Kalamazoo’s history with the guitar dates back to the late 1800’s when a man by the name of Orville Gibson arrived in town and began designing his own innovative mandolins. By the early 1900’s, his company was also producing guitars and other stringed instruments and, throughout most of the next century, the Gibson Guitar Corporation grew to become the world’s premier guitar manufacturer. Over the years, legendary musicians such as Les Paul, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Bill Monroe, and many more made the pilgrimage to 225 Parsons Street to pick up guitars that they would write music that has defined generations.
Classic models like the Gibson Les Paul, L-5, ES-335, SG, Flying V, and many more were first developed and crafted at the Kalamazoo factory by icons like Ted McCarty, Lloyd Loar, and others.
In 1974, Gibson started to move production to Nashville. In 1984, the company left Kalamazoo for good, closing the doors on the iconic factory. Not long after, a few former senior employees had decided they wanted to continue the tradition of handcrafting beautiful, high quality electric guitars in Kalamazoo. By the spring of 1985, those individuals had acquired space at the former factory, purchased much of the old guitar-making equipment, and were ready to roll under the new moniker of Heritage Guitar Inc.
The original owners of Heritage, Jim Deurloo, Marv Lamb, and JP Moats, had a combined 84 years of guitar-building experience among them when the company began. In time, they added Bill Paige and Mike Korpak as co-owners. Mike left shortly after joining, but Jim, Marv, and Bill are still active in the business. Between the three, they hold over 160 years of knowledge that every day is passed along to the next generation of American luthiers.
Today, Heritage continues to handcraft guitars in a traditional fashion and using many of the same tools that have been used in that factory for over half a century.
Photos courtesy of the Kalamazoo Public Library & Kalamazoo Valley Museum