Get a glimpse into the history of the top Gibson Guitars and the iconic musicians that loved them.
No one is more well-versed on Gibson Guitars than Mat Koehler, Vice President of Product at Gibson Brands. C&I asked him to opine on the most iconic guitars in Gibson’s history.
Gibson Les Paul
“The Les Paul debuted in 1952, and it went through a lot of changes throughout the 50s. Everybody considers the 1959 the pinnacle for the Les Paul. That was the year that every famous guitar player — so almost all of the top 25 guitarists of all time — played a Gibson Les Paul. The price of one depends on the condition, the provenance, the amount of flame in the maple: all of those things can make a guitar range from $150,000 to $800,000. And depending on how the color may have faded over time, each guitar has its own look. The patina is one of the coolest parts, and all the influential artists have an indelible look to their Les Paul Standard. Keith Richards, Mike Bloomfield, Joe Walsh, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Joe Perry, Slash, Maren Morris: All of the heavy hitters have played a Les Paul at some point.”
“The SG—Solid Guitar—really took hold in 1967. One of first artists to pick one up and play it on television was the godmother of rock ’n’ roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was an early champion of the SG. This one is still made today, making it the longest-running Gibson. After Tharpe, this SG guitar made its way into the hands of Tony Iommi, Derek Trucks, and so many more.”
“Our ES-335 is the most versatile electric guitar ever made. It was revolutionary for its time because it was the first semi-hollow-body guitar. So artists could get that big archtop sound, but also get the solid body sound. Early on, it was played by B.B. King, then Eric Clapton, then many more influential players both in the studio and on the stage.”
“The J-200 is the prettiest guitar we make. It debuted in the 1930s, and it’s another one of our guitars that has been made in every decade since. It’s found a big audience with rock ’n’ rollers, but also with Americana and country music players. It’s been in the hands of Jimmy Page, Noel Gallagher, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, George Harrison, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Justin Timberlake. The list goes on and on.”
Gibson Flying V
“The Flying V was way ahead of its time. We started selling them in 1958, and it didn’t do very well commercially at the time. But 10 years later it had a massive resurgence. It has been linked to rock ’n’ roll ever since. First was Lonnie Mack, then Albert King, then any player just looking for a stage gimmick. Eventually, though, it became much more than that. It has a very specific sound which has made it one of our most popular guitars. And it looks cool on stage, too.”
“I am kind of a meat-and-potatoes player. I get the job done. I am not a virtuoso, but I love a great guitar. I always have my Country Western when I’m writing, I always refer to it as ‘the Money Maker.’ I bought my Country Western in 1991 at Earl’s Guitar Shop in L.A. It had a small neck and a really beautiful mellow sound. When I played it, I was just like, ‘It’s going home with me.’ It is my go-to guitar. I think Gibson nailed it. It’s a beaut. I know when I sit down with it, it’s going to speak to me.”
~ Sheryl Crow, on her affinity for Gibson
Just Some of the Players Who’ve Made Their Gibsons Sing
Chuck Berry, Peter Green, Les Paul, Mary Ford, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Freddie King, B.B. King, Slash, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Joe Bonamassa, Mike Campbell, Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, Pete Townshend, Billie Joe Armstrong, Billy Gibbons, Olivia Rodrigo, Justin Timberlake, Harry Styles, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley, Neil Young, Robert Johnson, Taylor Swift, Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Riley Green, Brandi Carlile, Eric Clapton, Eric Church, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Carlos Santana, Keith Richards, Peter Frampton, Miranda Lambert, Gene Autry, Chris Stapleton, Emmylou Harris, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney, Ted Nugent, Elvis Presley, John Prine, Earl Scruggs, George Thorogood, Eddie Van Halen, Frank Zappa, Joan Jett, Dave Grohl, Joe Pass, and countless others from every era and every genre of music.
Nashville’s Gibson Garage
There’s no better place to experience all things Gibson than the Gibson Garage global flagship store in downtown Nashville’s historic Cummins Station. Free and open to the public every day, it’s like a Playplace for guitar lovers. Swing by the “garage” and take in the sights and sounds of all of Gibson’s legendary guitars — acoustics and electrics. It’s plug-in-and-play total immersion, where you can sling on a guitar, amp it up with MESA/Boogie, check out gear and accessories (KRK high-def speakers and headphones, anyone?), drop off your six-string for repair/restoration, and dress the part in designer apparel collaborations. You’ll behold the first few instruments made by founder Orville Gibson and legendary luthier Lloyd Loar and maybe even catch a live performance on the Garage stage.
Check out the history of the Gibson guitar.
This article appears in our February/March 2024 issue.