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The Making of a Gibson USA Guitar

The Making of a Gibson USA Guitar

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Published by Rocker Saurabh

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Published by: Rocker Saurabh on Apr 15, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Making of a Gibson USA Guitar
Ted Drozdowski
Gibson USAsounds like the name of a city. And that's fitting, because much like anurban center, Gibson's main operation has its own rich history and its own distinctbustle. Giant, computer-controlled body cutters and hand-operated band saws,sanders, buffing wheels, beeping fork lifts, hissing spray guns and whirring pick-upwinders make the air hum like a gentler version of Manhattan's rush hour.But Gibsons are, of course, made in Nashville, TN, and nearly all of the workinvolved in building the approximately 2,500Les Pauls,Flying Vs,Explorers,SGs,Firebirdsandother modelsmade each week is done by hand. Even the automated processes ² like cutting wood blocks into the shape of guitarbodies ² are part of an epic ballet of scheduling that involves nearly 500 workersdedicated to keeping the guitar-making process flowing smoothly.Gibson USA is on a slow curve at the back of Massman Drive in Nashville. It's asprawling complex compared to the little shop thatOrville Gibsonfirst ran inKalamazoo, Mich., in 1894, or even the full-fledged factory there that came later.
 The USA operation takes up two buildings ² the rough mill and thefactory/warehouse. There's also a big outdoor shed for wood storage. Next door isthe distribution center forEpiphoneinstruments.
 Gibsons start at the rough mill, where lengths of maple and mahogany are cut downinto body-sized billets. Before they're stacked they are tested for moisture. Toomuch and they'll go into the slow-drying kilns on site. Too little and they'll also gointo the kilns, where they absorb the moisture released by wetter wood.Here and in the factory an overhead irrigation system spritzes water into the airperiodically to keep the building's interior at 45-percent humidity ² perfect forpreserving the qualities of the wood that makes Gibsons so remarkably resonant."The wood's also checked for any impurities or problems like knots or divots,"explains supervisor Joe McGee, a 13-year veteran of Gibson USA. "We also gradethe maple from plain to AAAA flame to quilt before it gets stacked in the correctpile."
McGee is like a lot of the people who work at Gibson: a friendly long-timer with alove for guitars ² he owns a Firebird and Les Paul ² who takes pride in his rolecreating many of the world's best-loved instruments.As we speak, a fork-lift operator hustles palettes of graded wood to a giantcomputer numerically controlled (CNC) saw called a body line carver, where billetsare being cut into a dozen SGs at a time.Flame top maple makes a more roundabout trip. Those billets are cut down thecenter and book matched to provide the classic center seam look of theLes PaulStandard. A large vintage machine called a glue wheel, which looks a bit like anindustrial version of a Ferris wheel, clasps the fresh-glued maple tops in its 30 tiersof three arms and gives them an airing. When the book-matched tops are dry,they'll be glued to mahogany backs and put in a large press to make sure bothsections adhere.No machinery, other than a band saw, helps with neck cutting ² another important job in the rough mill. Steady hands and watchful eyes are the most crucial tools inthis job, which transforms long blocks of wood called neck blanks into the eventualhome of fingerboards and wire. A thin trough is cut down the back of these rawnecks and a truss rod gets installed in each one.

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