Henry Juszkiewicz of Gib­son

SIN­GLE-MINDED, CON­TRO­VER­SIAL, VI­SION­ARY. ALL OF THESE THINGS AND MORE ARE TRUE OF THE MAN WHO’S BEEN AT THE HELM OF GIB­SON FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS, HENRY JUSZKIEWICZ. NOW, AS THE COM­PANY STANDS AT A HIS­TORIC CROSS­ROADS, AF­TER FIL­ING FOR CHAP­TER 11 BANK­RUPT

Guitarist - - Contents - Words: Jamie Dickson

There was, for many, a sense of the in­evitable when news broke that Gib­son were fil­ing for Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy to pro­tect cred­i­tors while it re­struc­tures the busi­ness. For crit­ics of the com­pany, it was a long­proph­e­sied day. Key­board war­riors ev­ery­where took to fo­rums and Face­book to rail against what they per­ceived as a self-in­flicted in­jury. Gib­son’s 2015 prod­uct line came in for par­tic­u­larly heavy flak. In­tended to en­cour­age new play­ers to the brand, Gib­son USA’s 2015 electrics sported an au­to­matic-tun­ing sys­tem, wider necks and a brass nut – non-tra­di­tional fea­tures that were in­tended to make play­ing eas­ier. For many among the Gib­son faith­ful, how­ever, the mod­i­fi­ca­tions were akin to putting a base­ball cap and sneak­ers on Michelan­gelo’s David. The en­su­ing back­lash cast a shadow over all that the com­pany tried to achieve in the months that fol­lowed.

The strength of that back­lash is ex­plained, in part, by the raw emo­tional power of the com­pany’s her­itage. Some­where in the heart of ev­ery gui­tarist there is a lit­tle piece of hal­lowed turf that be­longs to Gib­son. If you grew up play­ing gui­tar at any time be­tween the 1950s and the 1990s some­thing spe­cial hap­pened when you saw a Gib­son in a shop win­dow. Your heart­strings thrummed and you took a mo­ment to sim­ply stand in the street and won­der what it might be like to own one. Or maybe one fine morn­ing you walked into the shop with a wal­let full of notes and ac­tu­ally took the plunge.

The act of own­ing a Gib­son for the first time seemed both a rite of pas­sage and a long-awaited ar­rival at a longed-for place. Gui­tar’s big­gest he­roes played Gibsons, clas­sic records were de­fined by the sound of PAFs scream­ing an­gel­i­cally through Mar­shall stacks – while the guitars them­selves pos­sessed an in­tox­i­cat­ing blend of el­e­gant form and po­tent func­tion. Gibsons were al­ways a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive than the guitars of other brands – but that only made them the more de­sir­able.

It is, ar­guably, that very love of Gib­son’s her­itage that pro­voked some to anger as the Nashville-based com­pany sought to over­haul its core prod­ucts in or­der to reach new play­ers in 2015. But Gib­son was in the dock for other per­ceived wrongs, too. Some crit­ics al­leged that the com­pany’s qual­ity con­trol had be­come patchy, while oth­ers still com­plained that the com­pany’s flag­ship mod­els – es­pe­cially the high-end prod­ucts of its Cus­tom Shop – were pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive or had mor­phed into off­beat, tech-en­abled vari­ants that of­fered fea­tures, such as built-in ef­fects, that no one seemed to be ask­ing for.

Amid all the sound and fury, Gib­son sold more than 170,000 guitars last year and saw sales rise by 10.5 per cent since Jan­uary 2017. So with its core busi­ness seem­ingly fir­ing on all cylin­ders, why did Gib­son find it­self fil­ing for Chap­ter 11 this May? For the an­swer to that, we must turn to the man who was the ar­chi­tect of Gib­son’s sal­va­tion in the 1980s and who re­mains at the helm of the com­pany to­day: CEO Henry Juszkiewicz.

Three decades into his ten­ure at the top, he re­mains an im­pas­sioned fan of Gib­son’s her­itage – but also a fer­vent be­liever in the power of in­no­va­tion. It was this be­lief that prompted Gib­son’s en­try into the un­charted wa­ters of con­sumer elec­tron­ics, a move that would have more far-reach­ing con­se­quences than any au­to­matic tun­ing sys­tem or neck pro­file ever could.

Given his cen­tral role in the events that have un­folded, it’s ironic that Henry Juszkiewicz’s commentary on Gib­son’s gui­tar-mak­ing future, post-Chap­ter 11, has so far been muted. As you’d ex­pect, he has been very ac­tive in mak­ing the big­pic­ture busi­ness case that the cur­rent up­heavals will leave Gib­son stronger. But what kind of guitars will it make? And will it be ditch­ing ro­bot tuners and re-ex­am­in­ing its pric­ing?

We wanted to know the an­swers to these ques­tions, so we did the ob­vi­ous and asked if he’d talk to us about it. To our sur­prise, the re­quest was granted and we were given a 30-minute slot to talk frankly with Gib­son’s CEO about how we got here, what hap­pens next and what all this means for the kind of guitars we’ll be see­ing from the Nashville-based com­pany in com­ing months and years. Here’s what he had to say.

“Some­where in the heart of ev­ery gui­tarist there is a lit­tle piece of hal­lowed turf that be­longs to Gib­son”

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