In late ’74, on the road with The Doobie Brothers, I woke up in a hotel in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the Gibson factory was located. (It’s in Nashville now.) So I got on the phone and spoke to their PR. Come on down, he said, and an hour later I was given the red carpet treatment in exchange for a story in MM.
I saw the whole process, how a plank of wood was turned into a Les Paul, a Flying V or a J45. There were mechanical saws that cut the wood to patterns, varnishing rooms and hot air drying cupboards, benches where beading was attached and an electronics department where pick-ups were assembled and mounted. At the end of the production line were half a dozen booths in which guitarists played every single guitar for about 15 minutes each to check they were OK to leave the factory. Those that weren’t went into a reject room, even if all that was wrong was a scratch or slight discolouration. Most of them would end up in the furnace I was told, but the PR wouldn’t let me take away a condemned guitar as a souvenir. No chance, he said.
I was give a little book about the history of the Gibson company and its distinguished-looking founder, Orville H. Gibson (1856-1918) which I still have. Like Orville, the book looks really ancient, but it’s very endearing and is probably a collector’s item by now.