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Microphone Month 3

Orville Gibson

Orville Gibson was born in Chateagay, New York in 1856. By 1881 Orville had relocated to Kalamazoo, MI, a small industrial city in the southwest corner of the state, and worked as a shoe clerk. Orville’s two passions, woodworking and music, caused him to spend time pondering guitar and mandolin design. It was during these musings that Gibson determined that carved wood rather than bent wood possessed the best vibrating characteristics for constructing acoustic instruments. Employing similar methods to those used for building violins as well as creating some new ones, Orville began producing new mandolins and guitars with carved tops and backs. These new instruments were instantly well received upon their introduction in 1894.

On May 11, 1896, Orville filed for his first and only patent, U.S. Patent No. 598,245. It detailed his ideas about mandolin construction with the carved back and top and sides cut from a solid piece of wood rather than bent. He received his patent in 1898. As orders for his unique mandolins and guitars began coming in faster than he could fill them, Orville and a group of businessmen incorporated the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co., Ltd on October 11, 1902. Orville was listed as a consultant, not a manager, since he had no real interest in keeping up with the day-to-day operations. As the company’s reputation grew, so did their operation. Being situated in the “furniture belt” of western Michigan, Gibson had access to some of the best woodworking machines and craftsmen, which the company utilized to their utmost potential. Innovations such as more modern carving techniques, slimmer necks, raised pickguards, and intonation-compensating bridges further accelerated the company’s sales. Orville continued to work with Gibson until around 1907, drawing most of his pay from royalties. Orville Gibson passed away in 1918.

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