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Where Gibson left, Kalamazoo soul picked up with refreshed Heritage Guitars

The building that opened up in 1917 still stands although the Gibson manufacturers have since moved on to Nashville, Tennessee in the 1980s. (WWMT/FILE)

The rhythm of rock and roll isn’t something out of the ordinary to the seemingly warn down building at Kalamazoo’s 225 Parsons Street. At the original home of Gibson Guitars, you can still pick up a six string and jam out to this day.

The building that opened up in 1917 still stands although the Gibson manufacturers moved on to Nashville, Tennessee in the 1980s.

From its inception, the brand kept building into what became a paramount name in the guitar industry, said Ron Howard, who works at the Kalamazoo location, now known as Heritage Guitars.

"In the 1960s they just kept expanding, especially with The Beatles, which really made electric guitars popular, so Gibson really started to become a guitar manufacturer at that point,” Howard said.

Once the announcement came that the manufacturer would be moving to the home of the honky-tonk, some members of the team decided to stay in the ‘Zoo,’ creating a place of their own amongst the skeletal remains of the original Gibson.

"The guys that who were running the shop here, the plant manager, a few other gentleman, decided to not go to Nashville. Kalamazoo was home, so they decided, let's start our own company,” Howard said.

The group, consisting of Jim Deurloo, Marv Lamb, Bill Paige and JP Moats, bought a bunch of Gibson’s former equipment at auction and brought it back to their old workplace. Thus, Heritage Guitars was born in the spring of 1985.

"These guitars are really special. A lot of the equipment we use is from the 40s or earlier. We have a clamping system that's from 1920 that really glued up a lot of the famous guitars that came out of this building,” Howard said. "Pretty much everybody around the world has seen a guitar that's come out of this building at some point in the hundred years."

The building, along with the Heritage Guitars workshop, is under construction as of Feb. 2019, but signs of Gibson still remain – the original Gibson smokestack, for example, remains a watermark that is being repaired and restored with the original bricks.

There might not be much to see from the outside looking in, but there’s more history in the making.

"In the future plans there's room for a museum and guitar building school to really help continue that history not only in us making them, but also having the community be able to access that a little bit more,” Howard said.

Although a spokesperson with the company said they’re unsure of when construction will be completed on the original home of Gibson, the company is excited to share their space with the community once it’s completed.

The Heart of Heritage Guitars

Today, the Kalamazoo company still has support and help from it's founders and some of it's lifelong workers.

JP Moats, one of the original four founders, passed away a few years ago. The others, Jim Deurloo, Marv Lamb and Bill Paige are still helping at the shop.

Howard said Deurloo comes by nearly every day. Lamb and Paige stop by often, sharing their knowledge of the craft when they can.

Jack French has been the shops long standing repair man. Howard said he started the Gibson repair training program in the 1970s. Howard said he worked in Kalamazoo since the 1960s, only leaving once to serve during the Vietnam War.

Rendal Wall has done a little bit of everything for Heritage Guitars starting with shooting product photos and helping with deliveries. Howard also called him an "electronics genius" who could wire up any product any way you want it.

For more stories by Jason Puhr, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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