Born in May of 1856, Orville Gibson still has his name emblazoned on millions of guitars around the world because of his work. Starting in his family’s workshop in 1894 without any formal training, he created a new style of guitar. He made the guitar have a top that was arched and carved so that it looked like a violin. The design was so different, in fact, that Gibson was granted a patent on his guitar design. They were louder than fretted instruments and pretty soon, his one person shop was in great demand.
It wasn’t just the guitar that Orville Gibson invented, although the Gibson guitar is what made him famous.
Introducing the Gibson Mandolin
It wasn’t just the guitar that got the new design treatment from Gibson. At the same time he was designing his new guitar, he also designed a brand new mandolin to accompany the instrument. The new mandolin had some of the same unique features as the guitar did and it was also different enough that it received a US patent.
The problem that Gibson faced was that he couldn’t keep up with demand. Because of this, 5 local investors in Kalamazoo came to Gibson and started a company that was based on his inventions. It wasn’t long after, however, that the company passed a resolution that eliminated any royalties that would be given to the inventor of the instruments. He was paid instead for just whatever work he put into the company instead.
For the final years before Gibson’s death, he was paid a flat salary of just $500 per year, which equates to about $20,000 per year in today’s money. Outside of the guitar and the mandolin, however, there is no recorded that Gibson created anything else and there are no additional patents on file.
Whatever Happened to Gibson?
Orville Gibson had a reputation in Kalamazoo for being a bit eccentric. It was known that he was plagued with nightmares and strange dreams and these greatly affected him over the course of his life. Although there was no known diagnosis of a mental illness, Gibson was hospitalized several times in the last years of his life and some of these stays could be quite lengthy.
Gibson’s visions might have plagued him, but they also contributed to one of the most beloved and iconic guitar brands that has existed over the last 100 years. Gibson guitars can retail for several thousand dollars and special editions are well above this price range. He may not have had any experience when he first started the creation process, but sometimes that is necessary for true evolution to begin.
With better treble, bass, and fret action, a Gibson guitar is a must-have for any musician. Thanks to Orville Gibson, it’s been that way for over 100 years.
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