June 16th, 2016

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My first Gibson guitar was a Byrdland I bought in 1963. I bought this guitar because I was playing with the Royal Tones and needed a guitar that sounded great playing top forty tunes and jazz standards. I was a working musician who played on my first record date at the age of 15 in 1955. I was also playing in a band at teen club every Friday night and at a wedding every Saturday night by 1956. Many working musicians of the fast-paced and musically adventurous ’50s required a new instrument — one that captured traditional Gibson archtop artistry and craftsmanship, but represented a redrawing of the blueprint for the needs of the day. The Byrdland was released in 1955 after consultation with first-call Nashville session musicians Billy Byrd and Hank Garland.

I used to go up to the Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan on a regular basis. You could get a free tour of the factory, a free set of strings, and a free setup and adjustment. You could also meet the people who were building the guitars. Most of the ones I met could play guitar too.

Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Gibson Guitar factory








Back in the early days, the Gibson Guitar factory was about a two or three hour drive from my house so I used to drive up there early one day, see the factory and spend the night in a hotel in Kalamazoo and drive back the next day.
I used my Gibson playing at Somer’s Point on the Jersey Shore with The Royal Tones in 1964. We also drove down to New York and recorded with Del Shannon at Bell Sound. The bandstand at the club was right over the ocean and very damp because the ocean breezes came in the windows behind us every night and during the day. By the end of the season, the dampness warped the neck of my Byrdland. I was pretty upset about it.

Royaltones CD cover

The Royaltones









When I got back home, I called the Gibson Guitar factory and told them about my problem. They suggested I send the guitar directly to them. A few months later I got my guitar back. Gibson had completely rebuilt the neck, put on new strings, and did a setup. They did that at no charge to me. I think it was then I became a Gibson Guitar fan for life. I have other Gibson guitars but I still play my Byrdland Tuesday nights to a full house at the Northern Lights Lounge in midtown Detroit. I also used that guitar on my first album on Maverick Records called “Hair and Thangs”. I also used it on my second album which was on Sussex Records called “Evolution”. My biggest hit “Scorpio” was also on that album. I had that guitar re-fretted a few times and had Gibson Classic 57 Humbuckers installed but that guitar still rocks.


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Dennis Coffey