The two biggest guitar brands in the 1960s were Fender and Gibson. While they were producing guitars before then, they really rose to fame in the 60s when bands began using them.
Fender was founded by Leo Fender, who was born in 1902. He had a deep love of guitars which led to his founding of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company in 1946. The company began producing guitars in the 1950s and it is still going strong today because it gained a great reputation for producing quality products.
The Gibson guitar brand also became big in this time period. To counter the popularity of the Fenders, Gibson came out with the Les Paul guitar, originally designed by Ted McCarty and named after jazz guitarist Les Paul. Gibson was known for its innovation in working with musicians on their instruments. Blues legend B.B. King teamed with Gibson to design the Lucille guitar.
Both the Fender and Gibson brands were threatened in the 1980s when Japan began producing guitars. Japan’s guitars were of the same quality, especially the Yamaha guitars. Yamaha had been producing musical instruments for years but when they caught the attention of artists like Bob Marley and Carlos Santana, their guitars suddenly became hot commodities. With celebrity endorsements, they were broke into the American market and Fender and Gibson were forced to lower their prices to compete with Yamaha.
Many other famous brands, like Ibanez, became big not so much because of their guitar designs but because of their price tag. Most guitars that were produced in other countries looked remarkably like Fender, Gibson, and Les Paul guitars, but they cost just a fraction of the “big brand name” price. More and more people bought them and the brands then became more famous and profitable.
Not all brands were as successful though. The Carvin Company, founded in 1946, began manufacturing guitars in the 1970s. In the 1980s, unable to break into the big market that was dominated by Gibson and Fender, they changed their tactics by offering custom-built electric guitars. They found a small niche market and it kept them in the guitar business but they just couldn’t break through.
The Goya brand guitar was manufactured in the 1950s and the brand continued all the way until 1996. While it was a popular guitar for certain niche markets, it never attained the height of fame that kept other brands alive. Another big brand is the Regal brand of guitars. Reintroduced in the United States in 1987, the brand produces traditional resonator guitars that are harder to find. They achieved fairly moderate success but just never seemed to truly catch on even though they did produce some innovative guitars.
The story is similar with many other brands such as ESP, Danelectro, Fernandes, and G&L Guitars. All of them produce quality guitars but they have just never managed to make it to the mainstream.
The brands of guitars that really hit it big seem to have been blessed with two things: great guitar designs and a little bit of luck in the form of having a celebrity or two fall in love with their guitars. Who could forget Hendrix's "sacrifice" of his beloved Fender Strat?