Summer NAMM 2019: Gibson Announces New Authorized Partnership Program

Gibson CEO and President James "JC" Curleigh at the company's Winter NAMM show opening party

Gibson CEO and President James "JC" Curleigh at the company's Winter NAMM show opening party (Image credit: Harmony Gerber/Getty Images)

Summer NAMM 2019: After announcing its shift from “confrontation toward collaboration” earlier this month, Gibson has unveiled its Authorized Partnership Program, a new initiative that will enable boutique guitar builders the opportunity to work directly with the company on instruments that mirror “iconic shapes” like the Flying V and Explorer.

Upon an acknowledgement that they’re using these shapes, as well agreement to other, yet unspecified terms, Gibson would grant boutique luthiers permission to employ the shapes in their own builds.

In an interview with NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, Gibson CEO and President James “JC” Curleigh discussed the Authorized Partnership Program. 

“We’ve entered into some agreements with 3 or 4 boutique guitar companies, and basically, they actually love Gibson, and we actually love them,” Curleigh said. “We just have to have a conversation around where the lines are between shapes and names, etc. And what’s amazing is, as soon as we enter into those conversations, it leads to a collaborative, creative conversation.

“So it’s going to work basically, it’s essentially an agreement where they acknowledge: 'Yup, these are your shapes,' and we say, 'you can use them.' Then it involves simple language around how many you make and what it’s going to involve and there may be some type of royalty dynamic, but we’re also going to support them in marketing terms, so it’s not a revenue generating dynamic for us at all, whether by magnitude scale or by deal, it’s more acknowledgment that these are some shapes that we’ve created. ‘We want you to celebrate and use them for the right reasons, and let’s collaborate.’ ”

Curleigh went on to clarify his stance on what he views as trademark infringement.

“There’s a spectrum that occurs. And the spectrum can be wide, but it can also be definitive or grey depending on how you look at it, and the definitive part is the known counterfeit/knockoffs. They truly - they see a brand that’s iconic, they see it has momentum, and they want to take – just frankly – illegitimate leverage on that momentum through counterfeit product, and you have to hit that hard, you have to stop it fast, or it gets out of control, and quite frankly, it damages your brand.”

He continued, “The other end of that spectrum are these really amazing boutique guitarists and guitar luthiers who are making 10, 20, 50, 100 guitars and they’re shaping them either for their artists or their own business.

Finally, Curleigh addressed the recent controversy around Gibson’s "Play Authentic" video, which was criticized in some corners of the industry for its aggressive stance toward other guitar companies.

“Tone and timing of that video, clearly, lessons to be learned,” he said. “[B]ut guess what: we’re taking down hundreds of websites, thousands of guitars we’re intercepting that are knockoffs, so it served a purpose.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.