The iconic guitar maker has a new CEO, a fresh line of instruments and a strategy to get things back on track.
Not long after James "JC" Curleigh came onboard as Gibson's new president/CEO last November, he went to dinner with one of the guitar maker's most iconic ambassadors, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons. During the meal, recalls Curleigh, Gibbons said, "'JC, you took a brave step taking on the Gibson challenge, and you've got to know that me and all of the artists are with you every step of the way.'"
Curleigh smiles. "I told him, 'Billy, I'm going to use that quote!' "
As a force in the guitar world for over a half-century with models like the Les Paul and the SG, seen in the hands of artists ranging from Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page to Eric Clapton and Slash, Gibson filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2018. Several factors led to the guitar giant's downfall, including product development missteps, such as affixing poorly-received innovations like the G Force automatic tuning system to classic guitar designs. But the main culprit was former CEO Henry Juszkiewicz's efforts to rebrand Gibson as a "music lifestyle" brand, which involved borrowing $300 million to acquire consumer electronics company Royal Philips in 2014 -- a move that ultimately failed. "We took on way too much outside our core," Curleigh says.