The Orville by Gibson Brand
Gibson has long had a love/hate relationship with Japanese guitar makers. The “love” part of the relationship began in 1968 when Gibson started moving production of Epiphone branded guitars to Japan. All US production of Epiphone models ended in 1970. The MIJ Epiphones gave Gibson a position in the “low budget” part of the American guitar market.
The “hate” part of the relationship included lawsuits and threats of lawsuits over the copying of their classic guitar designs. When the various importers of MIJ guitars began to command larger and larger shares of the market and the quality of their guitars improved by leaps and bounds, Gibson had to take notice and legal action!
So it was without fanfare back in the United States, that Gibson teamed up with Japanese distributors to create and market a line of guitars in Japan. Tony Bacon and Paul Day (in “The Gibson Les Paul Book,” GPI Books, 1993, page 84) wrote:
“The first name of the founder of the American company was used by Gibson on a range of Japanese-made guitars, launched in 1988, which officially copy Gibson's most famous designs. While the cheaper guitars carry only the Orville logo, the higher priced versions are branded Orville by Gibson. This latter line bears the `Les Paul' logo when appropriate, and models include the Custom, Standard and Junior. The Orville by Gibson instruments are equipped with US-made Gibson pickups. At the time of writing these high quality, accurate repros are sold only on the Japanese market, because Gibson does not perceive a market niche for them elsewhere.”
It's been reported that Gibson Japan was a partnership between Gibson and Japanese distributors Kanda Shokai and Yamano (both of whom were involved with Fender Japan). Kanda Shokai would distribute the lower-end Orville models to retailers such as Ishibashi, while Yamano would sell the higher-end Orville by Gibson models through their own retail outlets. The actual Japanese manufacturers involved with the production of the Orville and Orville by Gibson guitars is unfortunately a matter of conjecture; more on that elsewhere on this site.
Orville by Gibson guitars first appeared in 1988. Then in 1989 the Orville guitars appeared. The last Orville by Gibson guitars were made in early 1995, while production of Orville guitars continued well into 1998. At that time, Gibson Japan turned its attention to Epiphone models until 2000.
With the expansion of the internet, the “information super highway,” in the 1990s, knowledge of these high quality Japanese instruments spread beyond Japan. The reputation, interest, and prices have been steadily increasing, thus proving that there would have indeed been a market niche beyond Japan, but undoubtedly to the detriment of the US-made Gibson instruments!