KALAMAZOO (WJRT) -
(04/30/14) - Eric Clapton, KISS, ZZ Top, Neil Young and AC/DC. Those are some heavy hitters in the world of rock 'n' roll.
All of them are hall of famers, and you might say a big part of their rock-star image was "Made in Michigan."
While the company that made their guitars has moved away, many of the employees are still around - and still doing their part to make music happen.
Since 1917, it's been the guitar factory that has had a hand in sending dozens of musicians into the Rock 'n' roll Hall of Fame.
"Johnny Cash, he was here, I rolled his guitar neck for him," said Marvin Lamb, co-owner of Heritage Guitars.
In fact, a who's who of rock 'n' roll legends have walked through the hallways of what used to be known as the Gibson Guitar factory - tucked away in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Gibson packed up and left for Nashville in 1984, but except for only a few months, the factory never stopped manufacturing guitars.
"We incorporated April Fools Day 1985, which was stupid to start another guitar business, but it's worked out," Lamb said.
Heritage Guitars is now in it's thirtieth year. It was founded by four former Gibson employees who quite simply didn't want to move. James Deurloo, Bill Paige, JP Motes and Marvin Lamb had a simple mission - to help keep Michigan's music scene alive and to keep Michigan residents employed.
"That's one of the most important things to me. We're not General Motors and we can't pay the wages of General Motors, but the people we have here are making a paycheck," Lamb said.
While the name is different, a few things remain the same.
Heritage currently employs a staff of 16 and prides itself in being known as a small company that makes custom made guitars. Each one takes between 8-14 hours to make - all by hand, with a retail price ranging from $3,000 - $8,000.
Back in the day, Heritage produced more than 1,200 guitars a year. Right now, that number's down to around 800, but after some tough times, thanks to the Internet, sales are rising.
"We ship to Russia, we ship to China, we ship to Hong Kong, we ship to Korea," Lamb said.
While Gibson's Michigan days featured a long list of customers who hit the big time, Heritage is working hard to build its own roster of current hit makers.
"Like Frankie Ballard, nothing in the world I want more than to see him succeed. Now he's had a number one country hit. I don't know how long it stayed, but he was on Conan O'Brien the other night and he was on the Today Show, so he's makin it. And that makes me feel good," Lamb said.
While Heritage is looking to the future, it's also working on something special and top secret in honor it's thirtieth anniversary. At the same time, there's also an item being developed that pays tribute to the most famous guitar this factory has ever produced.
"This is a H157 Limited Edition. This is the prototype. We're only making 40 of them. It's a guitar that is very similar to the original Les Paul," Lamb said.
If Lamb has his way, 30 years from now, Heritage Guitars will still be making music, right here in Michigan.
"All I can do is hope that we get somebody in here that thinks as much of it as we do," he said.
For more information about Heritage Guitars, click HERE.