Heritage Guitars was founded in 1985 by former employees of the Gibson guitar factory, including Jim Deurloo, Marv Lamb, JP Moats, Bill Paige, and Mike Korpak. In the early 1980s, Gibson, faced with excess production capacity, closed its historic Parsons Street factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan and relocated much of its production to its factory in Nashville, Tennessee. Some of the Gibson employees who did not want to move their homes and families to Tennessee started production of guitars under a new name, "Heritage," which was likely meant to stake a claim to their guitar-making tradition. The company set up their new factory in part of Gibson's former Kalamazoo premises, but produced instruments in much smaller numbers than Gibson had.
The Heritage line initially consisted of electric and acoustic guitars, electric basses, mandolins, and a banjo. The line was eventually narrowed to electric guitars only. Although most Heritage guitars were, and continue to be, based on Gibson designs, a few of their early electric guitars were based on modified Stratocaster and Telecaster designs.
Heritage is a boutique manufacturer, making semi-hollow guitars, large jazz boxes, solid body electrics. In these types of guitars, Paul Reed Smith Guitars and Gibson guitars are the closest nominal equivalents, though Heritage is a much smaller company making far fewer guitars.
In general, Heritage makes guitars that are similar to Gibson's products, which the company's advocates and fans would say are constructed in a much more "hand-made" fashion, and with much greater individual attention to detail by the builders. Part of this increased attention to detail is a result of Heritage being a smaller operation than Gibson, and some of it is likely a reaction against the cost-cutting practices that developed at Gibson under Norlin's ownership. The design of the Heritage H-150 solid-body guitar is clearly modeled on the Les Paul Standard, while the H-575 resembles the ES-175 and the H-535 reinterprets the ES-335. There are differences between most of the Heritage models and their Gibson counterparts, however. For example, all Heritage full-body semi-acoustics have solid wood tops, while many of the Gibson guitars of this type had laminated tops after World War II. Both the H-575 and the H-535 are thinner than their Gibson cousins. Heritage has also introduced several new designs, most notably the Millennium models, which employ a "semi-solid" body that is more solid than a traditional semi-hollow design, but chambered, and thus less solid than a typical solid body.