Summer NAMM 2019: Gibson reveals collaborations with boutique guitar builders as it launches Authorized Partnership Program

Gibson CEO James 'JC' Curleigh
(Image credit: Danny Matson/Getty Images for SXSW)

SUMMER NAMM 2019: Gibson has made good on its shift “from confrontation to collaboration” as it announces plans for an Authorized Partnership Program with boutique guitar makers.

In a new interview with Nashville’s News Channel 5, CEO James ‘JC’ Curleigh detailed the company’s fresh approach.

We’ve entered into some agreements with three or four boutique guitar companies, and basically, they actually love Gibson, and we actually love them

“We’ve entered into some agreements with three or four boutique guitar companies, and basically, they actually love Gibson, and we actually love them,” Curleigh revealed.

“We just have to have a conversation around where the lines are between shapes and names, etc. And what’s amazing is, as soon as we enter into those conversations, it leads to a collaborative, creative conversation.

“Then it involves simple language around how many you make and what it’s going to involve and there may be some type of royalty dynamic, but we’re also going to support them in marketing terms, so it’s not a revenue generating dynamic for us at all, whether by magnitude scale or by deal, it’s more acknowledgment that these are some shapes that we’ve created.”

We will most likely learn which luthiers are teaming up with Gibson at next week’s Summer NAMM show, but this latest development certainly looks to be a step in the right direction.

The CEO also dealt with the fallout from the company’s controversial Play Authentic video, despite claiming it had been successful on a practical level.

Guess what: we’re taking down hundreds of websites, thousands of guitars we’re intercepting that are knockoffs

“Tone and timing of that video, clearly, lessons to be learned,” Curleigh admitted. “But guess what: we’re taking down hundreds of websites, thousands of guitars we’re intercepting that are knockoffs, so it served a purpose.”

The CEO goes on to outline his views on trademark infringement, defining the difference between counterfeiters and the boutique companies with which Gibson plans to collaborate.

“There’s a spectrum that occurs. And the spectrum can be wide, but it can also be definitive or grey depending on how you look at it, and the definitive part is the known counterfeit/knockoffs,” says Curleigh.

“The other end of that spectrum are these really amazing boutique guitarists and guitar luthiers who are making 10, 20, 50, 100 guitars and they’re shaping them either for their artists or their own business.

“And then that centre point are some brands that just knowingly sort of take advantage of the shapes that you’ve created, and because they’ve been using them for a long time they think they’re theirs.”

Dean Guitars, which is currently subject to a comprehensive trademark lawsuit from Gibson, most likely occupies that centre ground - and Curleigh’s hardline stance would explain claims that dealers were threatened with legal action unless they stopped selling Dean guitars.

The Channel 5 interview also revealed that Gibson is moving HQ to central Nashville; its new base will be twice the size of its current headquarters on the outskirts of the city, not only to accommodate the shift of hollowbody production from Memphis, but also plans to implement a museum or showroom as part of the factory.

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