Fifteen years or more ago, Epiphone instruments were being
made at the same Asian guitar factories as most other competitive brands.
The problem with that scenario is that it's difficult, if not impossible,
to have a substantially better instrument than your competition when the
and people who make them are the same. As a result, Epiphone established
the first permanent presence by an American guitar brand in 1992 with the
opening of our Epiphone Korea office which played a daily hands-on role in
selecting and sourcing parts and materials as well as closely controlling
While that initial step was instrumental in moving towards
continuous improvement and independence, Epiphone knew that ultimately it
needed its own dedicated factory with its own employees. In late 2001 Gibson
luthier Mike Voltz, and a team from Epiphone set out to change the guitar
world as it was then known. Drawing on 18 years of Gibson experience, Mr.
Voltz and other Epiphone and Gibson personnel became intimately involved
in facility layout, equipment design, training techniques and the establishment
of quality control and by October of 2002, the Epiphone only Gibson Qingdao
factory had become a reality.
The effectiveness of combining Epiphone and Gibson expertise
and experience with Asian production efficiencies ushered in a new era for
Epiphone and brought about exceptional instruments at price points the
musician could afford. That tradition continues today at Epiphone’s
Gibson Qingdao (GQ) factory near Qingdao, China where only Epiphone instruments
Over the course of the past 4 years, Gibson Qingdao has
continued expanding and improving and today, is one of the largest in China
producing some of, if not the best guitars in the world. Epiphone recently
spoke with two key employees who play a huge role at the Epiphone factory.
Lloyd Williams serves as General Manager and Director of Asian Manufacturing
Gibson China and Scott Lewis is the GQ Plant Manager.
EPI: Scott, you
have a deep history with Gibson USA. Can you give me a little insight into
your background with the company?
SCOTT: I have worked for Gibson Musical Instruments
for the past 19 years having started in the Nashville electric factory in
1988 assembling pickups. In 1990 I moved over to the Gibson USA ES department
producing bodies for models such as the 335 Dot, Lucille , ES-175, ES 265,
Howard Roberts and others. I soon became a line leader and for the next four
years trained in raw material processing which included rough mill, neck
assembly and fingerboard assembly. In 1994 I was promoted to supervisor of
neck and fingerboard assembly and over the course of the next 6 years supervised
various departments of the USA plant, all the while learning proper processes
and techniques. In 2000 I became part of a team that was assembled to establish
the new Gibson Memphis facility which now produces the Gibson Hollow Body
and ES models. My job was to train employees and managers in quality standards,
proper processes and specifications. I returned to the Nashville factory
in 2001 and was appointed to the position of Assistant Plant Manager / Production
Manager and in 2004 I accepted the position of Plant Manager. I made my first
trip to China in July of 2005 to help facilitate improved production, quality
standards and over all efficiency and in 2006 I assumed the position of Plant
Manager for Gibson Qingdao.
EPI: And now your
responsibilities are to bring your vast experience and knowledge to Gibson
SCOTT: Yes, my main responsibility is to share
my knowledge of building hand crafted musical instruments and work with the
management team to continually improve and adhere to Gibson / Epiphone quality
standards and specifications.
EPI: Lloyd, I
know your manufacturing experience is deep as well.
LLOYD: Yes, I have been in musical instrument
manufacturing for over 17 years.
What do you see as the main difference between the USA
and Qingdao plant?
LLOYD: I would have to say that in many respects
the American and Asian facilities are much more alike than not. Making a
quality guitar is the same no matter where you do it. In your garage or on
the factory floor, you have to use quality materials, skilled craftsmanship
and attention to detail. Though there are differences in some of the production
processes between the USA and Asian factory, to be successful the end results
must be the same, a quality built guitar that musicians want to play.
Your team play a very important part in keeping Epiphone
at the top of the industry. How many employees do you manage at Gibson
SCOTT: Currently we employ approximately 550 employees
with 450 of those doing direct labor. As a team we have made some great strides
that I am very proud of. Several bench marks have been reached including
recently reaching our highest production month ever, an internal reduction
of departmental reject’s and repairs to less than 5%, a reduction in
backorders from over a year to one month and growing our production capabilities
to include high end solid top acoustics and other key models such as the
Casino, Les Paul Custom Signature models and others.
Other than American and Chinese workers, do you have workers
from other countries working at GQ?
LLOYD: While Epiphone employs guitar craftsman
from around the world the employees at Gibson Qingdao are local Chinese craftsman
and senior American managers.
What effect has the Qingdao factory had on the town and
people of the area?
LLOYD: Epiphone, being a part of the Gibson family
of brands, is committed to making the world a better place. So it is only
natural we apply this philosophy with the local communities surrounding our
GQ facility. We work closely with local officials and residents by offering
excellent employment with world class benefits as well as a safe and
environmentally friendly workplace. This relationship has allowed us to develop
and maintain a dedicated group of craftsman at our facility and as GQ has
continued to expand and increase the range of models made within the facility
the community has enjoyed growth as well.
Have either of you had difficulty adapting to living in
SCOTT: Culturally it took a little time to adjust,
and particularly to the different cuisine. Trust me, it’s not the same
as the Chinese buffets we know in America. (laughs) But after you have been
here for a while you grow accustomed to the diverse menus. Probably the biggest
challenge for me however has been the language barrier. It can be difficult
to understanding the context of a conversation and communicate ideas clearly.
Translation sometimes gets misinterpreted so I have to be very
“hands-on” so that everyone is on the same page.
Many factories in Asia make guitars for many different
brands. However, GQ makes only Epiphone guitars. What competitive advantages
does that ultimately offer the Epiphone customer?
LLOYD: We are Epiphone employees, we are an Epiphone
factory so therefore we take ownership of our guitars in a way that no OEM
produced brand can do. We have access to proprietary manufacturing techniques
from Gibson and we can be innovators in the development of new models and
features which is not always in the interest of our OEM competition.
There's a lot of talk now about the effects of Global
Warming on the environment and the role China will play in the future. What
is GQ doing to be more of a "green" company?
LLOYD: As most people already know, company-wide
Gibson Musical Instruments strives to be a role model in environmentally
responsible manufacturing practices. GQ works within the communities in which
we do business and with our suppliers globally to minimize the impact of
our manufacturing on our world's climate. GQ is actively working with the
Rain Forrest Alliance to protect and conserve the rain forest and we also
continuously look for and implement smarter manufacturing practices to reduce
our energy consumption and raw material usage. Also, the GQ facility is 100%
compliant with all environmental regulations as required by the national
I understand that more and more of the Chinese employees
at GQ are learning and playing guitar. In the future, do you see the Chinese
embracing rock and roll like the rest of the world has?
LLOYD: Absolutely, Rock n Roll appeals to people
from many cultures and the Chinese are no different. They have embraced it
with both hands and feet! China is changing at an unbelievable pace and I
believe Rock n Roll is its soundtrack.
Thanks guys for taking the time out of your busy schedules
to chat with us and thank you for your part in making Epiphone the highest
quality and best value instruments in the industry.
Below are just a few examples of the quality and attention
to detail that goes into every Epiphone guitar handcrafted at our Gibson