One of the most worn out cliches in the music industry is that it's a small world, and people remember your mistakes.
But shaking a bad reputation is difficult in any industry, and that's a fact Gibson Guitars may be learning the hard way.
Over the past several years, there has been a groundswell of anger directed at the legendary guitar manufacturer. From unhappy customers to scorned endorsers, you don't have to look too far these days to find bad news about Gibson.
There are a lot of reasons Gibson's brand has been tarnished recently, but at the crux of the blowback is an alleged dip in quality control.
Earlier this month, a high-profile former Gibson endorser, Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher, revealed why he stopped working with Gibson and instead jumped ship to ESP—just like Metallica frontman James Hetfield before him.
"They kept f***ing up my guitars that I was asking for," Kelliher said in no uncertain terms to Ultimate Guitar. "I didn't ask for a lot – I just had a few certain things that I would like with my guitar – I told them I didn’t want it chambered and they made my second guitar chambered."
He goes on, painting a picture of disarray at Gibson, saying the A&R department was constantly turning over making it impossible for him to maintain a relationship.
Further, Kelliher's signature guitars were being shipping without being properly set up. He says he would regularly get messages from fans asking why their guitars didn't sound right.
"They weren’t even tuning the guitars to my settings or specifications – just little things like that."
But customer and artist relations isn't all of it. In 2016, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Gibson's credit rating outlook to Caa2 or "negative," reporting that the company owes over $80 million to a supplier and $45 million in accounts payable.
Outstanding debt could be a reason for a dip in quality, meaning Gibson is trying to increase production and sales at the expense of the details. A Gawker piece goes even deeper into what's amiss, and it's all pretty damning.
"Gibson faces two main problems: their employees hate them (particularly CEO Henry Juszkiewicz), and their customers think they’re crap."
One woman told Gawker she got to know Juszkiewicz over the course of a job interview.
"The CEO is HORRIBLE — mean, nasty, uber-controlling," she wrote to Gawker. "If anyone in the company dares to have a different idea than his, you can pretty much guarantee that they will be fired - on the spot."
YouTube gear reviewer Sean Pierce Johnson — an avowed Gibson fan — said in a video this summer that Juszkiewicz "doesn't come across as the kind of guy that gets guitars."
"He kind of looks at Gibson as more a consumer electronics [company]. Which is evident in that earlier this year Gibson showed off their modern double-cut at the CES [International Consumer Electronics Show] in Vegas a mere two weeks before the winter NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show.
"And when I went to the winter NAMM show, that guitar was nowhere to be seen in the Gibson room. So what's up with that?"
Now, in spite of all that, if there's one company that can reverse a bad reputation, it's Gibson.
Gibson has built up decades of good will with its customers. And as a result its guitars are inextricably tied to music history—and to artists like Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, B.B. King, AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Bob Marley, Black Sabbath, Eagles, Green Day, Tool and so many others.
If Gibson wanted to (or felt like it had to), it could throw all its might around dispelling its bad rap by rebuilding its relationships...and the high-quality guitars for which it's been so beloved.
Photo: Getty Images