While recently shopping on Amazon, I noticed a couple of Gibson electric and acoustic guitars available at uncharacteristically affordable prices. Remembering the “too good to be true” motto, the advertisement seemed unrealistic and probably a put-on. That is, until I read the words describing a Les Paul Custom Special: “…Made in USA with American craftsmanship…” But as always, there is more to this story.
A Changing Catalogue
For guitar players, a mahogany-bodied Gibson Les Paul Custom with a price tag of $359 is amazing. Exclusive to Amazon, not surprising, skepticism is usually the first reaction. In the customer question and answer section of the Amazon page promoting the LP, one person asked if “Is this a Chibson guitar,” a reference to being an imitation or reproduction made outside the United States. “Yes it’s a Gibson, I contacted Gibson myself,” was the reply. The Les Paul Custom, ebony with a brown shell pickguard and two humbuckers, is actually part of the new S Series guitars from the iconic company.
Definite differences exist in the recent models compared to Gibson’s premiere inventory, most noticeably, the use of bolt-on necks. A number of inexpensive six-strings have been introduced, including the Maestro by Gibson double cutaway SG style guitar kit, as well as assorted single coil solid-bodies. Instrument pricing in general is set less than Epiphone® and more on par with Fender’s® Squire® products, while bearing the famous Gibson label. Regarding the Les Paul from Amazon, even if the string action turned out to be a bit high and the electronics needed replacing, the benefits seemed to outweigh the costs. But my hesitation proved to be unfortunate. I soon discovered the guitar quickly sold out.
Though affordable guitars are no doubt welcomed by everyday players, Gibson’s arrival with a reasonably priced line of products may be too late. Published reports indicate the big G is in financial trouble and possibly headed towards bankruptcy. According to The Los Angeles Times, Gibson, which sold its Memphis factory last year in order to raise cash, faces “Debt of as much as $560 million…due this summer…” The Digital Music News confirms, “If Gibson is unable to meet those obligations, analysts say bankruptcy is a near-certain possibility.”
So finding a Les Paul Custom with the Gibson name on the headstock for less than $400 was not a figment of my imagination. But what’s good for buyers does not necessarily mean good times for sellers. Though legendary artists like Jimmy Page, Slash, BB King, The Allman Brothers Band, Thin Lizzy, Mick Taylor, Lynyrd Skynyrd and endless others have famously wielded Gibsons, the situation does not look good for the 116 year old company. The Nashville Post notes, “Fender has kept itself above water by introducing budget lines in recent years, a move Gibson only recently embraced.” Currently, for Gibson, every bargain has a price.