McCarty was named vice president of the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1949, then president in 1950. He remained president until 1966. This period became known as Gibson's golden age of electric guitars.
The Gibson Les Paul was designed during his time with the company. McCarty sought to create a hybrid design that would combine the sustain of a solid-body electric guitar with the warmth of a hollow-body guitar. The ES-335 was created as a semi-hollow with a central block running the length of the guitar and hollow wings. McCarty was also responsible for the development of the Tune-o-matic bridge system, the humbucking pickup, and the Explorer, Flying V, Moderne, SG and Firebird guitars. Like Leo Fender, McCarty never played the guitar. He instead talked with every guitarist he could in order to find out what guitar players were interested in.
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McCarty became the mentor of Paul Reed Smith. Smith found out about McCarty during a visit to the US Patent office in the early 1980s, where he kept noticing McCarty's name among Gibson's patents. Smith later hired McCarty as a consultant, and credits his experience with McCarty as a defining moment in his company. In 1994, Paul Reed Smith's company PRS Guitars, launched the McCarty model as a tribute to McCarty. Previously, no instrument or company ever bore his name.