by Jef | Approximate reading time: 3 Minutes
Bill Kelliher ESP LTD Signature guitar

Bill Kelliher ESP LTD Signature guitar  ·  Source:

Gibson Mastodon Bill Kellher ESP

Gibson and Bill Kelliher part ways on poor terms  ·  Source: Ultimate Guitar

ESP LTD Bill Kelliher Sparrowhawk

ESP LTD Bill Kelliher Sparrowhawk model.  ·  Source:

Bill Kelliher ESP LTD Signature guitar

Bill Kelliher ESP LTD Signature guitar  ·  Source:


Last week, various online sources published a quote by guitarist Bill Kelliher. In it he explains why he ended his endorsement relationship with Gibson. Kelliher levels a number of serious accusations at his former endorsee. With Gibson recently facing criticism of its management, design choices and quality control, this latest PR disaster will be exactly what the company was hoping to avoid.


Ultimate Guitar interview

The quotes, which I’ve copied below, originated on the Ultimate Guitar website. Kelliher pulls no punches about Gibson and his relationship with the company. He goes on to contrast his negative experiences with his new relationship with Japanese guitar maker ESP.

Here’s what BK had to say about why he left Gibson:

“It was a lot of reasons.

“I never really felt like I was accepted at Gibson. The communication over there is terrible.

“They kept fucking up my guitars that I was asking for. I didn’t ask for a lot – I just had a few certain things that I would like with my guitar – I told them I didn’t want it chambered and they made my second guitar chambered.

“All the guys I worked with over there – the A&R guys were getting fired left and right and the company just seemed to be falling apart to me. There were new guys who would come in and they didn’t know shit.

“It was a breath of fresh air working with ESP. They were interested and would ask me what gauge strings I played and what tunings I play – Gibson never cared about any of that stuff.

“Kids would get my guitar in the mail and ask me how to tune it because it wasn’t tuned and then I would tell them how to tune it and they would say it still doesn’t sound right and it’s because they’re not putting my gauge strings on there.

“They weren’t even tuning the guitars to my settings or specifications – just little things like that. Things that make the guitar a Bill Kelliher model, like put it in my tuning so that when it shows up, it’s different.

“ESP wanted to know all that stuff. They’re just friendly and nice and they’re interested in me and my band and what they can do for me rather than this company.

“Gibson just wasn’t… I don’t know, I think they’re on their way downhill honestly.

“Every guy I talk to – I mean, look at James Hetfield. He was at Gibson, played Gibson stuff and they didn’t want to work with him, so he went to ESP. And he’s one of the biggest fucking guitar players in our kind of music.

“It seems like there are a lot of bad decisions being made over there.

“But ESP is really great. They treat me really well. I love my Sparrowhawk that I designed. It’s the best playing guitar that I own.”


Matodon's Bill Kelliher's damning interview on UG

Matodon’s Bill Kelliher’s damning interview on UG

Leaving the fold

We wrote Kelliher’s move to ESP back in January this year when the ESP LTD Sparrowhawk was announced. Gibson, I’m sure, were not pleased with the Mastodon guitarist’s decision. Considering that Bill Kelliher had two Gibson signature models with Gibson, the Bill Kelliher Golden AxeExplorer and the Halcyon Les Paulmodel, it must have been quite a blow to Gibson. After all, he plays in one of the world’s biggest bands in this genre.



If true, then this is damning of the whole artist operation at Gibson. It could not come at a worse time, either. It looks like a lot of other people agree, as the story hit YouTube pretty hard last week, thanks to YouTuber Guitologist. After giving his view on the Kelliher debacle, he goes on to talk about the Kentucky Head Hunters’ Greg Martin signature model, which he says also suffered from poor quality control.

For more Gearnews Gibson articles, click here.



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18 responses to “Bill Kelliher of Mastodon reveals why he left Gibson – and it ain’t pretty”

  1. Steve Michaels says:

    Thats not a surprise. Truth is Gibsons probably suffering from the same shit most storied companys are. No respect for tradition or hard work or quality.
    Good thing we can still buy Gibsons from the past. When the majority of people cared about making the world a good place to live for everyone. My view has zero to do with Bill from the band Masterbator. He most likely is just trying to get customers for his new buddys ESP and had some sort of falling out with Gibson. Dont know and dont care. Heres what I do know. Ive owned 4 gibson Les Pauls in the last 15 years. The only I wish I still had was the Slash model I owned. The first Slash model. I paid $2800 for it and sold it for $3000 2 years later because I was broke. I still cry over it. Never found a new model anywhere near it. Next les paul I buy will be a no later than 1988. Preferably 74 or earlier. Unless Gibson somehow proves they are making quality instruments worth their pricetag. I have a $175 telecaster parts caster with a genuine fender neck and apine body. A single fender squire pickup and fender vintage style tuners. An ashtray bridge with brass saddles. I literally paid $175 for it on Its better than all 3 modern era les pauls I paid over $2000 each for.
    Proofs in the pudding Gibson.
    Repent and do right.

    • Jef says:

      I’d agree that earlier Gibson models are nicer in many ways, but I would also say that some of those Norlin years Les Pauls were real dogs.

      When I was a teenager in the ’80s you could buy a Les Paul Custom for about £400-500, yet many of them were so bad that you wouldn’t waste your money on them.

      I think that most of us want traditional vintage style and spec guitars, which isn’t a lot to ask for. Just wish Gibson would concentrate on their great stuff and stop making weird rubbish nobody actually wants.

      I’m sure Bill Kelliher left for a good reason and sure he is now with ESP, but weird he broke the silence and came out and said these things unless they really did a number on him.

      We will never know for sure, but I thought that his actions spoke louder than words, even back in January this year. This confirmation in print adds weight to the debate about this once great guitar company.

      • Memphis Dave says:

        I own several Norlin era Les Pauls and they play and feel as good as my 69 or any of the later and more recent ones I own. I hate plecked fingerboards. At least in the Norlin era there were still actual luthiers in the company that would plane the fingerboards, cut the nuts and install and file the frets by hand. And I don’t give a damn that they weighed a ton because I got my first one at age 10 in 1976 and that is still my number one guitar although it’s been refretted (properly) twice.

        • Jef says:

          I own a ’77 LP Custom and it rocks. Yes, it has been professionally re-fretted and no, it isn’t the lightest Les Paul ever made. But it kicks the sh*t out of most modern day Gibsons that I have played, so I love it!

    • Stone Cold says:

      Well said Shawn Michaels!!

  2. Neil Cowmeadow says:

    I’m a full-time guitar teacher, author, and a twenty-year guitar tech and former main-street music retailer – so none of this comes as a surprise to me.
    We threw Gibson/Epiphone out of our store in the early 2000s after receiving a guitar full of woodworm, then being told it was fine. We returned the guitar, only to receive the same guitar again as a “replacement” – we closed our account.
    These days, as a guitar tech I see more Gibbos than any other brand. The call goes like this: “I wonder if you can help me? I’ve just bought my dream guitar (insert model here) and …well… I just can’t get on with it…you did my mate’s Gibson for him, so can you take a look at it, please?” and so it goes on.
    The customer shows up and presents their pride and joy – it is usually a poorly-finished specimen, often with ragged fret-ends and an over-height nut, often with stray file-marks on the fretboard and/or body.
    Same old, same old…
    It’s depressing that the aspirational brand I revered as a kid now seems incapable of building a decent guitar.

    Then there was the J200 basket-case with the neck on at the wrong angle – retialer GuitarGuitar said it was a warranty case (not true on a new guitar in the UK – Sale of Goods Act 1982 covers merchandise unfit for sale) and the buyer waited 3 MONTHS to finally have a serviceable guitar. And, yes, it did still need to be properly set up.

    I still own 7 Gibsons, but I can’t think of the last time I played a good new one – not until it had been on the bench and properly professionally finished-off.
    So, is Gibson doomed?
    I believe so – they’ve peddled the brand myth for decades, and quality has been on the slide. Now face that off against competitors producing better quality instruments for less money in an already saturated mature market, and they look to be on shakey ground. Very shakey.

    • Bruce Chapman says:

      Like most companies, the problem with Gibson comes straight from the top. The president and owner has nothing but contempt for anything but dollars. He is not a player, many if not most of the players in the company were fired or left. Employee turnover is epic. His dealers all hate him. His employees hate him ( read this- it’s a few years old, but trust me things have only gotten worse:

      All you need to know about what this company is about is evident in their decision to ram their G Force tuners down everyone’s throat with their 2015 guitars. All of their feedback told them not to do it, but President HJ, having no respect for anyone’s but his own terribly off base ideas, over ruled everyone and moved forward. Of course they changed their minds in 2016. Because it was a bad, bad idea. And sales tanked. That won’t stop this nimrod from screwing around with their product and, like other companies he has owned, run them into the ground.

  3. Hotwheels12321 says:

    This coming from a guy who has been endorsed First Act in the past.

    • Jef says:

      Nothing wrong with First Act guitars, yes they make cheap budget guitars, but they also make some cool one-off custom instruments as well. Mastodon is well known for using the First Act stuff on their recordings, so I cannot see a problem with them being honest about using different guitars over the years.

  4. Ken Bendell says:

    I just wish I could play well enough to be able to bitch about free guitars.

    • Jef says:

      They aren’t free fella. He has to work to get this stuff offered to him. It doesn’t just land in your lap for nothing. I reckon he would do a few clinics and promotional tours with a company to support these. Imagine how you would feel if someone associated your name with a poor product after promising you perfection?

    • Jef says:

      You’ll need to put some practise time in fella. Get your chops up to scratch and then go play a few thousand gigs. Simples!

  5. DS Garrett says:

    I can’t say I’ve had the same experience with Gibson. Over the last 3 years I have purchased 4 Gibson’s and each one has been great. I did have each one set up, but I would do that with any brand. I had started with a Tele and then tried PRS, but avoided Gibson because of all the complaints. Still not satisfied with the tone, I finally chose to get an SG Standard 120 in 2014 and sure glad I did!

    • Jef says:

      I myself have purchased a few a Custom Shop and a regular standard US model. Neither lasted for more than 18 months before I moved them on.

      Though I do still own a few slightly older ones that I really enjoy playing. My issue, like many others, is Gibson’s lack of consistency with fit and finish.

  6. MCH says:

    Who is this guy? I could care less about what he thinks – never heard of his music…yawn.

    • Jef says:

      Well, of course, he may not be quite as well known as you are for making music, but a fair few people know who he is, so it made the news that week… yawn

  7. Hamish Sander says:

    At one point I simultaneously owned a Gibson les Paul junior and an epiphone les paul.
    The epiphany was top of tge range. Baught it real cheap. Amazing guitar but sounded shit. I replaced the pups and installed vintage wiring. That guitar is now epic.
    I sold the Gibson because it wasn’t even close to being as good as rge epiphone. The neck was too thin in my opinion. The neck joint was done terribly. The result was a guitar I could not gig as it went out of tune all tge time. Pretty poor.
    I would buy a vintage one if I knew it was up to standard. But thar one just wasn’t. Not all Gibson are up to standard

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