|Schnoodles lazily lounging at the river's edge.|
There was something nearby, however, that I was quite interested in. A large Gibson guitar factory sits just a block over from Beale Street. Gibson currently has five or six guitar factories scattered around the country. The big acoustic dreadnought style guitars are all made in Montana. What they make in Memphis are hollow body and semi-solid body electric guitars. The solid body electrics, like the standard Les Pauls, are made at several sites, the main one being in Nashville. But the Memphis factory is the only one you can get a tour of so I took what I could get.
No photographs are allowed inside the factory. In fact, they make you put your camera in an opaque plastic bag and if you take it out they will escort you off the premises. I couldn't really understand this given that they not only show you the entire process but explain it in great detail and will happily answer any questions you may have about how the guitars are made, so it can hardly be a proprietary information issue. Maybe it is an issue of privacy for their workers, I don't know. In any event, we saw the complete assembly line from the arrival of the wood at the factory door to the polishing and testing of the completed instruments at the far end of the line. There is no robotic equipment involved, nor a mechanized assembly-line like you would see an auto plant. The guitars are hand carried from station to station and the most interesting thing about the whole process is what a huge percentage of it is still done free hand by people who simply know what they are doing. The tour takes about an hour but making a guitar takes 2-3 weeks. The factory covers about 1.5-2 acres and looked like it had 50 or 60 people working which resulted in a production rate of about 50-60 guitars a day.
The last station in the production process is where they install the electrical pickups, string the instrument and take it for a test drive. This is the only place in the factory where you have to actually be able to play guitar in order to work there. The guy that puts the strings on plays the instrument for five or 10 min., then it goes to a second level of inspection in some quieter room where they can get a better feel for the guitar's performance. If either of these guys is not completely happy with the instrument, it gets tossed. They said this applies to about 8% of the guitars that they produce. The problem may be fairly minor but if a guitar is not up to their standards, they don't want it appearing on the street where it may damage their reputation. So they don't sell "seconds". A guitar that doesn't come up to snuff goes into the shredder.
|Pretty maids all in a row|
|Officially a dive|
|Good ribs on paper plates|
Then it was back to Tom Sawyer's to relax by the riverside and enjoy the stately progression of commerce. I ordered Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi" for my Kindle since the copyright is expired and it's free. Christopher didn't particularly like it when he read it for school but I have rather enjoyed it and it's fun to read about the places that we are visiting from the vantage point of 140 years ago. So while there are no stern wheelers to be seen, we did sit out and watch the river traffic while I read my book and had a nice cold beer. Life is good.
|Moonlight on the Mississippi|