Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - 36

T

RARE
DRESS
A '64 Gibson Firebird
in Cherry Red

BY GEORGE GRUHN
AND JOE SPANN
VINTAGE GUITAR

36

June 2018

By 1962, Leo and company on the
West Coast were crushing Gibson in the
market. Back in Michigan, Ted McCarty
knew his company needed something new
and modern. Rightfully gun-shy after the
failure of the slow-selling Flying V and
Explorer just a few years prior, McCarty
sought a safer solution by tapping into a
segment of pop culture that was proving
huge for Fender - hot rods.
Enter auto-body designer Ray Dietrich,
whose credits included successful work for
Duesenberg, Chrysler, Lincoln, Packard,
and even Checker Cabs. His company,
Dietrich Inc., was a casualty of the Great
Depression, but he had continued as a
consultant; when contacted by Gibson in
'62, he was retired and (conveniently for
McCarty) living in Kalamazoo.
Dietrich presented an asymmetrical
body design, thinner than previous Gibson
offerings and with a "neck-through" raised
center section and glued-on wings. Its outline resembled an inverted Jazzmaster, and
its headstock also echoed Fender design
(in mirror-reverse) with six-in-a-line
tuners and a straight nut-to-tuner string
alignment. Unlike Fender, the tuners were
Kluson 12:1 machines that had been used
on banjos, placed toward the center of the
peghead rather than at the edge. Dietrich
named the series and provided Gibson with
the now-iconic Firebird pickguard logo.
Ever the practical engineer, McCarty
immediately liked the new design because
the neck-through construction required
a piece of stock only four inches wide to
make the neck and body center; McCarty
later recalled how "getting a long board is
no problem, getting a thick and very wide
one takes a big tree." The design also neatly
side-stepped the fragile neck-to-body joint
problems of the SG, and was much more
stable. Having learned from past mistakes,
the guitar was built from readily available
(and less-expensive) Honduras mahogany
instead of the costly and exotic Korina
used in the Flying V and Explorer models.
McCarty also appreciated how savings
were achieved in the electronics. A new,

Photos: William Ritter. Instrument courtesy of George Gruhn.

he creation of the Gibson
Firebird and Thunderbird
bass was a response to the flashy
designs, custom colors, and
lighter bodies of Fender's offerings
in the early 1960s.


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - IFC
Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - 3
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