Real pickers put Gibson Guitar on a pedestal. Although it trails top guitar maker Fender, Gibson builds instruments that are held in unparalleled esteem by many guitarists, including professional musicians. The company's most popular guitar is the legendary Les Paul. Gibson also makes guitars under brands Epiphone, Kramer, and Steinberger. In addition to guitars, the company makes pianos through its Baldwin unit, Slingerland drums, Tobias bass, Cerwin-Vega! pro audio equipment, Wurlitzer vending machines and jukeboxes, and Echoplex amps, as well as accessory items. Company namesake Orville Gibson began making mandolins in the late 1890s. Gibson Guitar is owned by executives Henry Juszkiewicz and David Berryman.
Building on the company's portfolio of brands, Gibson in late 2011 formed the Nashville-based Gibson Pro Audio division by acquiring The Stanton Group assets KRK Systems, Cerwin-Vega!, and Stanton DJ. The move extends Gibson's reach into the pro audio market as a top supplier of loudspeaker, monitor, and electronics technologies and allows the company to leverage The Staton Group's research and development capabilities.
Gibson's core business continues to focus on challenging such rivals as Fender, Martin, and Taylor for a greater share of the guitar market. Video games, such as Guitar Hero, have increased awareness of guitar-playing as a social endeavor among young and old gamers alike. To get the word out about its products and to attract customers, the company has traditionally relied on word-of-mouth between players and endorsement deals with top-selling musicians. Moving beyond this strategy, Gibson maintains a marketing deal with Universal Studios, having acquired the naming rights to the 33-year-old Universal Amphitheatre at the company's Southern California theme park. The deal, worth about $14 million and extending through 2015, not only gives the instrument maker brand visibility in an important market but also opens the door to product placement in TV and film projects.
The music instruments maker focuses on its namesake Gibson brand and on injecting the latest in its robot technologies into its product development. To this end, Gibson in 2010 launched its Gibson Dusk Tiger guitar. It boasts third-generation Robot Tuning technology with 18 programmable alternate tunings. The firm's also extending its reach into the consumer market with its Wurlitzer Digital Lyra Jukebox, which debuted alongside the Dusk Tiger in early 2010.
Gibson's growth also has expanded the business globally from its Nashville roots. The guitar maker has gained a foothold in Europe and is looking to extend its reach in China and India. It entered Germany in 2008 and nearly doubled its business there by the end of 2009. Besides Europe, Gibson is banking on boosting sales in China as its middle class grows. In India, where Gibson established a division there in 2010, the company is tapping the country's affinity for music and its affluent customer base. Gibson operates a manufacturing plant in China to make Epiphone guitars and it has a majority stake in Baldwin Zhongshan China, a joint venture with Zhongshan Yue Hua Piano and Musical Instruments. To strengthen its foothold in China and significantly expand its manufacturing capacity there, Gibson acquired a major player in China's piano market -- Dongbei Piano Co., Ltd. Gibson renamed the firm Baldwin-Dongbei Piano & Musical Instruments Co., Ltd. The deal followed several other previous purchases, such as Gibson Med, a key European distributor based in Milan, Italy, and Deutsche Wurlitzer.
The company's long-range sights are set on top musical instruments maker Yamaha. Through its acquisition of famous brand names, from Baldwin to Wurlitzer, and its reintroduction of others, such as Epiphone, Gibson has expanded its product lines beyond the core guitar market and continues to develop new products. Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO, sees potential in using technology to update designs that have not significantly changed since the 1950s. To this end, the firm is looking to build on its earlier successes. It developed a digital guitar that looks and feels like a conventional electric guitar but converts string vibrations into a data stream using Gibson's proprietary MaGIC (media-accelerated global information carrier) technology. The company also hopes to license MaGIC to manufacturers for use in consumer electronics.
Juszkiewicz and Berryman bought Gibson for $5 million in 1986. – less