One Down, One to Go

Written by Bill Leebens

Starting in  Copper #40, there have been several occasions when we’ve looked at the activities of two companies that historically have been truly important to the worlds of audio and music—though not so much lately: Thiel Audio and Gibson Brands, commonly known as Gibson Guitar. News from these companies has often been dismaying, providing many forehead-smacking moments. As with Sears, their demises have seemed inevitable, forestalled by a lengthy succession of questionable business moves. It’s been like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

For Thiel, the end has come—or, as Ted Green bluntly put it in his Strata-gee newsletter, “Thiel is toast“.  The company struggled following the death of designer/cofounder/namesake Jim Thiel in 2009, and following the sale of the company by cofounder Kathy Gornik in 2012, the company of legend went away, piece by piece: unique topologies, custom drivers, bespoke woodwork—all disappeared, replaced by  generic off-shored products and ultimately, a small Bluetooth speaker. Five CEOs in five years couldn’t have helped.

Even if you didn’t love the sound of Thiel speakers, you had to admire the company. Jim was a kind, patient man with a brilliant analytical mind, and was capable of articulating his ideas better than any engineer I’ve ever known. His brother Tom left the company years ago, but was responsible for the company’s legacy of amazing cabinetry and inventory of exquisite woods and veneers. Kathy, cofounder and Jim’s partner, was a savvy, driven  businessperson who kickstarted sales by driving a speaker-filled station wagon all over the country. As one of the few female company heads in consumer electronics (much less in the little world of the high end), Kathy was constantly scrutinized and recruited for leadership roles in all manner of organizations. I’m proud to say she was one of my mentors.

Anyway: gone. All gone.

(BTW: the heading is the logo of the OLD Thiel…because that’s the one we mourn. Not the Nashville-based nothing.)

And Gibson? Unlike Thiel, the embarrassment continues. Gibson took their usual inflatable pavillion to CES, and elected to forgo the musical industry showcase of NAMM. So: we looked at Gibson’s string of woes in #45, #46, and #48—and to update with the latest mess, the litigation just keeps on coming.

It’s exhausting to watch, and is painful to see for anyone who actually ever gave a shit about any of the companies that make up the vast, disparate Gibson empires.

Again, from the relentless Ted (and God bless him for paying attention): deals broken, and whatever.

We’ll let you know what we know, when we know it. Meanwhile: don’t take any wooden conglomerates. ;->

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