KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The sweet harmony of success that emanated for decades from the home of Gibson Inc., one of the world's best-known manufacturers of stringed instruments, has ended.
The home plant of the guitar and mandolin company founded in 1894 by Orville H. Gibson will close in June. Operations will be transferred to a plant in Nashville, Tenn.
James Deurloo, plant manager, said the reason for closing the Kalamazoo plant is purely economic.
The company, now owned by Norlin Industries, has a surplus of manufacturing space. Sales have declined dramatically. Gibson sold $20 million worth of instruments in 1982 and only $14 million last year.
All guitars, mandolins and banjos will be made at the newer Nashville plant, which was built in the early 1970s to produce the less expensive instruments marketed by Gibson.
'Almost two years ago we did a feasibility study before the decision was made to close the Kalamazoo plant or close the Nashville plant. It was evident consolidation was necessary,' Deurloo said.
'Frankly, the numbers were so close that Nashville won out because of the centralized location, the lower tax base, the fact that it's a music-oriented community.'
Remaining at the Kalamazoo plant are 29 of the company's most skilled craftsmen who are wrapping up the custom and 'one-of-a-kind' specialty work for which the company has become known by professional musicians.
It is a bittersweet time for the few employees remaining at the old Parsons Street plant, many of whom have worked for Gibson for 20 or 30 years.
All remaining work has been transferred into the oldest building of the huge north-side manufacturing complex once operated by Gibson. A 'For Sale' sign prominently stands in front of one closed section; paint and plaster is cracking in the building still in use.
The sadness of closing is mixed with the pleasure of seeing old customers pay homage to the plant one last time before the doors close for good.
One such fellow is Gary Josey of Richmond, Va., a guitar collector who convinced Deurloo to build one last 'Citation' jazz guitar for him at the Kalamazoo plant. At $7,000, Josey says it is truly a bargain.
'This guitar is the flagship of the Gibson line, no dealer will ever stock it, they're not easy to get,' Josey said. 'Once you get to know the people and hang around this place for a while, there's a pleasure to owning an instrument of that caliber.'
'Gibson, without question, builds the finest arch-top guitars in the world,' he said.
Others have stopped by, called or made special requests of their own. It's not that the custom work won't be done in Nashville; it's just that those who have a special fondness for Gibson feel a bit of history is coming to an end with the closing of the Kalamazoo plant.
Gibson's Kalamazoo plant always has held a mystique for musicians. The Rolling Stones once chartered a jet to travel to Kalamazoo for a visit. Many, many others, from Les Paul to Ted Nugent, traveled to the plant to see where their instruments were made.