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Heritage History


Philapete
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I'm new here. I'm looking for a used Sweet 16 or H575. Also I have searched the internet as best I can but find nothing about the current status or recent history of the company. Most articles go back several years to the time when "several old employees were let go..." Can someone point me to a reliable discussion (maybe an old post on this forum?) of where the company is currently and how it got there? Also if you have a used sweet 16 or 575 that you are interested in selling give me a shout. 

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Short history:

Heritage was formed by former Gibson employees after the company left Kalamazoo.  The owners were Jim Duerloo,  Marv Lamb,  Bill Paige, JP Moats, and Mike Korpak, who left shortly after the company started.    All were in some type of management roll at the time.   All had been longtime employees of Gibson that simply didn't want to move to Nashville.    They bought a bunch of the equipment that Gibson did not take with them,  and moved into the same building at 225 Parsons Street.   This happened in 1985.  Some of the owners had started with Gibson in the mid and late 50s.  Ren Wall joined them, after being in various positions at Gibson.

Their designs were obviously Gibson inspired, although they dipped their toes into other styles.   They kept the old style of manufacturing, staying with hand building rather than having machines do most of the work.  About the only real "automation" was the duplicarver that carves tops for the various guitars, although it's basically a pin router that rough carves tops one at a time.

Things stayed pretty much the same until 2016.  At that point, changes began to take place.  JP had retired,  and sadly passed in 2015.   All of the owners were getting up in years.   A local real estate company bought the building and purchased Heritage.   Half of the company was sold to Bandlab, a company from Singapore who also owns a lot of other musically related entities.   They are a larger musical instrument retailer in SE Asia.  They bought Sonar after Gibson tossed it in the trashbin and built it into Bandlab recording software.   They own Guitar Magazine.  

In the process of refurbishing the building,  they moved the guitar making operation from the basement of the original building to a part of the building that Gibson had built in the 60s or 70s.   (At one time Gibson basically owned the entire block).   There was an incident with some longtime employees,  some were let go, and others left in protest.  I won't go into the issues,  as I wasn't party to any of it.    Suffice to say,  new employees were hired.   They brought in some good people to manage the operation, while keeping the original owners.   Marv and Bill  have since retired.   The last I heard, Jim was still coming in, but it's important to realize that these guys are getting into their 70s and 80s.   Pete Farmer, who had worked for Heritage previously was brought in to oversee manufacturing.   Edwin Wilson was brought on board from Gibson's custom shop.

In relocating to the newer part of the building, the company kept the process and old equipment, but updated the area in a lot of ways,  especially in safety.   An extensive dust collection system was built,  a new sealed spray booth was built to minimize dust contamination of the finish and keep the employees from breathing toxic fumes.   A premium was put on consistently high quality, which had varied some over the years.   They are still hand made, but all reports are that the quality is much improved.  They contracted the product line to concentrate on the better sellers,  H150, 530,  535,  575 and Eagle.   The 137 was in the line until this past year.   Bandlab also owns Harmony Guitars which are built in the same building, but have CNC cut bodies and necks and then assembled.

I think the company is stronger than it has been in years, but at the expense of the almost family atmosphere of the original company.   That's not a bad thing.   Had the company not been sold,  I'm sure the next step would have been to close the doors.

 

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TR, Thanks for this. It answers lots of questions. Do you know if the plan is for Heritage to remain a "boutique" brand or to try and become a major player like Fender/Gibson etc?  My impression is that Bandlab is signed on for sales and marketing and they might have visions of the big time. In any event it still amazes me that a used fully carved archtop Heritage can be had for under $5,000!  

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I'm sure they are planning to stay more "boutique", along the lines of the Gibson custom shop.   To achieve mass market penetration, they would have to abandon the hand work, and move to full CNC manufacturing, like Gibson Nashville,  Fender,  PRS and others.     The Harmony line is more mass market, but I don't know if it has the name recognition and reputation to attract the same sales peaks as the big boys, especially among the younger crowd.   We boomers can only buy so many guitars...    

Over the years,  there has been talk about whether Heritage would introduce a overseas line,  like Gibson does with Epiphone, or PRS does with their SE line.   I think that would dilute the brand, just at a time when they are gaining traction as a premium line.   The owners can use the Harmony line as their "budget" brand, and keep Heritage at the top.  This is totally speculation on my part.   The owners haven't bothered to call me to ask my opinion on anything. 

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On 1/9/2022 at 8:01 PM, TalismanRich said:

Short history:

Heritage was formed by former Gibson employees after the company left Kalamazoo.  The owners were Jim Duerloo,  Marv Lamb,  Bill Paige, JP Moats, and Mike Korpak, who left shortly after the company started.    All were in some type of management roll at the time.   All had been longtime employees of Gibson that simply didn't want to move to Nashville.    They bought a bunch of the equipment that Gibson did not take with them,  and moved into the same building at 225 Parsons Street.   This happened in 1985.  Some of the owners had started with Gibson in the mid and late 50s.  Ren Wall joined them, after being in various positions at Gibson.

Their designs were obviously Gibson inspired, although they dipped their toes into other styles.   They kept the old style of manufacturing, staying with hand building rather than having machines do most of the work.  About the only real "automation" was the duplicarver that carves tops for the various guitars, although it's basically a pin router that rough carves tops one at a time.

Things stayed pretty much the same until 2016.  At that point, changes began to take place.  JP had retired,  and sadly passed in 2015.   All of the owners were getting up in years.   A local real estate company bought the building and purchased Heritage.   Half of the company was sold to Bandlab, a company from Singapore who also owns a lot of other musically related entities.   They are a larger musical instrument retailer in SE Asia.  They bought Sonar after Gibson tossed it in the trashbin and built it into Bandlab recording software.   They own Guitar Magazine.  

In the process of refurbishing the building,  they moved the guitar making operation from the basement of the original building to a part of the building that Gibson had built in the 60s or 70s.   (At one time Gibson basically owned the entire block).   There was an incident with some longtime employees,  some were let go, and others left in protest.  I won't go into the issues,  as I wasn't party to any of it.    Suffice to say,  new employees were hired.   They brought in some good people to manage the operation, while keeping the original owners.   Marv and Bill  have since retired.   The last I heard, Jim was still coming in, but it's important to realize that these guys are getting into their 70s and 80s.   Pete Farmer, who had worked for Heritage previously was brought in to oversee manufacturing.   Edwin Wilson was brought on board from Gibson's custom shop.

In relocating to the newer part of the building, the company kept the process and old equipment, but updated the area in a lot of ways,  especially in safety.   An extensive dust collection system was built,  a new sealed spray booth was built to minimize dust contamination of the finish and keep the employees from breathing toxic fumes.   A premium was put on consistently high quality, which had varied some over the years.   They are still hand made, but all reports are that the quality is much improved.  They contracted the product line to concentrate on the better sellers,  H150, 530,  535,  575 and Eagle.   The 137 was in the line until this past year.   Bandlab also owns Harmony Guitars which are built in the same building, but have CNC cut bodies and necks and then assembled.

I think the company is stronger than it has been in years, but at the expense of the almost family atmosphere of the original company.   That's not a bad thing.   Had the company not been sold,  I'm sure the next step would have been to close the doors.

 

Rich, good write up but minor correction in paragraph 1. Heritage officially commenced business April 1, 1984

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Marv Lamb grew up near Huntsville, AL and moved to Kalamzoo in the mid '50s.  He was working at a bakery and would stop by Gibson every day to see if they were hiring.  One day they got tired  of him stopping by and gave him a job. 

The old train depot below is right across the road from where Marv grew up. 

chase.jpg

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Bandlab owns Rolling Stone Magazine too.

Also, when Plazacorp Development bought Heritage, they tried to increase production for a demand that didn't exist.

When they overextended themselves, they were spending more than making and began to lay employees off.

Sometime in the next year or so is when Bandlab purchased their stake in Heritage.  With them, they brought the Harmony line in-house, of which some guitars are produced in Kalamazoo.  However, since Bandlab doesn't own Heritage outright, you'll never see an association between the two.  But it keeps the company hopping, with a new direction and a focus on quality and advertising, Heritage slowly gained the brand awareness they needed.

In recent years, Heritage has been booming.  Guitar on the floor were already sold and dealer inventories remain low since they sell so fast.  Having Sweetwater and Guitar Center/Musician's Friend as dealers really pushed Heritage to their maximum production levels.  Many of the laid off employees have come back and more job openings are coming.

Model line has been reduced, there is less variance in color options.  Customizing has become difficult as back in the day, every guitar was a custom order.  Now, we have to pay for it.  Prices have increased to keep up with the Gibson's and PRS's, but their quality is also keeping up and perhaps surpassing the competition.

Pricing has gone up, but so has employees salaries and benefits.  Prior to current ownership, very few employees had healthcare, the shop was running 32 hours a week.  No one worked full time.  All that has changed, we have to pay for it in the process.  No more cheap custom builds, everything is by the book and the company is making money.  

 

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1 hour ago, DetroitBlues said:

Bandlab owns Rolling Stone Magazine too.

Also, when Plazacorp Development bought Heritage, they tried to increase production for a demand that didn't exist.

When they overextended themselves, they were spending more than making and began to lay employees off.

Sometime in the next year or so is when Bandlab purchased their stake in Heritage.  With them, they brought the Harmony line in-house, of which some guitars are produced in Kalamazoo.  However, since Bandlab doesn't own Heritage outright, you'll never see an association between the two.  But it keeps the company hopping, with a new direction and a focus on quality and advertising, Heritage slowly gained the brand awareness they needed.

In recent years, Heritage has been booming.  Guitar on the floor were already sold and dealer inventories remain low since they sell so fast.  Having Sweetwater and Guitar Center/Musician's Friend as dealers really pushed Heritage to their maximum production levels.  Many of the laid off employees have come back and more job openings are coming.

Model line has been reduced, there is less variance in color options.  Customizing has become difficult as back in the day, every guitar was a custom order.  Now, we have to pay for it.  Prices have increased to keep up with the Gibson's and PRS's, but their quality is also keeping up and perhaps surpassing the competition.

Pricing has gone up, but so has employees salaries and benefits.  Prior to current ownership, very few employees had healthcare, the shop was running 32 hours a week.  No one worked full time.  All that has changed, we have to pay for it in the process.  No more cheap custom builds, everything is by the book and the company is making money.  

 

Word.

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This is from the 1997-1998 website page.

Here is a link to their model order at the time. 

http://web.archive.org/web/19990819152831/http://heritageguitar.com/company/model_history.htm

 

How it all began...

Heritage Guitar Inc. of 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan was incorporated on April 1, 1985. Although as of this writing the company is barely 12 years old, it has achieved the status of one of the premier guitar companies in the world today. It is, in many instances, the only new guitar line handled by countless vintage shops throughout the world. This indicates it is thought of as the collectible guitar of tomorrow.

The idea to start Heritage Guitar began when the Gibson Guitar Corporation closed its Kalamazoo, Michigan factory in September of 1984 and moved all production to its other plant in Nashville, Tennessee (in operation since 1975). When this took place, some of the employees were asked to move to Nashville. However, since their families had spent many years in Kalamazoo, it made it difficult to uproot and move. Therefore 3 men, Jim Deurloo, Marv Lamb, and JP Moats, decided to start a guitar manufacturing business. In 1985 when the company was incorporated, 2 other former Gibson Guitar Corporation employees, Bill Paige and Mike Korpak, joined as owners. Mike left the company in 1985.

The founders biggest resource is and was the group of craftsmen they could draw from to begin operations. The owners themselves each had in excess of 25 years of hands on experience in making guitars. To this day each of the owners is directly involved in the manufacturing of each instrument.

Heritage started operations in the oldest of five buildings formerly owned and operated by Gibson Guitar Corporation. That building was completed in 1917 and has been a center for guitar manufacturing ever since. Much of the machinery that Heritage uses today was purchased from Gibson Guitar Corporation.

The first guitar Heritage introduced was the H140 solid body single cutaway electric guitar. This model was shown at the NAMM show in June of 1985.

Since that time Heritage has added many instruments. Currently Heritage manufacturers Custom Carved Hollow Body Guitars, Semi Hollow Body Guitars, Solid Body Guitars, Basses, Acoustic Guitars, Mandolins, and a Banjo. This is to say nothing of the countless number of custom instruments made in each of the groups previously mentioned.

Heritage is proud of its employees’ 25 years of average experience and what is has accomplished in 12 years.

Edited by skydog52
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Custom Carved Hollow Body Guitars, Semi Hollow Body Guitars, Solid Body Guitars, Basses, Acoustic Guitars, Mandolins, and a Banjo.

Guess this means Katie has the only Banjo in existence since they only made "A" banjo... :)

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I'm wondering if anyone knows the specifics of the construction of the carved guitars (particularly the Sweet 16 specifically 1996). Were the bodies hand carved or did they use machines to do the work or a combination?  Was there a specific area of the factory where carved guitars were produced/manufactured/assembled? Were there particular craftspeople assigned to the carved guitars?  Does anyone have any pictures of the carved guitar process? I located one and will be picking it up on Thursday hopefully.

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The tops and bottoms of archtops are rough carved with a duplicarver.  They have a form that is placed on the bottom, and as it spins,   a router bit goes up an down to follow the contour of the form.   Once that is roughed out,  the piece of wood is trimmed and sanded down to a target thickness.   The rims are bent on a rim bender.   A strip of wood is soaked in water, and then placed in a form that bends the rim under heat and pressure.   Then, they make the kerfing strips which are what gives enough area to hold the  top to the rim.  There's a lot that goes into assembling a hollow or semi-hollow guitar.

In the old factory, the equipment was just spread out in various places.   Everything was pretty much in the basement of the building, except the spray booth which was upstairs.   You can get a feel for the old area in videos like this one.

When they moved to the new area of the building, they rearranged things.   You can see how the new area looks in this video:

 

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Guys thanks so much. I expect to be an

owner of a 1996 sweet 16 tomorrow. I’m really excited. 

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On 1/26/2022 at 2:02 PM, Philapete said:

Guys thanks so much. I expect to be an

owner of a 1996 sweet 16 tomorrow. I’m really excited. 

Picked up the Sweet 16 last night. It is named properly. It is Sweet for sure. 

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1 hour ago, Philapete said:

Picked up the Sweet 16 last night. It is named properly. It is Sweet for sure. 

After that big buildup you gave us, we want more than this.

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It has all the acoustic tone that I was expecting from a carved long scale cross braced spruce guitar. The neck is extremely comfortable. I love 11/16 necks and the profile is perfect for the hand not too chunky not too slim just right. It is a 96 so has very nice aged patina and is so nice to look at. The fit and finish are collingsesque. It does have a heavy neck feel that surprised me a bit. Overall the guitar feels on the light side except for the neck.  Finally owning a heritage feels good. I love the story and history of the company and the instrument exudes the obvious love that is built in. Very happy being in the club.I will post a few pix later today.

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2 hours ago, Philapete said:

It has all the acoustic tone that I was expecting from a carved long scale cross braced spruce guitar. The neck is extremely comfortable. I love 11/16 necks and the profile is perfect for the hand not too chunky not too slim just right. It is a 96 so has very nice aged patina and is so nice to look at. The fit and finish are collingsesque. It does have a heavy neck feel that surprised me a bit. Overall the guitar feels on the light side except for the neck.  Finally owning a heritage feels good. I love the story and history of the company and the instrument exudes the obvious love that is built in. Very happy being in the club.I will post a few pix later today.

Congratulations, Philapete.  You started your Heritage collection with one of its best models ever made.  Play it in good health.

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So I must admit being a bit disappointed. The acoustic tone of the 16 is a bit thin and lackluster. Sort of flat and dull. I play the archtops acoustically when practicing.  I also have a 2005 hand carved Comins' that is a wonder to play. Maybe not a fair comparison but it is what I have. But then I plugged the 16 in and wow what a totally different instrument; mellow but totally present, clear as a bell and resonant. Tons of sustain and shimmer. All I hoped for. I immediately started to adjust the amp to try and get the Comin's to sound like the 16. I haven't found the proper settings yet! Wonderful instrument the 16. And man o' man is it easy on the eyes!!!!! I'm still curious about the weight. Compared to the Comins' it is significantly heavier especially in the neck. Bottom line however the tone plugged in is fantastic, it sounds better than the Comin's. Now I wonder how the 575 stacks up?

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Most won't set up their acoustic archtop to get the maximum tonal breadth.  As a kid I got this 1928 L-5 from a studio jazz player who was very old school.  He showed me.  You want heavy strings, preferably round wounds, with a high action.  This drives the top.

Nowadays almost everyone compromises and depends on the pickup.  I'm in that camp.  You'll get less of the potential from the body chamber but a great amplified sound.

There are H-575s that are carved as acoustic instruments with floating pickups but damned few of them.  I see them as electric archtops that are built to last and sound wonderful through an amp.

Here is a video featuring the Queen of the H-575.  It contrasts her tone with a solid body.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VxpqYZ-ACU

 

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