We visited Beale Street in Memphis on Monday May 7th and parked in a high rise parking garage a block up from Beale street. On our way out we saw this Gibson factory and product show room across the street.
Gibson manufactures a large selection of products. In addition to the signature Guitars, Mandolins, Banjos and Dobros (resonator guitar) their product line includes Drums, Pianos, Band Instruments, Jukeboxes, Amplifiers/processors and more.
Gibson also makes guitars under such brands as Epiphone, Kramer, Valley arts, Tobias, Steinberger, and Kalamazoo. All electric and semi-electric guitars are built in Memphis and Nashville. The acoustic guitar is built in Bozeman, MT.
Gibson guitars have a reputation for quality and this factory offers production floor tours several times a day, so we decided to take one. We went to the factory Tuesday afternoon but most of the production workers hade left for the day and we postponed the tour for another time. We came back Thursday and took an earlier tour when production would be in full swing.
This is the Gibson show room located in front of the factory.
Lining up for the tour. They take twenty people at a time at $ 10.00 apiece. This tour was full.
A view of the factory floor.
An over all view of perhaps one third of the factory. The entire production facility is spread out over the factory floor, with sperate fabrication operations occupying their own space. Making guitars is similar in many respects to producing wooden furniture; wood shaping and assembly operations include, sawing, sanding, milling, spray painting, polishing, buffing and more. I expected a lot of dust and messiness but I was impressed with the overall lack of clutter and clear air. The dust collection system works good and individual work areas are kept clean and free from debris.
Tour groups are lead down the center isle, between the black and yellow lines. We were all cautioned not to wander off or bother the production workers. If we did make a nuisance of our selves, the tour guide said she would have to escort us out of the factory and that was always a pain, so "Don't make me have to do it." Still photography is allowed but not videotaping. The tour guide remarked that videotape might some how reveal production secrets or processes that snap shots wouldn't. Since most cameras record in burst and full video mode, I can't see this being a realistic prohibition. But I think everyone went along with it anyway.
This press forms the blank from which curved sides will be made. The material is specially milled for Gibson.
The blank is then cut into several pieces and later glued together to form the shell by gluing the ends of two preformed body sides to make a continuous profile.
A closer look at two profiles being glued together.
Gibson uses several computer controlled milling machines in the manufacturing process. This one is milling the guitar center board from mahogany.
Here, the milled center boards are glued to the guitar case.
The edge has been built up to provide more surface area to glue the top and bottom onto the case.
This was a trimming operation of some kind. The floor was noisy and I couldn't always hear the tour guides explanation for each process. I'm doing some educated guessing based on my cabinet making experience .
Top and bottom blanks.
This operation is called Body Line-Binding. Its purpose is to protect the edges of the guitar from damage.
The bound guitars are hung on this metal tree awaiting the next operation.
This is a continuous belt sander. The guitar is placed on a sliding table perpendicular to the moving belt. As the operator moves the table in and out under the moving belt, he simultaneously presses the belt with a hand held pad. He can apply just enough pressure to obtain the desired finish on the guitar top and bottom.
Gluing up the finger board.
Looks like the neck has been attached.
View into the spray booth.
Scraping paint from the edges; a meticulous, labor-intensive process.
Buffing the finish.
Stringing the guitar.
Some kind of tuning operation and testing the electronics.
Bright blue piano in the lobby.
Touring th Gibson factory was fascinating and an afternoon well spent. The next time we're in Bozeman, MT we'll try to tour the acoustic guitar factory.
For a complete step by step slide show produced by Gibson, follow this link.