Gibson is Killing Cakewalk and Taking the Money


It takes something that I am either incredibly excited about or incredibly incensed about to write much of anything outside of work these days. This is particularly true of music, as my sentiments on that subject usually vacillate somewhere between “Meh” and “Lolbuttz.”

However, Gibson Brands, Inc.’s November 17, 2017 announcement that it was shutting down day-to-day operations of (and presumably phasing out support for) its subsidiary, Cakewalk, Inc., has me sufficiently rankled such that I feel compelled to reenter the blogosphere once again. Cakewalk was a company that had existed for thirty years, and was most famous for its Sonar line of DAW software. Needless to say, Gibson’s announcement came as a great disappointment to musicians and producers who rely on Cakewalk’s software for music recording and production, including myself.

Sonar has consistently been the DAW that has given you the best bang for your buck for the better part of a decade (and trust me, I’ve tried every DAW out there), and I am not alone in preferring many of its standard plugins over more expensive third-party plugins.

But my irritation that my “go to” DAW software is going away is nothing compared to how outraged I am at the way Gibson handled it–with no prior announcement, a mere two weeks after Cakewalk was rolling out new plugins and offering a discount to consumers on its DAW and related peripheral software as part of its “30 Year Anniversary” sale in October, as well as continuing to sell renewals of its yearly update subscriptions. This is not to mention the customers who had purchased Cakewalk’s “lifetime” subscriptions to its product updates, which were offered for the first time less than two years ago at price points ranging from $199 to $499, depending on a customer’s previous Cakewalk product purchases. Yay for 30 years! And now it’s gone.

So, all signs point to Gibson knowing or having reason to know that consumers were spending their hard-earned money on products and subscriptions that were soon going to become worthless (or at least, far less valuable than they were held out to be), and enticing them to spend this money anyway when Gibson knew it was going to shut Cakewalk down in less than a month. Unless Gibson is going to issue refunds (which it showed no indication of doing within its Thanksgiving week announcement), it’s hard to imagine that this won’t result in potential class action exposure.

But the Cakewalk fiasco is a symptom of a bigger problem with Gibson delivering ever shoddier products, abysmal customer service, and a brand identity crisis, all under the leadership (or rather, the lack thereof) of its CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, who has historically demonstrated that he as much better at being a madman who runs his company like a dictatorship than exercising any sound business judgment or treating Gibson’s employees with any modicum of respect. Make no mistake, the music industry at large is of the opinion that Gibson’s financial troubles are directly attributable to Juszkiewicz.

The fact that Gibson is a company in decline (the 2011 Justice Department raid for its violations of the Lacey Act notwithstanding) isn’t exactly breaking news though.

For instance, Gibson’s signature sponsored artists have been leaving Gibson in droves, the reasons for which Bill Kelliher from Mastodon recently described. You heard that right, a guitar company building signature guitar models for major label artists mistreats, and can’t even deliver conforming instruments to the very artists that are endorsing its brand.

Even worse are the instruments Gibson is selling to consumers, which are commanding historically high prices for new instruments, at historically low level qualities of craftsmanship and materials, with historically stupid innovations such as a self-tuning mechanism that few people like and doesn’t even work particularly well in my experience. I’ll take a guitar that stays in tune and plays well over one that tunes itself thank you very much.

Go to any Guitar Center (before that company goes into bankruptcy too) these days and pick up a few Gibson instruments–you’ll likely find that they will be the worst playing instruments in the store. Their guitars do not come set up, the fret crowning is abysmal, and there will frequently be “deadspots” on the fretboard. And this is true of its cheapest models offered under the Epiphone brand, all the way up to Gibson’s artist and custom shop models, which is a little ironic for company that still uses the branding, “Only a Gibson is good enough” to describe the quality of its instruments. So if it’s been your life long dream to own a Gibson Les Paul, think about getting a used one built in the 90s or earlier–anything new you’ll buy is virtually certain to disappoint.

The customer service at Gibson has also been described as every bit as bad as the instruments it makes, so good luck getting Gibson make good on its “Limited Lifetime Warranty” if there’s a problem with your brand new instrument you shelled out three grand for.

But guitars don’t even concern this company, as Gibson has long since abandoned the notion of being a guitar company in favor focusing on consumer electronics.  In fact, only 20 – 25% of its overall revenues come from instrument sales, so it’s evident where Gibson’s priorities are.

Although Gibson can’t exactly be faulted for diversifying, it also seems to be incapable of effectively managing the assets within its portfolio of subsidiaries. For instance, Gibson already owned TASCAM at the time it acquired Cakewalk, Inc. in 2013 and touted its intention for TASCAM and Cakewalk to essentially join forces under the name TASCAM Professional Software, presumably to marry Cakewalk’s proven software capabilities with TASCAM’s hardware. Not a bad idea, but it never materialized for reasons Gibson has never explained, and Gibson instead simply opted to jettison Cakewalk rather than follow through on its stated business plan.

How can a company with this many problems continue to stay in business, you might ask? Well, it can’t. Moody’s recently downgraded Gibson’s corporate credit rating yet again all the way down to Caa3 (which is near the bottom of Moody’s rating scale), and the Company is going to need to figure out a way to refinance over $500 million in corporate debt before August 2018 or go into liquidation. This means that not only is it the general consensus in the music industry that Juszkiewicz is running Gibson into the ground, this is also the general consensus with financial experts.

While the writing has been on the wall in terms of Gibson’s financial nosedive for quite some time, the Cakewalk incident has gone one step further. With Cakewalk, Gibson has actions have gone beyond simply failing to deliver quality instruments or decent customer service, and now more closely resemble fraud.

If you’ve had a negative experience with Gibson’s instruments or customer service in the last few years, feel free to share in the comments below.

Disclaimer: This article does not contain any legal advice or recommendation that you go sue Gibson or anything like that, and is for informational purposes only. In fact, you’re a moron if you think that it’s a good idea to make financial, legal, or other important life choices based on something you’ve read on a blog.

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  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    So when Gibson folds, does that mean that the value of the firewood they sell for $3000 will benefit from the death bump?

    • My $250 ESP sounds leagues better than any Gibson I’ve tried.

      • Scrimm

        And plays wonderfully I bet

      • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

        I forgot to mention that this garbage is what you get instead of an ebony fretboard with new Gibsons

        • atchdav

          You’d think with the astronomical prices they ask for their guitars they could at least use real ebony

          • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

            The decision to do this alone is an example of how stupid that company is.

            Instead of figuring out how to legally import ebony (which you know, most manufacturers are quite capable of) in the wake of the 2011 raid, Gibson instead essentially says “ok, let’s just use something synthetic that sounds worse and involves a higher manufacturing cost than ebony, and we’ll just pass that cost on to the consumer by raising our prices”

      • Lord of Bork

        I played a late 50s Les Paul at a Guitar Center once. Damn thing played itself – it was like an out of body experience.

        Every other Gibson/Epiphone I’ve played sounds worse than my aging $300 Ibanez with a warped neck.

      • Elegant Gazing Globe

        Same for my epiphones

      • Managainst Catfish

        Where the hell did you find an ESP for $250?!?

        • Craigslist brah!

          • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

            Is it an LTD? Because an original ESP for $250 is certainly impressive

    • David Lee Hrothgar

      resale value on gibsons is gonna crater in about 10-15 years when all the baby boomer blueslawyers and bluesdentists who make up their customer base start dying off and the market is flooded with tens of thousands of mint condition les pauls

  • Dubby Fresh

    “Only teles are real.” – Lacertilian.

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      “Jazzmaster >>>> tele” – GDSMilfs and J Mascis

      • Howard Dean

        “Milfs >>>>> guitars” – HD and that dude from “MilfHunter”

        • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

          MILFS & METAL!!!!!!!!


    • Scrimm

      Them’s fightin words

      • Dubby Fresh

        Take it up with the reptile.

        • Lacertilian

          Scrimm knows better than to believe such obvious tripe.
          Especially as a fellow ESP/LTD owner

    • Lacertilian

      B A N N E D

      (and downvoted)

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    I’m a huge fan of Gibson guitars, I love my Flying V to death, but everything you said about them in this article in 100% true, especially the part about their new guitars being the worst playing instruments at any Guitar Center. I’ll always recommend others to go for a Gibson, but a used Gibson, back when they made amazing, versatile instruments

    • atchdav

      I owned an SG Special for all of three days. The G and B strings buzzed so I foisted it on someone else. I saw it up for sale within a week.

  • God

    I don’t know most of the terms in this article or fully understand what this all means, but goddamn if I don’t share in your fury. Always sucks when something you always use loses support.

    Anyone remember that ps3 awesome fucking shooter MAG? Yeah I’d still be playing that if the servers were still live.

  • The Tetrachord of Archytas

    I own a magical epiphone jumbo acoustic that blows all away when they discover it’s make, but to be fair it’s the wizard class luthiers that I have do my set ups and maintanence that make it shine so

  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    MUSIC TRIVIA: “Cakewalk” was a pre-ragtime African-American dance form played at a contest in which the prize was a cake.

  • I’m a Reaper man m’self. And I own a 2008 Gibson Flying V that I bought for a steal used. But maaaan, that company is on its way down. Seems like Fender is doing great though.

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      PRS is also doing great

    • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

      Fender also at least owns Jackson, and I’d say Jackson’s USA series are the best mass produced American-made guitars out there right now

      • A Rhoads V is next on my list, along with a Telecaster. I hate Floyd Rose thingys but I feel like I should have at least one guitar with one.

        • Elegant Gazing Globe

          I had an entry level Rhodes V back in the 90’s it was an awesome guitar, wish I still had it. I don’t even remember what I did with it. Probably traded it for weed

        • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

          If you get a guitar with FR, make sure to put this on it. Really easy to install and works wonders

          • A few months ago I was at Long and McQuade (kinda like Guitar Center for Canada, but much better) and saw a FR-equipped Ibanez RG something or other for $120. Some Googling indicated that they went for ~$500-$600 back when they were new. Turns out someone brought it in to get maintenance of some sort done, but never came back to pick it up, so their policy is to wait a few months and then put it up for sale for the cost of the repair. I bought out, and first thing I did was try to tune it down a whole step, which did NOT go well. Screwed the whole thing up, and I got so pissed off with it that once I managed to get it back up to standard, I listed it locally & sold it for $250. I’d like to try again though. It’d be nice to add some tremolo insanity to my already-Slayerish solos, haha.

          • GrumpDumpus


      • GoatForest

        My buddy swears by Jackson guitars.

        • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

          Worth the investment.

        • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

          I own a Warrior and a Rhoads, and both are amazing instruments

    • David Lee Hrothgar

      fender’s got over $100 million in debt, but they’re managed by somewhat competent people these days. moody’s last had them listed at b1, which isn’t much better than gibson but it means they’re capable of paying off investors

      the bigger problem is the musical instruments industry as a whole is shrinking while at the same time everyone’s moving to high-volume, low-margin overseas production

      • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

        Agree that there’s a downward trend in the industry shrinking, but Gibson is essentially just pouring gasoline on the fire. They’ve also had overseas production for well over 20 years with Epiphone. I get having low cost instruments, and those instruments perhaps not being as good as your expensive stuff, but when the expensive stuff sucks too, then it’s a sign of problems with the whole scheme of production, both overseas and domestic.

        • David Lee Hrothgar

          oh yeah while things are kinda dire all around, gibson’s on an entirely different level of screwed from everyone else

          also cnc machining has pretty much leveled the playing field in terms of quality. you can get sub-$200 chinese instruments that have more consistent qc than gibson, to say nothing of mid-priced korean stuff that’s increasingly on par with the top tier us and japanese builders

          • A friend of mine has a Chinese Gibson LP copy that he bought from Aliexpress for like $280 CAD. I’ve never been a big LP guy, but I know a solid guitar when I play one, and this thing was solid. I never would have known it wasn’t the real thing. He replaced the pickups and tuners and that’s it, so in total he had a Gibson-quality guitar or better for like $500, literally made to order. It’s beautiful aesthetically too.

          • what a coincidence. this thanksgiving my cousin showed me a picture of an “authentic” Gibson he got from China as well!

          • Rizzle01

            I purchase a middle of the line Schecter on sale this last 4th of July and it plays like it would have cost me thousands in 90s. I can’t believe how good the Korean guitars sound these days!

      • Hmmm, didn’t know that. Their shit just seems SO much more solid than Gibson!

  • If you don’t need a ladder to get to it at Guitar Center, the guitar is going to sound like shit and be covered with Smokeonthewateritis.

    With the ladder, you get over-priced fake ebony.

    With the internet, you can go to ESP and buy an ESP.

  • Butts4Gutts

    Just buy an ESP.

  • GrumpDumpus


  • GrungierNine0

    Listening to Khemmis while in hospital is nice. Might move on to Katalepsy, however. Start moshing in my room.

  • GoatForest

    I use Ibanez, and I am the opposite of a gear head. So, the shittiness of Gibson was unknown to me. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Max

      I could’ve wrote that.

  • Kyle Reese

    I have only made three guitar purchases in my life. #1 – a purple beginner Ibanez at $125. It turned out, guitar is an instrument I could stick with. #2 – 2001 Gibson SG and #3 ESP/LTD about 4 or 5 years later. In terms of playability, the distance between strings is pro-SG. If that makes sense. Also, touch and feel, SG. Tone, better for the SG too. It had a dead spot on the 15th fret that I got rid of by raising the action. The bridge has a tendency to eat the guitar strings. Which I hate as I’m not in a band so I don’t need to replace that shit often, unless they break. The ESP feels good and has nice playability, but for some reason, I’m always able to play the Gibson faster. This is a great article, and I haven’t had the same experiences. I also haven’t bought a guitar since I was 23 and I’m 33 now. And I don’t mess with any set up at all. I’m more in the market for an amp since the Line6 TubeMix model has some weird ass volume probelms.

  • Waters Dan
  • Waters Dan