Gibson Guitars Factory Tour

So the other day I finally went to Memphis… but more importantly for me, I went to Gibson Guitars for a tour of their factory. I had already phoned Gibson before Christmas and talked to them and decided to go when the factory restarted production in the New Year.

I’ve had a lot of questions for Gibson for a number of years, especially regarding build and play quality of the Les Paul guitars made in the early 2000’s. On arrival we entered the vast empty reception and then the shop. We looked about and then enquired about the factory tour. Moments later and $10 lighter for each of us and the tour was booked and would happen on the hour. So I spoke to a female assistant and asked her questions about the Gibson Dark Fire which is basically a robotic guitar that tunes itself in any pitch you like etc. She was amazingly informative, really, and thoroughly knew her stuff. In fact I asked her dozens of questions for which she answered all of them in depth. She also invited me to play anything they had and to feel free to try all I liked… (you don’t hear that every day) I was frankly starting to feel impressed… On the question of setup and overall quality she informed me they now use a thing called a “Plek” machine that traces the fret board and grinds the frets and the “nut” to the optimum height and “action” (the distance of the strings from the fret board). So the bottom line is: if you’re buying a new Gibson – make sure it has a “Plek’d” sticker on it. Before the tour we had to sign disclaimers to enter the factory floor, wear safety glasses and get told that absolutely no cameras are allowed and mobile phones etc. The mobile phones thing was because 90% of phones can take pics.. But this is where I started having a trouble with the tour!! We were then taken through to a long windowless corridor where, upon the wall hung loads of guitars, one of which was a hand signed version of BB King’s “Lucille”. It was here we stopped for our tour guide to explain the very basics of guitar types, their respective parts… Obviously we weren’t in any sensitive area, so why no pics of these great guitars? Now, don’t get me wrong here, you don’t want flash photography around moving machinery… but nothing of what we were about to see was anything near what you can actually see on YouTube!! In fact I’ll go further… there was only one person working in the factory putting on machine heads… So what in god’s name is so secret to prevent photography? Why do I say this? Well, I do understand when they’re working with new technology’s that they wouldn’t want others to see… And it’s kinda cool to hear over and over again “we invented (or) did this/that first”  – but how the hell would anyone know if you wont let them take a pic?? But the reason I will say it is this – I live 5000 miles away.. I got more information, images and background info watching YouTube!!! I didn’t see shit being made!! I didn’t get to touch, hold, have shown how or experience fk-ALL!! THEN while the guy showing us around kept holding up things and guitar parts and waving them slowly past us – he took time out to do the same with an 8” grounding wire!! And for $10 each we all stood there like frigging morons as he took his time to show each and every one of us an 8 inch bit of wire!! I just thought ”this has got to be the ‘in’ factory joke” I even mentioned this to others there… The guide’s “patter” was perfect… then he suddenly turned and said “that concludes the tour, any questions?” which is ok for a 30 minute stroll – but then said nothing. We all looked at him blankly… I eventually asked where the hard shell cases are made – the answer was simply “in Canada”… Then more silence.. it was actually uncomfortable..

Gibson, for what you charge for guitars etc, there are thousands of things you can do to improve this tour – heck I didn’t even know it was for hollow-bodies only until we started the tour…

The lady in the Shop was totally awesome, the tour was dire. I’m not taking anything from the fact Gibson make some of the finest guitars in the world, if it has the Gibson name on it, it’s exclusive made in the USA and over 60% of everything they make is exported globally and that is testament to their craftmanship, put another way – if you listen to or play music of any type, you’ve heard of and know who Gibson is. But there was an air of real disappointment with the tour  – so word up if you’re a Gibson fan, I’ll save you the time, air fare, patronization and disappointment… here is a video that will show you much, much more than anything a Gibson tour will show you. You won’t have to wear goggles, sign disclaimers, you can smoke, eat, drink and take all the pictures you like…

I think I’ll head to Taylor

World Famous and of Austin’s Modern Heritage

If I haven’t mentioned it before, Austin probably has the most diverse music history in the world… Yes, I will hear people cry “Oh what about New Orleans, London, Memphis etc… but frankly, some incredible people have emerged from this, the most diverse and cosmopolitan and capital city of Texas… It’s was after all the whole reason for the now globally famous South by South West (SXSW). But seriously though, no city I know of celebrates it’s musical origins as much as Austin.

So why do I mention this, I’m not talking about the bars, nightlife – so… what? Well Austin through the years and decades has not only had incredible artists and clubs where they cut their teeth, but it has some pretty amazing people behind the scenes too… But Austin is musically vast in its diversity, from hip-hop through to its popular and gritty Indie scene. There are just so many bands and individuals who come here to make their mark – and they do. And like with all bases of great live music, it has its own “in” scene of the time – yet Austin caters for nearly all scenes at once. Even today while many can talk about the explosive Blues scene of the 70’s and 80’s, you really don’t need to walk too far to hear those dulcet tones that are so familiar even to those do not follow it.

I have already mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughan, yet I didn’t mention his brother Jimmie Vaughan, an outstanding and highly accomplished blues player in his own right, with a very discerning style too, both of whom cut their teeth here. But you know “that” guitar… the one Fender spent a fortune on replicating for an initial rrp of $8000 and created a whole collectors dream guitar that you simply will not obtain for less than 10’s of thousands of dollars… Well Stevie Ray Vaughan bought the original guitar from a now very famous guitar shop in South Austin… Ray Hennig’s “Heart of Texas Music”… and today Ray Hennig and his family are still crucial suppliers to the entire music scene in Austin – irrespective of genre or taste. Even a Wikipedia quoted Ray on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar purchase:

“ When he came in, like every other day, we had a long row of guitars and he wouldn’t take them off the hook. He’d simply walk down and feel them and look at them and move on to the next one. He stood there and looked at that old thing and I thought, oh no. Then he reached down and felt it, just like he did always. And then he took it off the hook, hitting some licks on it. He said, ‘Ray, where’d you get this?’ I said, ‘Stevie, you have got to have picked the biggest junker on the wall.’ ” —Ray Hennig,

Well today, before leaving Austin, I made my way to the “Heart of Texas” and met both Ray and Mary who are frankly the most outstanding, friendly and helpful people you could ever dream of meeting. Mary took time to talk to us and we talked about the UK and their own travels across the UK and Europe – and of course, had a great dig at the Fr**ch :-)

Now you only have to glance at the walls at this place to see the history enshrouded here, the place where the people we’ve all heard of go to get guitars, guitars setup and all manner of other things. Yet this isn’t a used up “has-been” place! Many of the pictures are new and some have surprising faces on them too. But the importance of this shop, the passion of the owners has been instrumental in quality and excellence of not only many famous artists, but the actual sound that has adorned all of our ears at some point.

Today, as we entered we were greeted by the frankly stunning Mary Hennig who took time to talk to us and explained much while towards the rear of the shop Ray was working hard on an acoustic guitar and doing what he does best.

It was a breath of fresh air to finally meet these two wonderful people who had a lifetimes experience and knowledge of the true Austin music scene, unlike rumour, reading stuff on the web etc. and to talk guitar tech in the form of the next generation of Hennig’s – Shane.

Sadly the site the shop presently occupies and has become famous because of it – is to be bulldozed and rebuilt by the owners of the land where it now stands. While this maybe a new beginning opportunity for the Heart of Texas Music – it is frankly the most wrongful destruction of a significantly historical landmark that has served, supported not only the musicians, live music scene and artists that have become household names – but has made a real impact the overall history of Austin and US wide music history… Hey put it another way, I live 5000 miles away and I know of this place and I normally haunt Denmark Street (UK’s Tin Pan Alley) in London.

It’s also strange that as a teenager I had my idols, but ever since becoming a musician of sorts (not a very good one I hasten to add) and even from the early days of working in a studio in Sheffield, I rarely consider the term “fan”, in fact I tend to look at other musicians as peers of the passion I guess, if they make something of it for themselves, then good for them – it’s often only in their demise we truly acknowledge their greatness! Yet without The Heart of Texas – where would they have been…

I hope to spend more time in Austin in 2012 and the coming years, and I would love to one day hear the stories of these wonderful people.

But if you have time to visit – DO!! Yes, tell them of TWBrit, and please – thank them for what they bring to the industry and to Austin (and buy something of course)

To Ray and Mary, thank you for your time and I hope I see you all again sometime in the future… Oh and the reason I had my back to the 60th Anniversary Telecaster – because I wanted it of course and I’d have looked at it any longer I’d have bought it :-)

The Heart of Texas Music website


The Road Trip

So, onwards to the present day and yes, it’s obvious from previous posts that I’ve jumped the gun a little. After a saunter down from Roswell and having a fleeting look at Holloman AFB, we headed to Las Cruces to crash for the night. Sadly the actual Trinity Site is only accessible twice a year, but that’s not to say I didn’t get to play with some interesting hardware before we headed south. So at first light we headed back over the mountain range and headed towards the White Sands Missile Range…

Initially we were told that the Museum was shut and only the Missile Park was open, but it was soon obvious that the whole site was open. First stop was the dubious origins of the Space Program and the tech that made modern missiles technology a reality – the Nazi V2 rocket!! Indeed, at the end of the war both British and US military’s took many of the V1 and V2 rockets home to play with, not to mention the scientist teams that built them.

Then it was onto the Trinity equipment… that’s when I noticed strange things happening to the camera screen, as though slightly darkened bars were on it – It’s fair to say that some of this equipment still glows a bit.

Outside in the missile park there was everything from a TOW missile, Patriot and this sucker… Yes, that is me – stood leaning against the bottom of this Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile…

Back on the road and with all the other driving done already, we headed south for Austin – around 700+ miles for the whole day. At El Paso I had no idea that the Mexican border ran along the freeway and the thousands of huts on the right was indeed a Mexican shanty city. But we did take time out to soak up the 80f sunshine outside a Starbucks..

Moving on through some stunning countryside (and Tarantula habitat) we pulled off at a mainly dead town of Fort(shitsville)Stockton for food which was frankly a mistake. Stopping at a Sonic we went to the restrooms which are behind the kitchens and had to navigate past two piles of vomit to enter – only to see the state of the kitchens… we left in favour of a DQ – which was only mildly better.

Passing miles and miles of wind farms which Texas has lots of and are vast!! We finally pulled off the i10 and headed towards Fredericksburg which turned out to be totally stunning and probably the quaintest town I’ve seen yet in the USA. As we rolled into town it was already dark, but nothing prepared us for the Christmas lights and oldie worldly feel of Main Street.

Stopping to grab McD’s coffee we headed out of town… only for @Gabsatrucker (the Driva) to happen upon a speed exceeding the local speed limit of 50mph… As we approached a speed to allow us to cover 2 miles per minute – a car on the opposite side of the road lit up it’s roof and the pursuit started… all 300 yards of it ;-)

The officer was frankly a decent personable guy and asked for the licence and registration and asked where we were coming from and going to etc. This provoked a little natter and moments later he returned, wished us a Happy New Year and left… That’s it.. :-)

With that I relaxed in the full knowledge that @Gabsatrucker is a full blooded, hellraising, lawbreaking, get away with anything – Criminal ;-)

All in all I was in Austin and settled in for 23:50 just in time to watch the New Year in and enjoy the fireworks that erupted in just about every direction you could see…

Next time….. Austin!!

Ahhhh the interesting things in New Mexico

This will be brief so I will come back to it all – anyway… so there I was on the accompanied road trip of sorts, when last night we crossed the border of Texas into New Mexico… and promptly saw the lights on the horizon 44 miles prior to reaching this town everyone has heard of. 30 minutes later and we roll into town with mysterious green glows that seem to emanate from everywhere on Main Street…

This is Roswell, home of a reported UFO crash in 1947 and has welcomed every tourist, nut job, geek, hippy and serious researcher ever since. While formal signs will point out that Roswell is the Dairy Capitol of New Mexico, little in the way of lactacious teat pulling is evident… but what is – is this amazing amount of “buy anything with an alien on it”…

It’s fair to say that while it’s fairly obvious something did happen near Roswell, the whole thing has been fairly well lost in the whole touristic quirkiness of the place… This however did not stop me buying a couple of t’shirts and a mug for Fenny – a blue mug strangely.

Onwards and into outlaw country… and the home of Billy The Kid… Driving down Highway 70 (Billy The Kid Byway) aka it’s not hard to see why this landscape favoured the outlaws of the day. Access to the Mexican border and a landscape so easy to hide in it’s kinda obvious. After stopping to read several Historic Markers we pulled over in Ruidoso Downs and the Billy the Kid Byway Visitors Centre to broaden our knowledge considerably.

Then on, on to Tularosa and a food stop of @Gabsatrucker’s (the Driver)  choice and one where only locals stop… to all intents and purposes the place was a shack and I (the Navi-gatorrr and road trip resident legendary bloke) indulged in @Eric_McWhirter’s  food of choice i.e. anything with a Green Chilli in it…  I swear, that man is trying to kill me!! So I did as the locals do – gained a sweaty tan real quick :-/

On again and a slow drive past Holloman AFB, home of the F22 Raptor and F117a  and then to the place I will visit tomorrow….

 Hmmm………….. A Gift Shop…. :-)

As the Sun Go Down

Yep, as the sun started to give up on the day, slightly later than a week ago as we have now passed Winter Solstice and I head west bound for Dallas… I’ve been somewhat bemused at how people effectively “don’t” over take here, they just sit there doing the same speed as the cars in other lanes. This I would find exceptionally irritating as both a car driver and former trucker… But for my US trucking friends, they live with this all the time and I take my hat off to their endurance ;-) Finally the sun dropped off the horizon and the miles dragged slowly by at 90. The thing about this road trip is that it’s a fast hit on key or interesting places, it’s not a full road trip in so much we’re not taking the old highways like Route 66 etc… I’ll come back later for that.

Dallas looks awesome at night and frankly while there is some thing I wish to see here tomorrow and will post about that later, there was one place I has grab a quick look at – even in the dark and at night… I’ll let you work it out – but a lot of lurking was done on my part ;-)

Published in: on 29 December, 2011 at 08:14  Leave a Comment  
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