BUILDER PROFILE > HERITAGE GUITAR
The first model Heritage produced was
the H- 140, a solidbody, single-cutaway
electric guitar that was introduced at the
NAMM show in the summer of 1985.
Now, with 20 employees, Heritage creates
between four and six guitars per day and
has a lineup of 25 models, including several
solidbody electrics. But most of the company’s output—as well as its reputation—is
based on vintage-inspired, archtop electric
semi-hollow and hollowbody guitars.
Jim Deurloo and Marvin Lamb, two of the Heritage founding partners.
home of Gibson Musical Instruments in
Kalamazoo, Michigan. Wall is just one of
the many Heritage employees who have
been building guitars for years in this
same plant, some of them for more than
All in the Family
To really get the entire Heritage story,
you’ve got to go back more than a century.
Kalamazoo is steeped in guitar history.
It’s where Orville Gibson, inventor of the
archtop mandolin and guitar, founded the
Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing
Company Limited in the late 1890s.
Production of Gibson musical instruments
began in the factory at 225 Parsons Street
(now the home of Heritage Guitar), in 1917.
It’s the birthplace of the Gibson F- 5
mandolin, now-vintage Gibson hollowbod-ies, Les Pauls, and SGs that propelled jazz,
blues, country, and rock music into our
contemporary age and made Gibson an
iconic American brand.
Lloyd Allayre Loar, the mandolin virtuoso and acoustical engineer for Gibson
who’s credited with numerous mandolin
and guitar design innovations—including
harmonically tuned carved tops, violin style
F-holes, tuned longitudinal tone braces,
longer necks, adjustable bridges, and the
design of the Gibson L- 5 Master Model
archtop guitar—trod these dusty floors in
the early 1920s.
The Heritage-Gibson relationship goes
further: Heritage uses many of Gibson’s
original tools and production methods, and
many former Gibson craftsmen now run
the shop and business.
Marvin Lamb, a founding partner of
Heritage Guitar, has worked in this same
factory, originally as a Gibson employee,
since May 31, 1956—but his connection is
still deeper: His father worked here in the
Gibson mill room for 17 years. “I own the
last guitar [a Les Paul 30th Anniversary]
built here in the Gibson factory,” Lamb
says. He also has one of only five cher-rywood Les Paul 20th Anniversary guitars,
and a Les Paul 25/50, commemorating the
25th anniversary of the design and the 50th
anniversary of Les Paul’s musical career.
But Lamb isn’t a musician. “I don’t
consider myself a guitar player now. I’m
a builder,” he says. “I was around guitars
so much, I let up on it and lost interest in
playing. Maybe that’s what it was—I was
around so many guitars.”
A New Generation
In the heyday of the late 1960s and early
’70s, says Wall, Gibson had 175,000
square feet of production with close to
1,000 people manufacturing 500 guitars
per day. In 1974, Gibson expanded, opening a modern manufacturing facility in
Nashville. In September 1984, Gibson
closed the factory in Kalamazoo.
In the spring of 1985, Lamb, formerly the
Gibson plant superintendent, plant manager
James A. Deurloo, and J.P. Moats, the quality control man, founded Heritage Guitar
with Bill Paige and Mike Korpak (also former
Gibson employees). “I could have gone down
to Nashville, but I married a girl from here,”
Lamb says. “I didn’t want to go. Our goal was
just to make a good quality, original-type guitar as best we could, and stay where we were.”
“It starts out with the wood selection,” says
Deurloo, who began his guitar-making career
in “white wood”—making and sanding necks
and guitar bodies—for Gibson in 1958.
Heritage buys spruce for guitar tops
from Fred Tebb and Sons in Tacoma,
Washington. For most of their necks and
solidbodies, Heritage uses pattern-grade
tropical American mahogany—chosen specifically for its smooth texture and straight
grain—supplied by Newman Lumber
Company in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The curly maple comes primarily from
the Great Lakes region. “We want it music
grade,” Deurloo says. “It has to be clean
and as figured as we can get it.” The “
figure” refers to the grain pattern, which could
be flame, bird’s-eye, or another grain pattern. Heritage sources ebony and rosewood
fretboards from Luthiers Mercantile.
Heritage craftsmen begin creating their
handbuilt hollow and semi-hollowbody guitars by cutting and bending strips of maple
to form the sides, which are known as rims.
The maple strips are first sawed and sanded
down to .095". Next the rims are soaked
and shaped over one of several molds,
depending on the model, and then steamed
until all the water is removed.
Rim bender with guitar-shaped mold.
128 PREMIER GUITAR JUNE 2012