Ebay ES of the Week #9. Orville Who?

Looks just like a Gibson doesn't it? That's because it is a Gibson with a different name on it. Leave it to those clever Japanese to copy it right. Only problem is mid 60's ears on a dot neck.

If you don’t know Orville, then maybe you should get to know him. Back in the 80’s when Fender and Gibson were struggling to improve their quality, both companies decided that it made sense to have the Japanese take a crack at making their guitars. Gibson had a presence in the Far East for years with its Epiphone line but, frankly, most players considered Epis to be second rate guitars. And, in large part (at least then) they were right. But the Japanese were capable of much better. Fender had some guitars made by one of the larger manufacturers in Japan in the early 80’s and, so the story goes, the  Fender bigwigs were so impressed with the quality that they had to up the level of the US made guitars to match those made in Japan. The experience at Gibson was, as I understand it, not dissimilar.  Interestingly, Gibson got around the problem of competing with themselves by establishing a new line of guitars rather than put their own name on them like Fender did. So, in 1988, I believe, the Orville was born, named for the founder of Gibson.  His name was Orville Gibson but I guess you could have figured that out.  I have never played an Orville but I’ve seen one up close and the quality looks very high.  They were made from 1988-1998 by Yamano Gakki. These are typical of the well known Japanese ability to copy high end products made elsewhere. They were better, in fact, than the 335’s that Gibson was turning out at the same time even though they were priced between the Gibson and Epiphone lines. They didn’t quite get it right-the body shape is almost dead on 64 but the necks are dot marker. The hardware was nickel and looked great and I believe the pickups were (at least later in the run) American made Gibsons. Fit and finish are typically excellent and, I’m told, they play and sound like a Gibson. Who’d a thunk it?  A few years ago, these were selling for a lot less than the $1200-$1600 they command today but the word got out and the word was that these guitars are a bargain. They’re still a few hundred dollars less than a used Memphis 335 and might be just the “in between” model to get you started.

Well, this looks totally wrong, doesn't it?

2 Responses to “Ebay ES of the Week #9. Orville Who?”

  1. Klaus says:

    The real reason they established the Japanese market had nothing to do with “giving them a crack at ” was American Gibsons were unaffordable in Japan due to the high tarrif and shipping costs added to them. So in 1988-1998 Gibson production started in Japan and givin Orville’s first name on them just for the Japanese market not to be sold in the US. The Gibsons in The US were still manufactured here at the time. With the Advent of the internet they are now flooding the market, I have several myself. Gibsons production manager has stated the only difference between the Japanese made and American made was the headstock logo and the internal pickups are Wilkinson’s as opposed to the the Duncan humbuckers in the US. Cosmetically they are the same.

  2. cgelber says:

    Thanks for the insight.

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