The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1
    Jazzarian Guest
    Norlin was some kind of beer and cement conglomerate from Equidor as I recall. They bought Gibson Guitars in 1969 and didn't sell Gibson until 1987.

    Some of the guitars of the era were weird tinkerings on the old formula. Ever see a Les Paul "Recording" model with slanted "low inpedance" pickups? Or how about the funky "volute" behind the nut at the headstock joint? There were things like the L5S, a solidbody L5 with 3 piece top. Don't forget the L6S too, with maple 24 fret neck. Regular Les Pauls now sported 3 piece tops as cheap Gibson spliced together more scraps to make a top.

    Even the arcthops of the era were kind of plain. No flashy flame maple backs.

    Not all the guitars of this era were turkeys. Your chances of getting a turkey increase though if you do buy a guitar from the era.

    In terms of "collectability", were not talking about a Mickey Mantle rookie card either.


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    My ES175 falls squarely in the Norlin period, with the serial number dating it between 1971-72. It is a gem. I wouldn't trade another for it. I guess some were fine from that time.

  4. #3
    Jazzarian Guest
    I've got a '97 ES175 blondie, fancy maple all over. I tend to like 1990s era Gibsons in general.

    My Super V CES hails from 1991-1992, a so called "Master Model". I think Jim Hutchins and Jimmy Triggs made it, when Triggs was at the Gibson Custom Shop.

    Triggs now makes his own archtops under his name.

    My SG is a '93 (korina wood limited edition "Standard") and my doublecut LP is from '98. More really good Gibsons from the 90s.

  5. #4
    Jazzarian Guest
    For the most part I think Norlin left archtops out of it's "design improvement" movement.

  6. #5
    I've played a couple early '80s Les Pauls that I would kill to have.
    I take particular enjoyment when I come across one.

  7. #6

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    Prior to the Fusion model, Gibson put out the Howard Roberts Custom archtops in '74, which actually were an upscale update on the older Epi' H. Roberts. I've played one, a '74, and it's a great, great guitar. Oval Sound hole and a volume, bass and midrange controls. I think they only put 'em out from '74 to '81 or so. A winner of a jazz box, if there ever was one!

    You can see Gilad Heckelsman playing a mid 70s Gibson Howard Roberts Custom on youtube, performing *Prelude to a Kiss*.

  8. #7

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    Norlin sold out in 1985, after trying to peddle Gibson since 1982. Their history is a remarkable saga of misreading markets (when they deigned to read them at all), counterproductive business decisions, and overall stupidity. They took Gibson and a bunch of other robust, healthy companies, ran them into the ground, then sold them off for a song when they couldn't sustain the self-inflicted losses. Norlin ended up printing stock certificates, until Pitney-Bowes bought them out. Once they had Lowrey organs, several band instrument companies and peripherals like reed makers, several guitar lines, pianos, you name it. Norlin never saw a company they couldn't destroy. When they sold, they got around a third of what Fender went for, and the Fender deal included only inventory and some machinery, not the factory. Gibson sold lock, stock and barrel.

    But as Jim Deurloo famously said, guitars aren't made by management. The workers on the line kept doing what they did best, which was to turn out the best guitars they could. Granted, given the corporate suspicion of craft costs, and various tooling and material habits they developed, it was no doubt a challenge.

    And yet -- my favorite Gibson (and the only Les Paul I've ever played that I even liked) is my Norlin-era pancake body, neck volute, mini-humbucker Deluxe. I wouldn't trade it for any other I've ever picked up.

    One issue is that it isn't worth what a flame-top Standard is, but that's not an artifact of in-utility, rather it's a reflection of the inflated "vintage: market.

    As a person who buys instruments only to play, I have to say it's a hell of a guitar.

  9. #8

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    I give them a bonus point for managing to squeeze two 'buckers around the sound hole on some models:

  10. #9

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    I owned a couple of the models mentioned here. Les Paul Recording bought new in 73-74, Howard Roberts Custom (used) , and an L5 CES (used) which did not have a fancy flamed maple back. But it sounded fine. I also had an ES175 that I will assume was made during this time as I bought it used.

    I also bought a used ES Artist, the one that had the active electronics. I swapped them out because the guitar had more treble bite than Roy Buchanan's telecaster.

    They were all ok guitars. some better than others but no real dogs. NO QC issues.

    Meanwhile my 2000 Super 400 had to go back to the factory because the laquer on the neck started to peel off. And the p/up selector switch had to be changed or modified because it kept falling into the hole. So either the hole was routed too big or the rubber shrunk. They never said which

  11. #10
    Jazzarian Guest
    I had a '74 Les Paul Standard and it was the worst guitar I've ever owned. It had a 5 piece greenwood neck, aged over an hour in a 90 degree kiln.

  12. #11
    Jazzarian Guest
    The '92 Super V "Master Model" is doing just fine! It turned a lovely yellow, as did all the binding. The finish is still utter perfection. I don't know if Triggs or Hutchins built it, it is from Nashville. They sure did a fine job.

    I'd bet Campellone would agree.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzarian
    I'd still avoid a Norlin era guitar if possible.
    Sorry, that's still a meaningless generalization. Any one of any sense will not buy a guitar without personally inspecting and playing it.

    Had I followed your advice, I'd not own a Les Paul (not that I ever had that as a goal). I fell in love with it -- note, in contrast to "thinking it wasn't half bad" -- long before I knew anything about Gibson's history, or Norlin, or very much of anything. I'm amused by dogma, if anything. I know guys who "have to have" some iconic Kalamazoo-made, perfect-top, PAF pickup ridiculously expensive guitar, and I have to pray for their souls.

    They are music instruments, and deserve to judged on those terms, as entertaining as it can be to gasp over the ineptitude of Norlin management. When all is said and done, management didn't build the guitars. The ones that are bad, well, I think you should be able to distinguish those without making sweeping statements. For the ones that are good, I just hope that this Norlin bashing continues to the point where I can buy one or two at a bargain price.

    Tell ya what, the music doesn't know who owned the company that made the guitar it's being played on.

  14. #13
    Jazzarian Guest
    Well, any kinks in Norlin guitars should have manifested themselves by now, that's a good thing. It was buyer beware back in the day, like my '74 Les Paul who's neck kept constantly warping.

    Glad they got rid of 3 piece tops.

    PS: My GB10 has a volute. I love that neck.

  15. #14

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    The one unforgivable thing that Norlin did was to institute the skinny neck. The idea of a Super 400 with a thin neck is somehow revolting.

    I think you're right about the probability of structural problems having surfaced. I hadn't thought about it that way. The same could be said for '70s CBS Fenders, of course, another emotional issue for players.

    I enjoyed the debate, but I don't have anything more to add. You're comfortable with your way of doing things, and I with mine. It's a fact that Norlin was so consistently wrong about everything that one feels all they touched must have been tainted -- but I think the craftsmen were better than that. Let's be grateful that Gibson didn't end up with the ignominy of yet another respected American name on Chinese guitars.

  16. #15

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    Proud (?) owner of an L6S here. All black with ebony fingerboard. It really is an underrated guitar. The problems I see in this guitar: Problem #1: The varitone is a pain if you need to switch on the fly, which is possibly a reason why it didn't do well, and it's a little noisy. Problem #2: It looks like a Les Paul that got squashed by a truck. Problem #3: The damn thing hasn't increased in value since I bought it in 1981 for $550!

    However, this guitar has stood the test of time with me. It has really nice solid body jazz tone, the neck is great, okay SG-style tones, hasn't needed much in the way of adjustment in 29 years of playing sometimes every day, and has only seen the inside of a case for about 2 or 3 of those 29 years. The rest of the time it's been ready to play. This one is a Norlin rarity, a real keeper. And to think the only reason why I bought it was because the new Gibson dealer in town was forced to take it with their initial order. It was a discontinued model from 1980, and I bought it in 1981.

  17. #16

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    Speaking of the L5S...this is a gorgeous guitar. I can't find one today for less than $3,500.00...If I could find a nice L6S (which hasn't been "modified") for $700.00, I'd buy it.

  18. #17

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    I think it is ironic that in the Norlin era, Epiphones built in Japan for US import by Gibson were very high quality.

  19. #18

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    And not to forget the Lab Series Amps also produced by Norlin and distributed through Gibson. They were very good trannys, BB King played one of those for a pretty long period...


  20. #19

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    I'm looking at some Byrdlands from the 70s.
    Has anybody had any experience with them?
    I'm tainted by what was produced during the Norlin era and was wondering whether any of it seeped into the archtops of the era.

  21. #20

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    There's a lot of exaggeration about the Norlin era IMO; it's true that many of the changes of that era are unpopular with players and/ or cosmetically less attractive, but it's important to separate those from the changes ( if any, in some cases) that made them less usable guitars.

    I'd say there are some perfectly good guitars from that era, especially amongst arch- tops. The may not look as cool, or might have unattractive ( for some) volutes, but might well represent better value, and play well and sound good. It depends on the individual guitar, and the individual's preference.

    From memory, the transition to the 19/16th nut started before Norlin; certainly they moved back to 1 11/16th during Norlin's time. That might not be an issue with the byrdland anyway

    I remember having what might have been an early 80s model, in wine red; it was a fine guitar, although cosmetically rather understated. But, i didn't mind that at all.

  22. #21

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    I have a 76 Byrdland that I play often and it is definitely a well made and beautiful guitar. It is also one of the best sounding guitars I've played. I also own a Sadowsky and an L5 and it is as good as either of them (just for comparison). The "norlin quality hype" certainly can't apply to all of the guitars of that era. Certainly, it doesn't apply to mine which I think is a really fine instrument.

  23. #22
    The woods used are clearly less spectacular, particularly on the backs. Also, I have noticed that there are issues with binding cracks with Norlin 70s archtops, supposedly more frequent than with guitars from the 60s or later 80s. The pickups are very good though, I have a 70s s400, and it sounds excellent.

  24. #23

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    Apparently they changed the nut width in the 70's as they also made changes to the scale length on the 305T

    What year that is I don't know. I know later 80's and 90's models have an increased nut. Although its all a bit up in the air.

  25. #24

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    teleman . . . Just a quick word of advice, as requested. IMO, if you're looking at some Byrdlands from the 70s, judge them only against themselves, for their individuality, build quality, playability, appearance, condition . . . and what they feel like and say to you when you see them and play them. Judging guitars based upon the year, or era they were built in is just stupid. There were some really great guitars built in the '70s. I and many others here played and owned some great Gibson arch tops made during the Norlin years. We've also seen some real turds as well. Just pick up any Birdland you come across . . check it out thoroughly . . . and don't let your mind wander into the foolishness of what year . . or during what era it might have been built . . . unless it's true vintage and you're a bonifide collector. Byrdlands from the '70s are pre-owned (used instruments) . . they're not vintage collectibles. Gibson made . . and makes great, very good, good, not so good, bad guitars in virtually every year of their existence . . heretofore, and hereafter.

  26. #25

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    Wasn't Bruce Bolan the designer of the BJB pickup in charge of R&D during the Norlin era?