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The Early Days of Gibson
Gibson's acoustic division moved from Nashville to Bozeman, MT in 1989, but their heritage reaches back to the 1890s. When he was just starting out back then, Orville Gibson's most popular instruments were archtop guitars and mandolins. It wouldn't be until the late 1910s that Gibson would introduce their first Flat Top acoustic guitar, the "Army Navy" model developed for servicemen stationed abroad. But it would be decades before Flat Top acoustics became the norm in popular music - in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the mandolin still reigned supreme.From Mandolins to Guitars
In an effort to cultivate wider interest in the mandolin, Gibson hired mandolin expert and designer Lloyd Loar to develop new instruments. Loar's F-5 mandolin is generally considered to be one of the finest mandolins ever created, but popular interest in the mandolin was fading as guitars became more popular. Loyd Loar's answer was the L-5 archtop guitar, one of the most iconic jazzbox guitars to this day. It was originally conceived of as a larger mandolin model, but quickly became Gibson's flagship archtop guitar.Popular Interest Grows
In the 1920s, it still was not clear whether the Flat Top acoustic guitar could be a "serious" instrument. Gibson's early offerings reflected this - the L-1 Flat Top acoustic from 1926 sported a small body, rigid bracing, and lacked a truss rod. While they were built more like a beginner's guitar, players of all types showed interest. Gibson sensed the growing excitement for flat-top guitars, enlisted recording guitarist Nick Lucas as a signature artist, and created the Nick Lucas model with a new focus on tone and playability. By the mid-'30s, Gibson Flat Top acoustic guitars were the professional's choice.Decades of Acoustic Guitar Innovation
The 1930s would see the genesis of one of Gibson Acoustic's most iconic guitars, the Super Jumbo 200, based on a custom guitar made for cowboy singer Ray Whitley with a thinner waist than most dreadnoughts. In the 1960s Gibson would introduce the Hummingbird square-shouldered dreadnought, shortly followed by the similar Dove, and both would become mainstays for singer/songwriters and folk artists. Ironically, as their popularity with guitarists worldwide continued to grow over the following decades, it would be mandolins that would ultimately lead Gibson Acoustic to Bozeman, MT.From Nashville to Bozeman in 1987
In 1987, Gibson bought the Flatiron Mandolin Company in Belgrade, MT, and soon moved all mandolin manufacturing to Bozeman (adjacent to Belgrade). Headed by master luthier Ren Ferguson, the Bozeman division quickly realized the opportunity they had to revitalize Gibson's acoustic business. Eventually, their focus on acoustic guitars would lead the mandolin side of the business back to Nashville, to allow the Gibson Acoustic factory in Bozeman to focus exclusively on guitars.
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