In the late 1800s, Kalamazoo, Michigan was a popular destination for wealthy Yankee farmers to send their sons to become leaders of industry. Born a New Yorker, Orville Gibson set up shop in Kalamazoo and acquired his first patent in 1894. Inspired by the subtleties of the violin, he recognized that the design of 19th century mandolins and guitars could be vastly improved. For example, the bowl-back, “tater-bug” mandolin featured back and sides made of bent wood strips, and a flat, canted top. He began producing instruments that instead featured solid, carved, arched tops and backs (the sides were likewise hewn from single pieces of wood). These new mandolins and guitars proved louder and more structurally stable, and a new era was born. Before long, he’d open up his own factory, and the gradual innovations of Orville and his team changed the course of musical history.
80 years later, Gibson Guitars of Kalamazoo was internationally known. Some of the best performers and instrumentalists of the 20th century had played Gibson guitars. Pickers in the big bands of the 1920s appreciated the way their arch-top guitars cut through the other instruments acoustically. Blues men and women made inspired music on their flat-top guitars in the 1930s. In the 1940s, their electro-acoustic models became popular amongst Jazz innovators such as Charlie Christian. In the 1950s, they further expanded the world of electric guitars to include solid-body models designed with the help of inventor and six-sting virtuoso, Les Paul. Demand for their instruments (now mostly guitars) had grown so great that the company decided to relocate their base of operations. However, a small handful of employees decided they’d rather stay put, having grown attached to the community and the old factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. These loyal mavericks founded their own guitar company in 1985, and named it Heritage, as an allusion to their noble pedigree. They set out to make instruments that were more built in a more “hand-crafted” fashion than a contemporary Gibson electric guitar. They dedicated themselves to using better woods and materials, in addition to an old wood carver machine designed by the original employees of 225 Parsons Street. By the late 1980s, acclaimed artists such as Johnny Smith, Kenny Burrell, and Roy Clark had embraced Heritage guitars, solidifying their reputation as makers of iconic instruments.