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Gibson Guitar’s James “Hutch” Hutchins Leaves Behind A Legacy All His Own

United States
Nashville, Tennessee, January 26, 2010 — One of Gibson Guitar’s most accomplished and dedicated luthiers, James “Hutch” Hutchins, who spent 45 years at Gibson, passed away from an undisclosed illness surrounded by his family last evening. “Hutch” as many of his Gibson friends called him, had a career that’s spanned two states, three changes of ownership, and thousands of priceless Gibson guitars. Hutch began his career in the original Kalamazoo, Michigan plant, making a name for himself there before transferring to Nashville in 1983. He had worked every job from maintenance to pattern making with an unflinching attention to detail and an abiding pride in the Gibson name. “Hutch” chose the Gibson family as his own often defining the company’s legacy, heritage and tradition by the many guitars and people he touched on a daily basis. He was 72.

Many a times while he walked the Gibson plant floors he would tell his fellow workers of his clear recollection of the day he was hired by Gibson on March 25, 1963. While working as a cab driver in Kalamazoo, Hutch stopped by Checker Cab to pick up his paycheck one afternoon, and spotted the Gibson smokestack billowing across the way. He said to his wife ‘I wonder what they do,” and the rest soon became history.

Though he didn’t play guitar Hutch was a well-trained machinist. His first interview for employment at Gibson was with Julius Bellson and Ted McCarty., two of Gibson’s most legendary executives, known for heading the company during the years that Gibson produced the Les Paul, ES-335, Flying V, Explorer, and the humbucker.

On his first day at Gibson in 1963, Hutch was assigned a work station nine benches down from “the senior guy at the front of the line, who had been there over 39 years.” He couldn’t have imagined then that his own longevity at the company would eventually surpass his boss’. Hutch often recalled the close-knit Gibson team that connected inside of work and out—on bowling teams, canoeing trips, and get-togethers that still exists today. Musical members of the staff even formed a couple bands, among them the venerable Green Valley Boys, fronted by Ron Allers, who worked for Gibson for 26 years.

During a part of Hutch’s tenure, Gibson was owned by the Chicago Musical Instrument Company, which acquired Gibson in early 1944. At the time there were nearly 1,000 employees stationed in several large plants in Kalamazoo but out of the 1,000 no one stood out more than “Hutch.” His longtime dedication would have him working double shifts, six days a week and always with a smile.

Blessed with the esteem of McCarty and Bellson, Hutch became the plant’s liaison for legendary artists who wanted custom guitars. He was integral to designing the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman, becoming friends with Atkins in the process. “Chet, I’ll build you whatever you want. You tell me what you want, and we’ll go from there’,” said Hutch recently. “I think that was the part that really hooked Chet on coming to Gibson—that we were willing to do whatever he wanted, much like we tried to do everyday.” Disenchanted after a partnership with Gretsch, Atkins met with Hutch over many a lingering lunch to determine the specs for the great Gibson signature model. During his tenure at Kalamazoo, Hutch saw the Atkins guitars through from design into their production in 1982. Over the years, Hutch also worked closely with archtop jazz giants like Howard Roberts, Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, and Herb Ellis to name a few.

In the meantime, CMI merged with Ecuadorian brewery ECI to form Norlin in 1969. Gibson’s new ownership signaled the beginning of a dark period in company history. “Norlin didn’t put anything in, just took everything out,” Hutch once said. “All they were after was money.” As the production naturally slowed, Hutch’s commitment to the company went unrattled. Over the years Hutch would spread the word of Gibson’s newfound dedication and commitment to quality when it was purchased in 1986 from Norlin by now Gibson CEO and Chairman Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson President Dave Berryman, and Gary Zebrowski. Juszkiewicz rolled up his sleeves, and through hard work and determination, was able to restore the company to a position of unrivaled prominence in the industry. “Hutch was a remarkable man, with a talent all his own, said Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO and Chairman of Gibson Guitar. “His light will shine forever through every corner, every hall and with every team member of the company. His legacy will live on.”

Hutch was quoted in an interview a few years back as stating “Henry put every penny right back into it. This company didn’t grow by not putting a lot back in. Fortunately, when Henry bought Gibson he believed in the company and what it was going to take, which was the best people and the best wood. He said to me, ‘What do you need?,’ and I said, ‘Well, we need help,’ and Henry said, ‘Get ’em, and hire the best you can, So I did.”

Hutch’s dedication and newfound leadership in management from the new owners fostered a rebuilt Gibson with a highly skilled team and ramped up its production numbers. “Hutch” took great pride in showing anyone who would listen the carving instruments that were dated back to the turn of century yet still used to create some of the world’s best guitars. He took great pride in the product and his Gibson family. He never let the word “family” go away in anything he did. Hutch retired March 31, 2008.

“Hutch” loved to hunt and fish and spend time with his three grown sons, all of whom live in the Nashville area. He is survived by his wife Gail, sons Kim and Todd and grandsons Aaron and Jaimie. Many of Gibson team members and people across the industry agree that his contribution to the Gibson Guitar company was so incredible that it will take years to truly indentify all the ways he influenced it.

One can only imagine the depth of meaning in a recent quote Hutchins himself stated: “You’ve got to have pride. If you don’t have pride in what you’re doing, it’s not going to come out at the end of the line. Ain’t nobody ever gonna knock this name off,” he said, tapping the headstock of a nearby Custom Shop Les Paul. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around, but I know Gibson, and I know that’s a name that can’t be beat.”
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