Gibson guitar singing the financial blues

Guns N' Roses guitar icon Slash plays Gibson guitars.
Guns N' Roses guitar icon Slash plays Gibson guitars.

SAN FRANCISCO • Can world-famous guitar maker Gibson, whose instruments have been played by the likes of John Lennon and Elvis Presley, survive?

Fans are fretting and starting to sing the blues after news emerged that the company is facing serious financial problems that threaten its very existence.

The company - based in Nashville, Tennessee since 1894 - on Monday brought in a new financial director, Mr Benson Woo, to try to rescue the ailing group.

Gibson Brands, which also sells audio systems for both professionals and the general public, is working with an investment bank to set up a debt refinancing plan, the company said in a statement.

The group has a US$375 million (S$493 million) debt payment due in early August, the Nashville Post reported.

"While the musical instrument and pro audio segments have been profitable and growing, they are still below the level of success we saw several years ago," chief executive Henry Juszkiewicz said in the statement.

He added that the company, as part of a broad review of its business strategy, was continuing to streamline its Philips brand consumer audio business while also eliminating some of the underperforming products.

He said Gibson expects this strategy will lead "to the best financial results the company has seen in its history within the next year" - with full repayment of company debt "within several years".

Gibson bought Philips, a Dutch entertainment brand, in 2014 for US$135 million.

Gibson produces one of the most prestigious guitar models in the world, the Les Paul.

Among the stars who have played Gibson instruments are bluesman B.B. King and rockers - the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

In 2016, a Gibson Dove - a flat top, steel-string acoustic guitar that Presley's father had given him in 1969 - sold at auction for the healthy sum of US$334,000.

A year earlier, one of Lennon's favourite guitars - he used it to compose songs such as All My Loving and She Loves You - brought in an even more impressive US$2.4 million.

But given that some pundits have pointed to a reduced interest in guitars as the music trends in the United States lean more towards rap and hip hop, Gibson will still have its work cut out even if the business revamp proves sound.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Gibson guitar singing the financial blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe