Gibson has made plenty of iconic axes over the years: the Les Paul, the Flying V and the ES-335 to name a few.
But, amongst the mainstays, the company has produced a number of fascinating instruments that – for one reason or another – never caught on with the public.
In Gibson Oddities, we’ll be taking a look at some of those overlooked instruments, the stories behind their creation, and why they didn’t take off.
Today, we’re kicking things off with the Gibson Marauder.
The mid-1970s were a difficult time for guitar makers. Guitar-based rock music might have dominated the charts, but sales of the instruments themselves had slowed since the early part of the decade. For American instrument makers, the increased competition from Japanese guitar manufacturers was also a challenge.
The Marauder, made in collaboration with pickup and guitar designer Bill Lawrence, was Gibson’s attempt to tap into the bolt-on-neck market dominated by main rivals Fender. Following the L6-S, which Gibson had developed with Lawrence in 1972, the Marauder had a pickup layout reminiscent of a Telecaster, but with unmistakably Gibson aesthetics.
Sporting a contoured single cutaway Les Paul shaped body, with a Flying V-esque headstock, it was an instrument designed to evoke the pinnacles of Gibson’s past. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the company they were trying to imitate, it played more like one of Leo’s creations. Thanks to the construction of the guitar, as well as the tone of the Bill Lawrence designed-pickups – a humbucker in the neck, an angled, blade-style pickup in the bridge – the Marauder produced a higher frequency tone more reminiscent of a Strat than a Les Paul or SG. And, as Fender did with their instruments, Gibson offered the Marauder with either a rosewood or maple fretboard.
With the first prototype produced in 1974, the guitar began shipping in 1975. To launch the instrument into the marketplace, Gibson embarked on an extensive promotional campaign. Launching the instrument in 1975 with the slogan, “NO ONE IGNORES THE MARAUDER!”, Gibson stepped things up a notch in ’76 with an ad featuring the-then “hottest band in the land…”
By 1976, KISS - bolstered by the success of their multi-platinum selling “Alive” album - was riding high. And, for Gibson, an endorsement from front man Paul Stanley seemed like the logical way to market the Marauder to a new generation of guitar players. KISS’s fan base was the under-20s market, and the company reasoned that seeing their favorite band playing inexpensive guitars they could actually afford would shift more units.
KISS, who had benefited from Gibson’s support before mega stardom hit, were happy to oblige, and the company duly ran this ad in music papers across the country.
“KISS knows looks aren’t everything.”
“Rolling Stone calls Paul Stanley, “A sensuous purveyor of thunderous chords.” His Gibson Marauder guitar helps Paul attain that acclaim.
“The action is fast. And the neck has one of the smoothest fret jobs Gibson’s ever made. Of course it’s loud. The front pickup is Super humbucking, hot and sensitive. The rear pickup, raw power. Probably three times stronger than any non-humbucking pickup you’ve ever heard.
“The group calls it the KISS Axe.
“Gibson calls it the Marauder.”
A ringing endorsement… on the surface at least.
In reality, Paul Stanley and the Gibson Marauder were not good bedfellows. KISS loved Gibson guitars, yes. Their early albums were built on the humbucking sounds of Les Pauls and Flying Vs. But a traditional Gibson this wasn’t.
“I never played one live! They were horrible,"Stanley told Vintage Guitar in 1997. He was perhaps being uncharitable with that comment. Anyone who’s played a Marauder will likely tell you that they’re a fine – if unconventional – instrument. But you can see why Stanley, in a quest for KISS’s hard rock thunder, didn’t get on with the Fender-like axe.
In the end, Stanley did find a purpose for the Marauder during KISS’s live shows...
The instrument became his sacrificial lamb.
While he didn’t like to play them, he was more than happy to smash them to pieces. As he told Metal Edge in 1996:
"I remember seeing Pete Townsend and going. 'Boy I wish I could do that". Gibson would give me these guitars and every night I would break one.”
The guitars that Stanley smashed on stage often didn’t even function. KISS manager Bill Aucoin would buy defective or B-stock instruments from Gibson, then modify them to break easier:
"It cost us $65 a piece. What they would do was, they would agree to take broken parts or whatever they had and make bodies. There were no real guts to it. Then we would saw the back of it [the neck] so it would break easy, because Paul couldn't break them.”
KISS’s endorsement was not exactly ringing. But plenty of other guitarists found favor with the instrument. Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Jeff Lynne and the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley all played them during the 1970s.
In spite of those associations, though, the Marauder didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. Between 1975 and 1979, Gibson shifted less than 7,200 units before canceling production. While the company claimed “NO ONE IGNORES THE MARAUDER,” the guitar buying public felt differently.
Given the guitar market of the 1970s, Gibson’s cost-cutting Marauder made sense, at least on paper. But ultimately, the bolt-on design proved too idiosyncratic for the next generation of would-be guitar heroes.
It was never going to supplant the Les Paul, the SG or the 335, but the Gibson Marauder is a fascinating footnote in Gibson history. And it still has a cult following to this day. The likes of Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore have all been known to play one from time-to-time, suggesting that not everyone ignored the Marauder after all.
Have you ever played a Gibson Marauder? What other Gibson oddities do you want us to cover? Share your stories in the comments.