Fender and Gibson Will Never Die

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Fender and Gibson Will Never Die

…And Why That’s a Good Thing, Even If You Don’t Like It

There seems to be something of a consensus (more or less) in the guitar-based internet universe: Gibson killed it at Winter NAMM 2019. It wasn’t so long ago many wondered if Gibson would even be around for the next happy hour, much less any sort of NAMM event. The theories behind the demise ran rampant, and this writer dare suggests that some people were actually quietly pleased with the turn of events.

 

But there was Gibson, with nary a blob-shaped approximation of a classic design to be seen. Gibson has gone back to its roots and let their iconic instruments be themselves, which this writer believes is something the market really wanted from this hallowed guitar builder. They somehow read my mind: I have been waiting for a non-Custom Shop vintage-style Gibson SG Special (P-90s with wraparound tailpiece) for ages. They delivered in a limited SG Special run. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one pining for one of those. But it’s not just me. Gibson seems more than ready to put the weirdness of the last few years behind it and do something really cool: just build guitars that people dig.

Fender was no slouch either. They’ve arguably had a better run than Gibson had up until Winter NAMM; a fairly successful launch of it’s new naming scheme and reimagining of some famous-yet-quirky models like the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, and Mustang that has done a pretty good job of serving modern musical needs while keeping the interesting original design appointments mostly intact. Custom shop-style service is more accessible with Fender’s Mod Shop. Finally, Fender has mostly stayed true to its landmark Telecaster and Stratocaster design, while simultaneously delivering tweaks and upgrades to suit modern and “primitive” (I say that tongue-in-cheek and with love) players a like.

At various points throughout their respective histories, Fender and Gibson have famously encountered troubled times. CBS’ Fender buyout in the mid ’60s resulted in some famously questionable design moves, and Gibson’s mid-70s Norlin era is famously regarded as a low point in the brand’s 115-year history. Any brand around that long is going to have its ups and downs in one way or another.

There’s a line in an episode from one of my favorite shows, “The Office:”

 

Line 6

If I’m dead, you’ve been dead for weeks.

Fender and Gibson are two guitar-building entities that have the earned the right to utter those lines. I humbly acknowledge that there are a good number of other builders who could probably get away with saying that as well (who else? tell us in the comments!). But I’m going for the slam dunk here.

If Gibson or Fender are to falter, it will require outside forces severe enough to devastate the entire gear industry. Chances are high that many others will have already toppled. The big G and F are just too big, too well-known, and too well-regarded (even if there are some among us who challenge the quality and prices) to wrinkle up and blow away under any circumstances outside of a total catastrophe. They are both parts of global cultural history.

Now, that being said, we here at TheToneKing.com love watching and encouraging challengers to the throne. The more the better! If anything, we can afford some credit to new builders like Acacia and Vola and reinvigorated brands like Framus and Kiesel (formerly Carvin) to pushing the big boys a little bit and filling the gaps. That’s good for everyone. Just like a healthy and vibrant Fender and Gibson is. It means that, in a world of formulaic electro-pop songs composed by a team of hotshot producers and auto-tuned to the point of sounding like a robo-scam call there are still people that want to plug in, sweep the knobs to 11, and rattle some windows.

 

Long live Fender and Gibson (and their competition)!

Post-script: The only big, decades-old guitar makers I can think of as of this writing that doesn’t seem to have had some sort of crushing low point, either in sales, business administration, or quality, during its business lifespan to this day are Rickenbacker (founded 1931) and Martin (founded mid-19th century). But that’s just off the top of my head. Am I right about that? What about PRS? I don’t know…you guys tell me in the comments! 

 

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