Guitar-maker Gibson files for bankruptcy to leave its electronics ambitions behind

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Enlarge / A Gibson Les Paul Standard with a “desertburst” finish from 2006. (credit: Freebird / Flickr via Creative Commons)

Other than the Fender Stratocaster, there are few electric guitars more steeped in blues and rock history than the Les Paul. It has famously been played by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Pete Townshend, among many others. It might seem like cause for alarm, then, that that guitar’s 116-year-old manufacturer, Gibson Guitar Corp., is filing for bankruptcy protection because its additive attempts to make waves in the consumer electronics business have landed it in as much as $500 million in debt.

Fortunately, there looks to be a viable path to survival for the Nashville-based company. That path involves liquidating the consumer electronics business, which is the work of a soon-to-be-defunct division called Gibson Innovation. The division’s products have included headphones, speakers, and other audio equipment. If the company’s plan is successful, Les Pauls and other guitars—along with the company’s other professional studio audio equipment products and instruments, like Epiphone guitars and Baldwin pianos—could continue to be sold to future generations of musicians.

Despite Gibson’s historic role in the music industry, chief executive Henry Juszkiewicz (who joined the company to save it from another bankruptcy scare in 1986) sought to turn the company into a “music lifestyle brand” in response to slowing guitar sales, according to a report in The New York Times. That’s where the Innovation division and the tech products came into play. Juszkiewicz also began pushing new technologies like self-tuning guitars which didn’t appeal to musicians who play in styles that are all about tradition. Ultimately, those bets have not paid off.

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