Heritage: The formation and reformation of a new guitar company

We play guitars, we customize guitars and we do a lot of talking about guitars. Everyone talks about their favorite Strat, Telly, Les Paul, 335, the norm. A few weeks ago, some friends and I were talking about guitars and I mentioned how I was in love with the Heritage H150. The puzzled looks on their faces shocked me, because they had no idea what I was talking about. This made me wonder, how many other “guitar guys” had no knowledge of Heritage Guitars. Well, let me spread the word….

Re-purposing the old Gibson Factory

Heritage Kalamazoo Factory

Heritage Kalamazoo Factory - Click to Enlarge

In 1975, Gibson who was located in Kalamazoo Michigan moved its operations to Nashville, I assume it had something to do with being closer to the center of the guitar market, but that is my opinion only. While Gibson wanted its long time luthiers to move with the company, many did not. I mean, think of growing up in one part of the country and then being asked to pack up and leave, not so feasible in most cases.

So the story goes, Jim Deurloo, Marvin Lamb and J.P. Moats, who were all luthiers for Gibson with over 25 years experience each, decided to start a new guitar manufacturing company. Well, low and behold there just happened to be a building and equipment for sale right there in Kalamazoo. You guessed it, the old Gibson factory. In 1985 “Heritage Guitars” was incorporated.

These guys not only bought one of the most historic guitar manufacturing buildings and put its equipment to good use, but I’m sure that they had no lack of experienced, out of work, luthiers to help them out once they grew. These guys did great things for their community as well as the guitar industry, by taking their knowledge and creating quality instruments and putting out of work luthiers back to work. The goal was to create new guitars with a focus on quality while keeping with the rich tradition of the Gibson factory. The company has a great reputation and was doing well.

Closing the doors again

To the shock of many, in Sept of 2007 Heritage closed its doors in order to negotiate with potential buyers for the 22 year old company. All I could think of is another giant mass producer buying it, lowering the quality and using the Heritage name to make a quick buck. This company has real American history to it. I mean this place originally opened in 1907 for Gibson and was saved after they left in 1985 and was blessed enough to have owners who were original Gibson workers using original Gibson equipment. This was a guitar man’s tragedy in the making. It seemed that the original owners were ready to call it quits and move on to retirement.

While the negotiations were going on, Vince Margol, a tax lawyer and avid guitar player, was on vacation in Tennessee, when his wife asked him if he could do anything he wanted, what it would be. Margol answered that he’d love to run Heritage Guitars.
Not long after returning from vacation, Margol caught wind that Heritage Guitars were indeed for sale.

The re-opening

Heritage H150

Alex Skolnik's H-150 - Click to Enlarge

Through a friend Margol got in touch with J.P. Moats. After some discussion, the original owners realized that they weren’t ready for retirement after all. However, they did need someone who could run the business. Welcome new Heritage guitar part owner, managing partner and another true “guitar hero”, Vince Margol.

Margol is dedicated to living up to the Heritage name as well as keeping its historic roots and dedication to quality intact. The original owners are now acting mostly as advisers, but this is a better way then selling out to a new company. They are, in a way, keeping watch, while “the new guy” gets his feet rooting in the company. This, in my opinion is a great way to usher in a change in leadership without disturbing the quality of the product. Oh yeah, they are staying true blue, they will not be automating anything that has to do with the building of guitars!

If you are not familiar with Heritage guitars, I urge you to give them a shot. These guys are one of the last of a dying breed. The rich history, company values and commitment to quality is what the name Heritage stands for and that is something I support.

On a final note, Heritage only builds guitars to order and they were backed up at one point over a year! You can check out their website and see their products and order information at http://www.heritageguitar.com