FRETS.COM Field Trip

Gibson's Original Acoustic Instrument Division
Shopping Mall Luthiers?
© Frank Ford, 7/28/00; Photos by Richard Johnston, 7/22/00

Richard Johnston visited the site of Gibson's latest enterprise when he went to the Nashville NAMM show in July, 2000. This is the outside parking lot entrance to the Gibson Bluegrass instrument manufacturing facility, and performance venue.

Here's the inside entrance. That's Mandolin Brother Stan Jay, flanked by his wife, Bea, and a Gibson sales rep. This factory is actually INSIDE an enclosed shopping mall called "Opry Mills," built on the former site of the defunct Opryland Amusement Park.

Next door to Bed Bath and Beyond, here's the Gibson factory, open to the public. AND, there are these island stations right in the mall traffic area, where final setup and assembly is performed on a variety of instruments as the public mills past in the usual shopping mall daze.

Behind glass you can get a close view of practically all the manufacturing operations, even the spraying of banjo resonators.

If this crowd of mandolin bodies is any indication, things are really hopping here.

Necks and bodies await preliminary fitting.

I suppose you could get used to working in such a fishbowl, but I'll bet it's an adjustment for instrument makers who are accustomed to an industrial setting.

Here's a confusion. Gibson is selling these super cheapo Korean knockoffs of the famous "Army-Navy" model mandolins. They import them unfinished and spray them here, offering them for retail sale in the shopping mall.

Here's a new Dobro getting its color coat. Dobros are the only Gibson guitars made at this facility. Solid body electrics, hollow body electics and archtops are made in the original Nashville plant and custom shop.

Mandolins, banjos, and Dobros are made in the factory at Opry Mills. This is the complete factory, too, including everything except the CNC mills.

More parts awaiting final finish coats. Richard took all these photos right through the glass from the public area inside the shopping mall.

Fitting mandolin necks and bodies.

This long view through the glass gives a sense of the size of this place. Gibson has 30,000 square feet of space in the shopping mall, most of which is visible to the public.

Out to lunch.

The fellows working in these kiosks told Richard it was a real treat to be out in the public.

Racks of instruments everywhere.

As I understand it, the banjo necks are actually fabricated by First Quality Musical Supply, and come to Gibson in this form, ready for final shaping, fretting, finishing and installation.

I'm not sure what this guy is doing. . .

The mandolin department seems to be the most active.

Here's another long shot through the glass. It's quite a treat to have Gibson manufacturing this "open." In years past, it was nearly impossible for the public to get a factory tour. Now the factory is in the public area.

More mandolin work.

Gluing up mandolin bodies.

That's quite a stack of banjo resonators, and it looks like there's a top tension style on the lathe over there in the back.

Dobro bodies being glued up in the foreground. Behind, you can see the side bending press.

Banjo setup and assembly.

Quite a bank of downdraft sanding tables. Looks like they're geared up for some real production!

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