KALAMAZOO, MI. -- For decades the Gibson guitar manufacturing plant made its home in Kalamazoo. They employed more than a thousand people at one point, then eventually decided to pull the plug and move their operations south to Tennessee in 1984. Three long-standing employees decided to start their own company, buy some of the equipment, and lease the historic space. In 1985 The Heritage guitar was born.
With only 17 employees Heritage makes between 700 and 800 guitars each year and more than half of those are custom (made to order). They have three basic styles...a solid body, a semi-hollow body, and a hollow body, but they have 35 to 40 different models and several different colors. It's interesting and exciting to watch them hand-craft one of these beautiful pieces of wood in to a masterpiece. And to think it doesn't stop there...the musician will further create notes, chords, and songs on their Heritage guitar.
While I noticed several machines at Heritage that route, sand, cut, bend, and shape, it should be noted that everything is still (pretty much) completely done by hand. It begins by selecting maple wood (most of the time) for the side or rim of the guitar. Wet, thin pieces of maple strips are heated, molded, and shaped to create the sides of the guitar, then a solid wood block is placed down the center for added support. An arched top and back in then attached and the real guitar begins to take shape. The corners or edges are routed out to accommodate white plastic ABS binding to create a finished look. Necks are sanded, chiseled, and attached to the body (usually made from mahogany) along with the fretboard or fingerboard.
Eventually the body hits the paint booth for staining, coloring, or painting. After thoroughly drying, the finish is buffed to a glass-like perfection. The last step is to solder and add all of the hardware like volume and tone knobs, pickups, tuning pegs, pick guards, and strings. After several steps and about 15 to 20 man hours the guitar is complete. Heritage products are available through several retailers. The list is available online below.
Co-owners Jim Deurloo and Marvin Lamb started their careers with Gibson back in the 1950s while kids in high school. When the company decided to move south, both were offered positions but declined. Instead, they opted to start their own company and continue the hand-made high quality tradition under their name of Heritage. They were also deeply rooted in the Kalamazoo community and decided to keep other employees and simply not move out of the area.
Most of their guitars range in price from $3,200 to $8,000. In fact, they have a 30th anniversary model complete with ebony fingerboard, owner's signatures engraved in pearl, gold hardware, and Seymour Duncan pickups for those of you that know your equipment. These really are beautiful guitars. The fact that these gentlemen stayed in the business this long and are still actively working and producing guitars each and everyday since the 1950s remains a testament to their commitment.
If you'd like more information Heritage can be reached at (269) 385-5721. Find their website here. Got questions? Their email is email@example.com
As a guitar player I have a particular affinity for their wide, thick, hollow body jazz guitars. They have a soft, rich, mellow tonal quality that can only be attained through this style guitar. Solid body guitars tend to sustain notes a bit longer and are traditionally used by rock-n-rollers. Some of the finest musicians in the world play Heritage guitars. Click here to see the list. Many thanks to owners Marv and Jim for sharing their expertise and craftsmenship with me and our West Michigan Stories.