During our time in Nashville for Summer NAMM 2017, the zZounds Crew paid a visit to Gibson USA to check out the 2018 line of Gibson guitars. We were treated to any guitarists’ dream: a room full of Gibson’s finest. From classic favorites like the Les Paul and SG, to Memphis semi-hollowbody guitars to acoustic icons like the J-45, the entire 2018 roster of Gibson guitars were on display. We even got to see some of the new Custom Shop offerings coming out this year, and they were quite a sight to see.
While we were there, we also got to interview Gibson’s Vice President of Marketing, Cedric LeClerc about the decisions he and his team made in streamlining 2018’s offerings from Gibson and their new focus within the Gibson Custom Shop to reflect the best that Gibson has to offer. Watch our exclusive video above for an overview of many of the new models, and check out our interview below for the inside scoop on what you can look forward to from Gibson in 2018!
Interview with Cedric LeClerc, VP of Marketing for Gibson
zZounds: What would you say are some of the biggest differences in Gibson’s 2018 line from their 2017 line?
Cedric LeClerc: The 2018 Model Year is an evolution of the 2017 lineup more than a revolution. The most meaningful changes this year are in the structure of our lineup and the options we are providing our fans. We truly adopted a “less is more” attitude in developing our lineup, striving to provide our fans with more options, while significantly simplifying the navigation of our product lines.
We are now focusing on the clear distinction between “Gibson” and “Gibson Custom,” and are developing the “Custom” capabilities of our Memphis and Montana factories further to leverage their absolute expertise in ES and acoustic instruments to build genuine Custom products out of these facilities. As a result, you can expect some very exciting Custom Limited Runs launching in the coming year.
zZ: Gibson’s 2018 line is a lot more concise than in years past. What fueled the decision to streamline the offerings?
CL: Simplifying our fans’ lives by focusing on Gibson’s “best of the best” was the driving force behind our Core offering. To satisfy the players looking for variety, we will have numerous Limited Runs, including basses, and some very exciting Limited Runs across all product lines… and yes, Juniors and Specials will be offered too!
zZ: Was it difficult to narrow the lineup down?
CL: We love all the guitars we make, so from an emotional standpoint, yes, it’s very hard to trim down our lineup. However, we thought first and foremost about our consumers when designing our lineup for 2018, and that made things much easier. The objective was really to ensure that all guitar stores across the world would be able to represent an impressive selection of instruments, addressing consumer’s needs, and providing exceptional value. In the end, it was a difficult, but necessary exercise that resulted in a more comprehensive lineup that feels even fuller than the previous ones.
zZ: What is new for the High Performance line in 2018?
CL: For 2018, the HP models are really taking on a life of their own, getting sharper and more focused, now with two key models based on the popular favorites of the past two years.
Our key objective for our two HP models is to drive consistency across the models, along with further innovations. The two models, the Les Paul Standard HP and SG Standard HP, share the same key features so players can focus on picking the one that feels the best for them, while not missing out on specific features.
Both models feature highly figured maple tops, and the same color options (with one exclusive color for the LP). The pickups have no mounting rings, for a streamlined look, and are adjustable from the back. The Les Paul Standard HP’s body now features a belly scarf for more comfort, and the SG Standard’s body’s thickness has been slightly increased to provide very well-balanced instruments. Thanks to the increase in body thickness for the SG Standard HP, both models now feature the push-pulls and DIP switches, which is a first on a SG.
zZ: One of the biggest things we noticed about the HP line this year was the removal of those pickup rings. Can you tell us about the decision to remove those?
CL: The first thing I want to say is that I don’t think anyone truly realizes how much engineering and design work went into this change. Removing the mounting rings is a pretty easy thing, if you accept the visual impact of having holes on both sides of each pickups. To avoid this, and keep the full adjustability of the pickups, we had to completely re-engineer how pickups are mounted and adjusted into the guitars. I believe this is the first time a guitar was ever built this way, for sure at Gibson, or any large manufacturer across the world. This is a true innovation that was made possible because, contrary to most of our competitors, we make all our pickups in-house, in Nashville, and have world-class luthiers and engineers working together crafting our instruments from start to finish in the USA.
The effort to remove our mounting rings from the HP models was really a design exercise. In 2017, we started to streamline the design of the HP models, and focus on premium materials and parts. Mounting rings were not fitting in this equation, but they were necessary. 2018 finalizes this design direction and provides the modern and clean look that we were looking for all along, focused on a fantastic AAA+ figured maple top, enhanced by chrome details.
zZ: The mini humbuckers in the SG Special look and sound great! Why place those in that model?
CL: 2017 laid the ground for our model offering, and this has mostly remained for 2018. However, we noticed that we had the opportunity to provide more than just model variations, and we designed our 2018 lineup to provide our fans not only with a great choice of models, but also significantly different tonal options in all price points. The SG Special, with its vintage but classy looks, and its 24 frets, was a perfect candidate for a tonal makeover taking it to a brighter and crisper place.
zZ: In the same way, the P-90s in the Les Paul Classic are a great idea, and it helps to differentiate that model from other Les Pauls. How are you furthering the distinctions between the Classic, Standard and Traditional this year?
CL: We differentiate these models through several key variations:
Tops: plain for the Classic, AA for the Traditional, AAA for the Standard
Pickups: P-90s for the Classic, BB1 and BB2 for the Traditional, BB Pro Rhythm and BB Pro Lead for the Standard
Electronics: hand-wired with Orange Drop capacitors for the Classic and Traditional, 4 push-pulls for the Standard
Weight relief: no weight relief on both the Classic and Traditional, Ultra Modern weight relief for the Standard
Neck profile: slim taper for the Classic, rounded for the Traditional, slim taper asymmetrical for the Standard
Hardware: Nickel plated ABR and aluminum Stop Bar for the Classic and Traditional, Chrome plated TOM and Stop Bar for the Standard.
The Classic and the Traditional target two different types of players looking for vintage features. The Standard is aimed at the modern player looking for a contemporary instrument. All three are exceptional instruments that complement each other extremely well.
zZ: Have you noticed that certain types of players gravitate toward certain models? If so, what are some of the trends?
CL: We definitely have several different types of players we cater to, and over the past few years, we made sure we better understood what they are looking for, and made sure to provide them with outstanding instruments to exceed their expectations.
One type of player we cater to is what we call the “traditionalist.” They gravitate toward models with vintage looks, classic finishes, and more historic specs, like the J-45, Les Paul Tribute, Les Paul Traditional, ES-335, or custom made instruments.
Another type is the “modern” player. They gravitate toward models with less traditional finishes, and specs that provide a modern playability and tonal flexibility. They tend to be attracted to models including the Hummingbird Avant-Garde, the Les Paul Studio, the Les Paul Standard and Standard HP and the Modern Double Cut.
zZ: Tell us a bit about the new direction Gibson is taking with their Custom Shop.
CL: It’s simple. We are a Custom Shop. A Custom Shop should be driven by imagination where anything is possible and every challenge is met with a smile. The Limited Runs we are launching weekly are meant to be not only products, but also inspirations for our fans to create their dream guitars through our Made2Measure program. If our fans want historic guitars, they can get them very easily through custom orders. Our role is to inspire them to go beyond the expected.
zZ: Were there any logistical challenges in making this move?
CL: The biggest challenge was more of a psychological one than a logistical one. Our Custom Shop is extremely adaptive and flexible, and implementing the new launch strategy, while disruptive to some extent, was pretty quick and painless once we had defined and implemented the right process. The real challenge was to switch mindsets while creating a framework to channel creativity effectively. Our last remaining challenge is that the program is so successful we cannot always fully meet the high demand for these very limited products.
zZ: The new finishes for this year look incredible. Who is in charge of designing and naming those?
CL: I am working with my team every year to create new, exciting, and unique colors. I am defining the direction based on color trends and building coherence in the lineup. After briefing my team, and peppering in some “daring” colors (like a Hot Pink Fade for example), we create samples to review and assess together. We keep the best ones, and start building families, creating themes that go along together. A lot of the process is about experimenting and challenging what we do every day and not being satisfied with the status quo.
zZ: Can you give us some info on what we’ll see from Gibson Memphis and Gibson Montana this year?
CL: While the factory locations remain the same, the instruments coming out of the Gibson Memphis and Gibson Acoustic factories are now branded only as “Gibson” to ensure that we simplify our communication with our fans by removing unnecessary layers of complexity. As an example, a fan would be looking for a Gibson ES-335. Branding this instrument Gibson Memphis ES-335 adds a layer of complexity that can be confusing. What’s the difference between what they know (a Gibson ES-335) and what they see in store (a Gibson Memphis ES-335)? Well, they are the same instruments, so we decided to call them the same.
The most exciting thing that you will see coming out of the Memphis and Montana factories, outside of our outstanding Core lineup, are the first true “Custom” models out these two divisions. Our teams did an amazing job creating exciting, unique, and incredibly good sounding instruments, and I can’t wait for you to get your hands on them.
zZ: The new hardshell case and gig bag look great! What were some of the design goals behind them?
CL: For our new soft-shell case, the objective was very simple: providing the convenience of a gig bag, with the protection and premium perception of a Gibson hard-shell case. I think we delivered on point with this new soft-shell case.
The new aluminum case changes were made to add practicality to looks. When we launched our aluminum case for our high end HP models, they looked amazing, but ended up to be on the heavy side. Adding integrated wheels and genuine leather handles really transforms it into what it’s meant to be: a super high end travel case.