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see our exclusive Gibson Factory Tour video!

Summer NAMM is something of a hometown hoedown for Gibson: The Electric Guitar division, Custom Shop, and Original Acoustic Instruments division (makers of banjos, mandolins, and Dobros) are all based in Music City. In fact, the only major Gibson guitars made outside the Volunteer State are its acoustics, which are built in Montana.

Harmony Central joined a posse of journalists -- easily spotted by how aggressively they attacked the coffee -- for a breakfast tour of all three Nashville factories. First stop was the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase. Part diner, part performance space, part store, it's situated in the Opry Mills Mall, a stone's throw from country music's Mecca, the Grand Ole Opry. But what makes the place unique is that when you round the corner near the food service area, you come face to face with a factory behind glass. Here's where the mandolins and other parts of the Original Acoustic Instrument line are made, in full view of the public, six days a week. Bluegrass performers hit the stage nightly, as well -- presumably they let the paint dry before sampling the merchandise.

Part two of the tour, at Gibson's largest Nashville factory: the Electric Guitar Division. This is the heart of Gibson's operation, and the facility dwarfs the other two. Guitars come in as raw wood, and every scrap gets either used or recycled. (According to Gibson's Fred Greene, General Manager of the Electric Guitar division, the sawdust is sold to Jack Daniels and used to fire the stills. Funny, we thought it was the Jack that fuels the music, not the other way around.) It takes up to six weeks for Gibson to fashion those slabs of wood into instruments; in an era of CNC machines and automated production, Gibson still does much of its work by hand.

The Custom Shop is the candy store of any guitar manufacturer, and Gibson used the setting to unveil some new Gibson and Epiphone guitars and amps. The highlights of our stop there:

  • the Pete Townshend signature SG, patterned after the one he played on Live at Leeds -- and artificially aged to look battle worn (no, it doesn't come pre-smashed).

  • the Nikki Sixx Thunderbird bass -- the only control is an on and off switch(read into that what you will).

  • the Customer's Choice J-45, designed to include some of the most requested features, such as a sloped-shoulder body style (with mahogany back and sides), a piezo pickup, and a "moustache"-style bridge.

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