Edwin Wilson dies – guitar world mourns the death of legendary Gibson and Heritage luthier
Wilson was instrumental in creating the True Historic and Collector’s Choice guitars at Gibson, and the Custom Core line at Heritage.
Edwin Wilson, the mastermind behind Gibson Custom’s True Historic program and legendary figure in modern guitar luthiery, died on 14 July 2023 – he was 59.
Wilson was the director of the True Historic program until 2017, overseeing huge leaps forward in the field of vintage guitar recreation, and later moved to become the Head of Guitar R&D at Vista Musical Instruments, owner of both the Heritage and Harmony brands (VMI shares a parent company, Caldecott Music Group, with NME Networks). He is survived by his mother, Gaile Wilson, his sister, Leigh Ann Jones, and her partner Bob St. Clair.
Among the many artists that Edwin worked with over his decades in the industry, Joe Bonamassa penned a heartfelt tribute to Wilson, posting to Instagram that he was, “Very sad to hear of the passing of Edwin Wilson. Back in the day, Edwin was instrumental in developing prototypes for both my signature Les Paul and 335 models as well as the Collector’s Choice series for Gibson Custom. He was a good dude and gone too soon.”
Caldecott Music Group CEO Meng Ru Kuok also paid tribute to Wilson’s impact on the Heritage and revived Harmony brands in recent years, writing on Instagram:
“There are so many people without whom what we’ve done, what we have today and hope to do tomorrow would have not been possible, and Edwin has and always will be up there on my list. In all honesty, I’m still dealing emotionally with the reality he’s gone.
“Your contributions to the history of guitar with Gibson and then writing new stories with us as part of the team at Heritage and Harmony will never be forgotten, but nothing comes close to how grateful I am and always will be to have had you as a friend and mentor for over ten years. So many memories I’ll never forget.”
Wilson’s loss was also felt keenly at Gibson, where he worked for over thirty years, with Vice President of Product Mat Koehler penning his own tribute. “Edwin Wilson was fearless,” he wrote. “He was a great friend. And he helped me get the job at Gibson. I’ll never forget his smile, his laugh and his heart. His legacy in guitar is worth of a book itself. For decades he was behind the Gibson Custom Historic model evolution, all the coolest limited runs, and all the artist models. We kept up until the very end and he was always in great spirits. We love you Edwin! You will be greatly missed.”
Wilson began playing guitar at 12 and then building them at just 13. He joined Gibson in 1985 and went on to become a founding employee of Gibson Custom Art and Historic (which would later become the Custom Shop). In addition to being a supremely gifted craftsman, Edwin developed a reputation for his meticulous attention to detail when it came to the ingredients that go together to make a great instrument. It was this obsession that led him to become director of Gibson Custom’s game-changing True Historic Program.
The True Historic Program, and in particular the Collector’s Choice line, was an unprecedented attempt by a major brand to faithfully replicate Golden Era guitars down to the very finest detail. Far more than just attempting to make a guitar ‘look’ old, Edwin and his team were determined to create instruments that felt and sounded as close as possible to these Golden Era icons.
This involved laser-scanning vintage instrument to get their measurements down to the finest degree, replicating the specific composition of plastics and other materials down to the plastics, the glue and the exact measurements. These guitars quickly became benchmark Gibson instruments in what was a turbulent period for the brand.
In 2017, with Gibson heading for bankruptcy, it was announced to widespread astonishment that Gibson had parted ways with Wilson, but he soon found a new role as the Head of Guitar R&D for Heritage and Harmony. While at Heritage’s Kalamazoo factory, Edwin contributed significantly in the creation of a completely new and reimagined line of guitars at Harmony, as well as introducing the well-received Custom Core line for Heritage.
Wilson was hugely respected throughout the guitar industry for his innovation and skill as a luthier – as former Fender Custom Shop chief Mike Eldred put it, “Edwin was one in a million.”