"I do believe there’s been a renaissance of guitar players" – Gibson just affirmed its commitment to new guitarists, and Jimmy Page is backing it

Gibson Garage London
(Image credit: Gibson)

Standing in the Gibson Garage London yesterday, a couple of things hit me. One was that getting Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi and Brian May in one place, let alone a press event for a brand's new UK public hub, is a very impressive flex. But moreover, it feels like Gibson is really going all-out to bring beginner guitarists onboard. 

Away from the headline-grabbing appearances and (surprisingly large) volume of merchandise, the second Gibson Garage feels like a statement that means more than just a physical space; it's a reflection of the brand's identity and priorities. While you're greeted with aspirational Gibsons on conveyer belts as you walk in, the basement's big open space is all about Epiphone. And it's there that CEO Cesar Gueikian, sitting alongside an enthused Jimmy Page as a new multi-year signature partnership was announced, made a clear commitment to new guitar players.

Gibson Garage London: Jimmy Page cuts the ribbon in the company of Brian May, Tony Iommi, Cesar Gueikian and Mark Agnesi

(Image credit: Gibson / Dave Hogan)

While Gibson's boss is clearly very much at home in the company of his guitar heroes, and has driven great progress honouring players who perhaps didn't get enough dues from the company in the past (Jerry Cantrell, Rex Brown and even Iommi), the fact he used the opportunity with Page to highlight a commitment to new players is telling. And I think it matters; while Fender guitars are frequently appearing in the hands of young artists on festival stages, Gibson needs to show a very clear willingness to engage with emerging artists and beginners on a deeper level. 

We want the guitar around forever

The London Garage not only gives the brand a second city hub to showcase and support artists, the experience it can provide to guide and set young players up with the right guitar for them is also vital. Page himself drew on this, relaying an encounter he'd had with young guitar-playing fans on a plane journey on his way to meet with Gueikian in Nashville, and referred to a wider theme he's seeing. 

"I do believe there’s been a renaissance of guitar players," Page added." And from our point of view, that’s what we want. We want the guitar around forever.”

Gueikian then explained how Gibson can play a part in helping to ensure that. 

"The quality of the instrument for someone who is learning how to play can almost be a crossroads of, 'I'm gonna keep playing or I'm not," he explained. "And that depends on the feel and quality of the instrument so even our more affordable instruments have to be amazing."

Gibson Garage London

(Image credit: Gibson)

The fact that Gibson offers a lot of great options for quality beginner electric and acoustic guitars across the Epiphone and even Kramer brands isn't news, but the emphasis on it and the visual impact of Epiphone's presence in the Gibson Garage London felt like a strong and necessary statement for the company.

"What we consider a good start, some form of success but definitely a good start – is if someone walks into the Garage in London, or walks into the Garage at Nashville, and says, ‘This is Gibson. Nobody needs to explain it to me," Gueikian tells us in a new interview. "'This is what Gibson should have always been.’" 

And in a guitar arena where a heritage brand like Gibson (and indeed Fender) gets taken to task for 'expensive' models, and PRS seem to get a carte blanche, it feels like especially good timing. A way to take more control of a narrative of what Gibson Brands can offer – and to whom. 

The fact is you can buy a Les Paul for anything between £200 and £8,000+ from Gibson – the same as a Fender Strat or Tele – so why is there so much focus on the guitars we can't afford in some quarters? Despite what some might claim, quality has never been more affordable in the guitar market – and hopefully the Gibson Garage London and its team of 'Gibson Pros' there to advise players on options, and even set up their new guitar, it can celebrate that in a way new players will benefit from.

Gibson Garage London

(Image credit: Gibson)

For us, as guitarists, we have had that experience growing up where it was intimidating

Cesar Gueikian

Perhaps more than that, it's a reminder of what the physical retail space can offer players. No, most guitar shops can't come close to Garage experience but the value of having advice and hands-on experience with guitars cannot be underestimated. Perhaps it may inspire new approaches of how to welcome all existing, and potential guitar players.

"That is something that we have been very conscious of," Gueikian tells us. "For us, as guitarists, we have had that experience growing up where it was intimidating. You didn’t know necessarily how to play well enough in the standards of the shop. You would feel intimidated. And they would look down on you. 

“I think that’s changed quite a bit. We are most definitely focused on providing the best experience any guitar player can have walking in, being welcomed, being able to play absolutely anything. You want to play a Greeny replica? Here it is. Go at it. And everything is set up. You can play at your own pace. You can put headphones on and play it with a Mesa/Boogie with the CabClone to the headphones so that you are in your own space."

Gibson Garage London

(Image credit: Robin Clewley)

Talking to Garage staff member (AKA a 'Gibson Pro') Kris Coombs-Roberts at the London Garage (who is also literally a pro player who headlined the Cardiff Arena with his band Funeral For A Friend last year), I was really encouraged by the inclusive atmosphere the Garage and its team are trying to create for players – and it has the space, guitars and staff to do it. I hated the kind of gatekeeping and sense of trepidation I experienced in some, not all, guitar shops in the '90s, and Cesar is right – things have changed. But the Garage also points to where things can go next. At its heart though it's like any good guitar shop should be; a place where all players can explore and discover gear without judgement or pressure, but get help from knowledgeable staff like Kris whenever they need it.  

“Our team is friendly, welcoming, and making you feel really, really comfortable," adds Gueikian. "So that you have a great experience, but also so that you always want to come back. That’s the thing. We see in Nashville, what we have had is people come on a very regular basis, and it is just to try new things and talk to our guitar pros, and see who’s performing live. You never know who you are going to run into, who is going to be visiting the Garage. It is all part of creating that community, a music community that is welcoming at any level.”

There will be more Gibson Garages, of that I'm sure. But I can't help wondering how good it would be to see this kind of space for more guitar brands in more cities; especially from the other iconic US guitar giant. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.