Leader of the Band who kept it Real: RIP Andy McGibbon



BEAUTIFUL intimacy of a guitar and its maker: Andy McGibbon working on a guitar known as a ‘smooth talker’, which was developed by Mervyn Davis. Photograph courtesy facebook.

MUSIC IS A complicated craft. Not only is it about tunes and compositions, technique and tone; it’s also about the object from which the music comes: a world of six strings, spruce and mahogany, the guitar has the capacity to sing, with the touch of the performer’s body. Andy McGibbon was not only a successful musician and a skilled and witty lyricist; he was also a knowledgeable, brave and innovative guitar maker and a gentle man with an easy smile and lovely sense of humour, who was adored. He died suddenly from a heart attack on 3 March 2019. He was 66.

Born Andrew John McGibbon on 1 July 1952, in then Rhodesia’s capital, Salisbury, McGibbon was the fourth of five children, the son of a former officer in the Wrens and a Royal Airforce Typhoon pilot, who went on to open his own printing business. A teenaged Andy had his head turned by music, while he was at Gifford Technical High School, where he excelled. His band established with teen collaborators saw his music get out there and performing, but he always knew that there was a greater itch to scratch in this mysterious world he was discovering.

McGibbon had a yen to understand and preserve the guitar, and further to that, to, as his son Matthew recalls “build beautiful guitars and make beautiful music.” Andy finished high school and read for an honours degree in social sciences at the University of Cape Town, with a major in psychology and a highly commended thesis that explored the relationship between music and life. This was his first stepping stone in a long and logical career and vocational trajectory. Restoring instruments was a hobby for him, but the more specialised his skills became, the more they sowed the seed for something more. The range of so-called Warrior Guitars restored lovingly by McGibbon attests to this.

Restoring a guitar is not only about restringing it or polishing its surface. Each guitar has its own personality and history. And a significant characteristic of McGibbon’s practice and work ethic was to keep the individual guitar’s vintage heritage intact, while bringing life back to it.

Having described himself as a strongly moral individual, McGibbon was a Beatles fan who loved the poetry of Simon Garfunkel. He was also a perfectionist with a strong work ethic. In 2006/7 he established a monthly Andy’s Acoustic Forum, in floating Gauteng venues, which was proactive in finding, developing and serving as a platform for outstanding South African acoustic guitarists and songwriters, developing their own material, including performers of the ilk of Thomas Selmer-Olsen, Michael Canfield, Nechama Brodie, Laurie Levine, Bruce Dennill and many others.

But it was in the 1970s that McGibbon’s life changed under the glare of an instrument known as the Martin 000. This piece was the first refurbished acoustic guitar that he had the privilege to work on. In restoring it, he elected to retain the fundamentals of the instrument, but to add his own signature input and focus largely on the interior of the sound box.  It was his pride and joy.

In 2009, the idea to work on a new guitar design was born. McGibbon focused on creating a balanced harmony between two established guitars, the historical Gibson Les Paul solid body electric guitar which dates back to 1952, and the contemporary PRS (Paul Reed Smith), to create a singular offspring. It was to be a vintage guitar with a new age sound. For McGibbon, this was a dream project; he yielded an immensely intelligent and elegant piece.

His concept-based guitars were not only unique prototypes, but ones that were meaningfully marketable. A new chapter had begun with the patent of McGibbon 000, a breathtaking iconic work, by all accounts.

It was also the start for McGibbon’s personal empire. His business McGibbon’s Guitar World opened in Randburg, north of Johannesburg in 1997, was a real platform for his attention to the fine details of his work, the people who played the instrument and the manner in which he was growing his craft. It was the first guitar specialist establishment in South Africa.

McGibbon, who had a quirky talent for lyrics, was a driven, gifted man who gave so much to both the guitar community and the community in general – during his career, he organised a number of charity events that were as much about music as they were about raising money for those less fortunate. He leaves his devastated wife Eve, and his children Matthew and Sarah and his sisters Morag Cox and Sarah Watson, as well as literally thousands of guitarists and lovers of beautiful instruments.

  • Zoe Moll is a first year Fine Arts student at the University of Pretoria. She is part of the VIT 101 class, being taught the rudiments of arts writing by Robyn Sassen during 2020.

4 replies »

  1. The guitar in the photograph is actually a smooth talker, designed and developed by Mervyn Davis. Please credit Mervyn for this.

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