Psychedelic-Rock'n'roll: GIBSON FIREBIRD GUITAR

9 March 2009



The "GIBSON FIREBIRD GUITAR", one of the most interesting and radical guitars produced by any manufacturer at the time.
In the late 50's, the Gibson company was feeling pressure from "Leo Fender"'s new line of very cool, modern solid body guitars like the "Fender Stratocaster Guitar".
Colors, dynamic shapes, and multi-coil pick-ups were attracting the attention of all the pros.
Gibson had the "Gibson Les Paul Guitar", but their line of "way out there" guitars like the "Gibson Flying V Guitar" and the zigzagged, space-age "Gibson Explorer Guitar" had been commercial failures. The late "Ted McCarty", who was running Gibson at the time, brought in a Detroit car designer named "Ray Dietrich" to help Gibson design a new guitar worthy of the Fender competition.
Dietrich basically took the "Explorer" design and rounded the edges a bit, adding a single piece of wood for the neck and body, with the two "wings" glued on.
The most unusual aspect of the design is that the guitar is somewhat 'backward' in that the right-hand horn of the body is longer than the other.
Thus, the original Firebirds were unofficially referred to as 'reverse'.
The "reverse-body" guitars were introduced in mid 1963 and discontinued after May 1965.
Gibson produced a line of "non-reverse" body shape Firebirds in the years 1965-1969.

Brian Jones with his Gibson Firebird Non-Reverse, 1966

These guitars are quite different from the reverse-body models and are not generally sought by collectors.
The "non-reverse" models have glued-in necks, standard-style guitar tuners, a body shape roughly like a mirror image of the reverse-body model, and many other structural differences.

Gibson_firebird_non_reverse,psychedelic-rocknrollThe "Gibson Firebird" models appear to combine elements of the "Gibson Explorer" and the Fender instruments, and yet they can not be considered a copy of anything else -- the "Gibson Firebirds" are unique in style and construction.

Brian Jones his Gibson Firebird Non-Reverse, early 1966

The early "Gibson Firebirds" (1963-1965) are structurally as well as aesthetically unique.
The neck and center piece of the body are constructed as a single unit with two side pieces, or urgings, glued on to form the contour of the body.
Thus the raised center section of the body is structurally integrated with the neck. Prior to the "Gibson Firebird", all Gibson necks were glued on, and therefore separated from the body by a seam.

Eric Clapton with Firebird I Reverse during Blind Faith era

In theory, the stability of the neck-through-body construction should result in excellent sustain, since string vibration presumably would not be damped by a neck joint.

Another pic of Eric Clapton with Firebird I Reverse

The tone and sustain of "Gibson Explorers" and "Gibson Les Paul" models, for example, is virtually unsurpassed--yet both of these guitars have glued-in necks.
The radical electrics were produced in four models: I, III, V, and VII, which listed at $189.50, $249.50, $325.00, and $445.00, respectively, when introduced.

"Gibson Firebird I" ( 1963 - 1969 )

In 1963 Gibson introduced the "Gibson Firebird I", It had a reverse body shape , one humbucking pick up, no vibrato ,dot inlaid unbound fingerboard and a bar bridge-tailpiece, the "Gibson Firebird I" at that time was the least expensive and was considered the economy model.
In mid 1965 Gibson redesigned the "Gibson Firebird I" electric guitar with a non reversed body shape, 2/ p90 pickups and were discontinued in 1969.

"Gibson Firebird III" ( 1963 - 1969 )

Gibson introduced "Gibson Firebird III" ( 1963 - 1969 ), the guitar featured 2 humbucking pickups, reverse body shape ,three way toggle switch, a bound fingerboard, a bar bridge with compensating ridges and a short "Gibson Vibrola".
In mid 1965 to 1969 "Gibson Firebird III" ( 1963 - 1969 ) was redesigned with a non reversed body, and 3 black "Gibson P90 Single Coil Dogear Pickup Black".

"Gibson Firebird V" ( 1963 - 1969 )

The "Gibson Firebird V" had crown inlays , 2 humbucking pickups, a "Tune-O-Matic" bridge , "Gibson Deluxe Vibrola", and a metal tail piece cover engraved with Gibson.
These guitars were available in many unique colors such as cardinal red, pelham blue, frost blue, polar white, sunburst ... etc (mid 1965 to 1969 were redesigned with non reversed bodies and nickel plated hardware).

"Gibson Firebird VII" ( 1963 - 1969 )

Brian Jones with his "Gibson Firebird VII" in Stones' OUT OF OUR HEAD era

Brian Jones with his "Gibson Firebird VII" in Stones' AFTERMATH era

The "Gibson Firebird VII" guitar was the only Firebird in that era to feature 3 humbucking pickups and gold plated parts, the guitar also had a block inlaid ebony fingerboard (mid 1965 to 1969 were redesigned with non reversed bodies).

"Gibson Firebird V Medallion" ( 1972 - 1973 )

The "Gibson Firebird V Medallion" was a reissue of the original "Gibson Firebird V", It had a reverse body shape, 2 humbuckers, logo embossed on pickup covers and a 2 piece neck.
Limited edition (366 made) and had a medallion mounted on the body .

"Gibson Firebird 76" ( 1976 - 1978 )
The "Gibson Firebird 76" had a reverse body shape, gold hardware, 2 pickups, an unbound rosewood fingerboard, 4 knobs, and straight through banjo tuners with metal buttons.
These guitar were made in various colors.

"Gibson Firebird V Celebrity Series" ( 1991 -1993 )

The "Gibson Firebird V Celebrity Series" had reverse body shapes, gold hardware, white pick guards and 2 humbuckers (colors were available only in black).


Anonymous said...

Brian Jones is playing a Firebird VII (seven) not Firebird III as stated.

MarkJ said...

Great page! The photo of Eric Clapton was actually taken just prior to the Cream farewell tour gig at Madison Square Garden, New York, on 2 November 1968. A photo from the MSG show, with Clapton playing his Firebird I, was used as the cover for "Live Cream" (1970).

Rock'n'Roll ArT said...

FIRE bird guitar should not be brownish black.

Forrest George said...

Great read. Many cool photos. Thank you!

MahaCopia said...

These Firebird guitars look really sexy. I like the non-reverse better. It must be great if I can play on one of those. :)

Anonymous said...

The non reverse Firebird with p90s is a non reverse Firebird iii. Not vii.