Gib­son Firebird VII

Guitarist - - Classicgear -

Gib­son’s Firebird elec­tric solid­body gui­tars first ap­peared in 1963. Strik­ing in ap­pear­ance, they were per­haps the last in Gib­son’s line of iconic and stylis­ti­cally defin­ing ‘rock’ gui­tars to ar­rive. Prior to this, in 1952, the Les Paul Model de­buted as Gib­son’s first solid­body and, by 1961, all the Les Paul vari­ants had mor­phed into an SG-style body. Mean­while, in 1958, Gib­son’s first semi-hol­low­body elec­tric, the ES-335, made its ap­pear­ance along with the Fly­ing V and Ex­plorer, while the Melody Maker was re­leased the fol­low­ing year. Fur­ther bol­stered by their Epi­phone brand of elec­tric solid­bod­ies, such as the Coronet, Crest­wood/Cus­tom and Wil­shire from the late-50s on­wards, Gib­son’s cat­a­logue con­tin­ued to ex­pand and their Kala­ma­zoo fac­tory be­gan to ap­pear in­creas­ingly colour­ful.

In the early 60s, over at the Fender fac­tory in Fuller­ton, things were also look­ing brighter, as they had long been win­ning cus­tomers over by in­dulging them with

With sleek, an­gu­lar ge­om­e­try rem­i­nis­cent of clas­sic cars, the Gib­son Firebird was re­leased in 1963

cus­tom-colour gui­tars. By com­par­i­son, Gib­son’s rel­a­tively lim­ited ar­ray of fin­ishes – their tra­di­tional sun­burst and nat­u­ral, sup­ple­mented by a con­ser­va­tive as­sort­ment of black, white, gold, cherry and blonde/ ‘limed ma­hogany’ – left lit­tle in the way of choice. That would all soon change, how­ever, with the re­lease of the Firebird.

Gib­son pres­i­dent Ted McCarty drafted in re­tired Ford and Chrysler de­signer Ray Di­et­rich to kick­start pro­ceed­ings. With a pro­file sim­i­lar to the Gib­son Ex­plorer, al­beit with the sleek, an­gu­lar ge­om­e­try rem­i­nis­cent of clas­sic cars, the Gib­son Firebird was re­leased in 1963 with four mod­els on of­fer: I, III, V and VII. In keep­ing with the car theme, Fire­birds were of­fered in Golden Mist, Sil­ver Mist, Frost Blue, Em­ber Red, Car­di­nal Red, Kerry Green, Po­laris White, Pel­ham Blue, In­ver­ness Green and Heather, in ad­di­tion to sun­burst.

The orig­i­nal Fire­birds are of­ten re­ferred to as ‘re­verse’, mean­ing the treble horn ex­tends fur­ther than the bass horn, while the lower bass bout ex­tends be­yond the lower treble bout. Fire­birds were the first Gib­son solid­bod­ies pre­sent­ing a through­neck de­sign, which ex­tends to the bot­tom of the in­stru­ment, with the ‘wings’ of the body be­ing glued onto the side. Al­though orig­i­nally an­gled in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, Firebird head­stocks were sim­i­lar in shape to that of Fender’s and had banjo-style tuners in­stalled across the treble side. Gib­son had been man­u­fac­tur­ing Epi­phone branded gui­tars us­ing mini-hum­buck­ers since the late-50s and the Firebird was the first Gib­son gui­tar to re­ceive a pickup of this type, al­beit with some unique tech­ni­cal dif­fer­ences – such as a metal cover and a dual bar mag­net con­struc­tion (as op­posed to ‘mini PAF’-style ad­justable pole­pieces).

The Firebird VII was the top in­stru­ment in the range and sported gold hard­ware, three be­spoke pick­ups, a three-way pickup tog­gle, two vol­ume and tone knobs and a bound ebony fin­ger­board with pearl block in­lays. Gib­son didn’t stand still for long, how­ever, and in ’65 – be­gin­ning with a trickle of ‘tran­si­tion specs’ – the Firebird VII was re­launched with a ‘non­re­verse’-style body and head­stock shape. With an ex­tended bass horn and lower treble bout, along with right-an­gled tuners in­stalled across the bass side of the peg­head, the ‘non-re­verse’ Firebird VII was a mir­ror im­age of its former self. A slid­ing pickup se­lec­tor switch and glued-in neck with an un­bound rose­wood fin­ger­board and dot in­lays re­placed the model’s orig­i­nal, more deca­dent ap­point­ments and it re­mained in pro­duc­tion through­out the rest of the 60s, un­til its dis­con­tin­u­a­tion in 1970. [RB]

The Gib­son Firebird VII com­plete with golden hard­ware

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