Guitars aren't overly complicated, and as such, the business of making them shouldn't be either. So when it was revealed that legendary guitar maker Gibson was in financial ruin earlier this year, to some, it was shocking. However, to anyone who's owned one of the many Gibson masterpieces over the years, it felt about right. There are multiple factors in why this happened, though simply put, the company has lost its way. Too many boutique guitars, too many artist editions that don't reach the actual players, and too many electronic debacles are a great start.
Unless you play guitar, you probably don't know what a "boutique edition" of a guitar is. It's essentially a paint job, maybe with different knobs or some form of custom made looks that steer from the original guitar's appearance. Twenty years ago, you could stroll into any Mars Music store, and every section had at least one boutique guitar, typically overpriced and undersold. Today, there aren't too many players who want a boutique guitar, no matter how appealing the finish or the hardware, and it's something that Gibson does way too often, thus watering down their legacy even further.
Enter the string of current Gibson guitars that are boutique, overpriced, and more than likely, not going anywhere anytime soon. The Les Paul "Boogie Van," the "Chinese New Year" Les Paul, The Les Paul "Scorpion," and on and on. These are beautiful guitars that cost a lot of money. For the past 20 years, Gibson has made way too many of these editions, and while it may have been a great idea in the '90s, it's a waste of resources and design today. These things start at around five grand and while they might sell one or two to the likes of Paul Allen of Microsoft fame, you won't see them flying off the shelves anytime soon. Who cares if you can paint a Les Paul like a 1970s van when that has very little to do with the instrument itself?
I'm not nor would I ever suggest that they sell their low priced guitars for less than what they sell them for today. As it stands, you can grab a Gibson from the brand for under $1,000, and a very well equipped Epiphone from them for about $600. They also own Kramer and you can pick up their guitars for about $600 to $950 as well.
No, this is about the guitars players actually want as to price points. The company has a pretty solid lineup of guitars. When it comes to their iconic Les Paul model, it has so many variants and editions, though I would guess that most players who want a Les Paul, want what's now called a Les Paul Traditional. The list price is more than $2,200 and that's a bit too high for the average player.
Customers don't want a Studio or a Junior, they want the "Daddy" of them all. If the company killed off all of their "entry level" Les Paul models, and lowered the price of this model, they'd move some more. Twenty percent feels about right, placing the list price closer to $1,800, and within the reach of those who play a guitar and cherish it for years. Why offer a $500 Les Paul that no one wants, when you can make the one everyone wants more obtainable?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Another change Gibson needs to consider, is minimizing their electronics division. The company owns Onkyo, Stanton, KRK, Cerwin Vega, Neat, and the software brand Cakewalk. While Cakewalk and KRK are both great brands, in today's world it really doesn't make sense to own some of these other brands. Starting with Onkyo, it doesn't seem smart for a guitar maker to own a company that primarily produces receivers. While vinyl sales are doing well, the average person can't tell the difference between a great amplifier and a mediocre one, so why even attempt to enter that market? As a person who owns an old McIntosh amplifier, I've maybe had three people out of 100 say how great it sounds. It's a small segment of the electronics world, and honestly it makes more sense to sell or kill that company off sooner than later. The same goes for Cerwin Vega, who makes great stereo speakers. But, when was the last time you went to someone's house and got down to large speaker systems? Maybe the years when people had rack set ups, but that was 20 years ago.
Stanton makes turntables, but they're not the standard for professional DJ's who still play records. Technics has owned that market for more than 30 years, and while turntables are great for any music lover to own, most people will just buy a Rega, a U-Turn, or a vintage Technics. To be fair, they make other things as well, but it's all a small market that doesn't grow the brand's portfolio. Neat may make the best microphones, but Alesis and Shure have owned that world too long for another microphone to enter into that world, and honestly it makes more sense to sell the brand off as well. Gibson Pro Audio reference monitors also need to go away. Look, when you own as respected a brand of monitors as KRK, why would you then compete with them?
The final thing Gibson should do is get their gear into the hands of young touring artists, and not into more of these big rock bands. The world of arena rock bands is coming to an end and is getting replaced by hip hop artists very quickly. If you look at what Fender has done, they've given guitars to bands that are actually out on the road, playing little dive clubs, and doing it on a regular basis. How do we live in a world where a Tennessee based artist like Soccer Mommy isn't playing a guitar based in Tennessee, and is instead playing a Fender? How is it I see acts like Snail Mail, Waxahatchee, Jeff Rosenstock and more all playing Fenders? It's because Fender was smart enough to get the gear into their hands rather than aim for acts that play in a city once a year. By opting for artists that tour constantly versus the ones who only tour once every three years or longer; Fender has grown its brand among musicians while Gibson has released another Slash signature model.