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A guitar manufacturer is planning a major expansion at its factory in Bozeman amid increasing demand for guitars during the COVID-19 pandemic.

James “JC” Curleigh, president and CEO of Gibson Brands, Inc., said at a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday that last spring’s COVID-19 shutdown initially brought about “more questions than answers” for the company.

“We were facing a factory shutdown with a pandemic that we didn’t really see coming,” he said. “We had guitar dealers that were closed that weren’t selling guitars.”

However, the crisis pivoted in the summer. People with more creativity and time started to buy guitars, according to Curleigh. Now Gibson is expanding its acoustic guitar factory in Bozeman to help meet the increasing demand.

“We’ve got a new generation of guitarists, and we’re going to have a new generation factory here,” Curleigh said. “The future looks bright for Gibson.”

Executives at Wednesday’s ceremony said they plan to more than double the manufacturing space inside Bozeman’s acoustic facility. They also plan to build a custom shop and showroom, which will “celebrate the history and legendary quality of Gibson’s handcrafted acoustic guitars.”

Once construction is complete, the 23,000-square-foot facility will grow by 25,000 square feet toward S. 19th Avenue, according to Josh Taborski, the general manager of the Gibson facility in Bozeman.

An additional 10,000 square feet will be renovated into office space, a showroom, a day care and a reception area. Construction will likely finish in about a year.

Curleigh said that in six months, Bozeman will host “the most amazing guitar facility in the world.”

“When you get pride and you get expansion and you get growth, good things tend to happen,” he said.

Cesar Gueikian, chief merchant officer for Gibson, said more space will allow the company to increase production and expand its historic and modern acoustic guitar collections.

Founded more than a century ago, Gibson is one of the world’s leading guitar manufacturers. The company is headquartered in Nashville, but it also has a production plant in Bozeman.

The Bozeman factory produces the company’s acoustic guitars. It’s ideal for its craftsmen and craftswomen, access to wood and its weather dynamics, Curleigh said.

Gueikian said famous musicians including Robert Johnson, Slash, Luke Combs, Jimmy Page, Sheryl Crow and Orianthi have all used Gibson guitars, and collaborations with artists are important to the company. Recently, the company announced collaborations with the Tom Petty and Elvis Presley estates.

Curleigh said he’s hopeful the momentum in demand for Gibson guitars will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

People have had time to learn how to play guitar, and “once you’re a guitarist you’re always a guitarist,” he said. People have been isolated for a long time, so they’re going to want to come together to share stories and experiences through music, according to Curleigh.

Curleigh noted that the new expansion could bring an additional 100 to 200 jobs to the Bozeman area over time. The company is going to need people to help make guitars.

“When you’ve got a good thing going, you do more of it,” Curleigh said. “I just think there’s a vibe in Bozeman that people can feel.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gibson Brands, Inc. is a national guitar manufacturer and one of its production plants is in Memphis. Gibson is an international guitar manufacturer and it moved its Memphis factory to Nashville.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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