. — Sometimes cheaper can be better; it depends on the player. We are all made differently and I like the freedom we have to think for ourselves and i like expensive guitars for making profits and cheap guitars for playing.

    • I’m not sure about all of your comments. The cheaper guitars have to have the feel and the sound of the more expensive guitars. If they have that, then the lower priced guitars are equal to the expensive models. The only drawback is you cannot sell the cheaper ones for the same price as the expensive one’s, but if you really like the playing and sound, you probably want to keep it. Who cares except you? Bob Hardison

  16. I recently purchased two Replica guitars from China. I did not know what to expect for the money, but low and behold when it arrived they looked like art work. Each was a replica of two different brands with hard case etc. Then came time to test the sound ,I had fret bus etc. Simple adjustments needed to bring it to life. After I set them up, I had great sound. I could care less where where it was made, it’s the quality I wanted that I got for a fraction of the US price, I too believe that the Chinese have started to understand quality control. I will play music and jam out with any guitar that has that deep into my soul sound.

  17. hey HEM
    you are obviously an agent for those lying uncaring bastardmoney grubbers called gibson,
    you should be in politics boy, because it sounds like you are covering up gibsons messy dealings around the world. if gibson was so great they wouldnt be hiring untrained students working their way through college!
    the” quality”you would claim gibson has does not exist anymore period,why? well the last time a friend of mine bought a brand new black beauty ,within 1 month the gold plating started to wear and the detail looked like a cow with a chainsaw did it ! my friend had to go through 30 les pauls just to get the one which was still substandard ,but he wanted one as was seduced by the siren son that gibson have been singing .good pr work by them ,they are going to tell you next that cancer is great go get that too! and it took a legal case for gibson to fix the problem and he is still unsatisfied because it is still a piece of crap and will never buy one again, oh by the way to the purists that sleep with gibson i dont care what you think as all you guys do is practice scales all day and dont have a musical bone in your body , if you did you wouldnt be so anal about gibson. on the mattter of the chinese stuff gibson is scared the cats out of the bag, that to keep up with the demand for their brand that they have resorted to getting all their necks bodies etc made in china
    and having all that stuff sent back to the states for assembly by untalented students and back packers and alot of stuuf that is so called fake are just guitars the chinese factory are selling out the back door ive seen these chinese gibsons and they are just as bad as the” real “gibsons gibson do not care about action, frets or pots as once they have sucked you in to buy one, that is the end of their concern and would bury the problem than to fix it as would cost them money.their motto should be” go and do your own fret dressing and go fly.so to you Hem go back to your office at gibson headquarters and tell them not everyone believes your horse medicine talk .Next your going to say 911 is good for the economy!! my last words ONLY A GIBON IS CRAP ENOUGH

    • Its all who you buy from in China. I am a Chet Atkins/Merle Travis player and I am past 70 yrs. old. I usually have to make a few changes at a low cost such as bone nut and bridge nut and some cases the pickups. I also repair Gibson guitars and Fender in an advertisement. All American Gibsons and Fenders need a touch-up to really play good. On my Gibson ES175 bought 25 yrs. ago from a reputable Gibson dealer, I had to put a small screw in the bridge because the neck was install at a wrong angle and the bridge kept moving causing the little E to go off the frets. You are not talking to an un-experienced guitar man. I have 17 guitars and have repaired other guitars including Gibson, Gretsch, Fender and many others. I can make a $100.00 electric guitar sound and play like a $2,000 guitar. I really hate to compare myself as an expert, but I know allmost everything  about guitars, acoustic and electric. My name is Bob Hardison, Columbia, Tn.

  18. I am 74 yrs. old and have owned several Gibson’s in my past and everyone required either lowering the nut, adjusting the neck , filing the frets even, but afterward all they were very great guitars. I have always expected to adjust all guitars that I have ever owned. I bought a Chinese made Gibson Les Paul a couple years ago, and , as always, I had to adjust the nut, neck (a little) and afterward, the sound didn’t suit me, so I replaced the pickups with 490R/498T) and I have a genuine sound of a $4 to 5K Gibson LP. I think I am an expert on guitars and I know that a Gibson made in Nashville can not have a better sound, has the Gibson name and the quality built than my Gibson has, that total cost with new pickups (less than $800.00). I’m not advising anyone to buy what I bought unless they have the knowledge to do what I did. Then I do not intend to take anything away from Gibson as they are the best sounding guitar in the world for me.

  19. I recently changed the pickups on my Epiphone Lucille to Parsons Street pickups #5408-GS sold by Stewart MacDonald (stewmac.com) and it changed the sound to equal any guitar that I have ever owned. I had used the Golden Age overwound pickups before from Stewmac on my Brownsville New York guitar which is an almost exact copy of a Chet Atkins Gretsch. It has a 17″ girth like the Gretsch. This was what I thought was the best, but now, I have found out that the Parsons Street makes my BB King Lucille sound as good as any Gibson that I have ever owned. I have 10 guitars and 3 of them are Gibson’s.

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