Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - 38

smaller humbucking pickup with
non-adjustable soft-iron polepieces
proved to be the ticket, and in the
bargain produced a different, brighter
sound than the standard humbucker
of the time. With a metal cover and
metal mounting rings, the Firebird
pickup was cheaper to make and
brought a unique sound and look
furthered by the tuners being mounted
on a peghead pitched to an extreme 17
degrees. It all added up to create an
inimitable appearance. Unfortunately,
the tuners and their positioning created
two problems. First, they required acclimation by players because the sixth
(low E) machine was at the far end
of the headstock rather than in the
familiar Fender location closest to the
nut. Second, when placed in the case,
the extreme angle of the headstock
caused that low-E tuner to rest on the
case bottom, creating a fulcrum that
made it susceptible to breakage if the
case was dropped.
In a continuing theme of design
distinction, rather than use the normal
Gibson designations (Custom, Standard, Special, etc.), the Firebird series
was identified using Roman numerals,
odd numbers I, III, V, and VII for the

guitars and even numbers for the
Thunderbird bass models (II and
IV). It's interesting to note that
there was no Thunderbird
VI to correspond to the
Firebird VII - perhaps to
avoid any confusion with
Fender's Bass VI.
While the standard finish
was a dark sunburst, from the
beginning all were available in a
variety of DuPont Ducco customcolor f inishes borrowed from
the automotive realm, again in
response to market pressure from
Fender. Gibson literature of the period mentions Golden Mist, Silver
Mist, Kerry Green, Polaris White,
Pelham Blue, Frost Blue, Ember
Red, Inverness Green, Cardinal
Red, and Heather Poly as options
available at a $15 upcharge.
The line debuted mid-year 1963,
and like the original Les Paul,
Flying V, and Explorer, did not sell
well. The mid-level Firebird III was
the most popular, but total sales
The rare Cherry Red finish on
this guitar highlights the grain
of its mahogany body.

VINTAGE GUITAR

38

June 2018

for all Firebird models in 1964 were
well below the SG series.
Fender responded to the Firebird
with a lawsuit, claiming trade-dress
infringement on the "off-set waist"
design, pointing to their 1958
Jazzmaster patent and 1960 Jaguar
patent. Several meetings took place
with Fender executives, but the suit
was ultimately dropped when Fender
realized that Gibson's sales figures
were dismal. As a token, Gibson redesigned the Firebird series for '65 with
the unintended result that the bodies
looked more Fender-ish. But by that
time Fender has been sold to CBS and
they had other fish to fry.
The '64 Firebird V you see here is
one of very few finished in Cherry
Red. In other respects, it conforms to
standard specs, with mahogany body,
multi-ply/beveled white pickguard
with Dietrich's embossed firebird logo,
Tune-O-Matic bridge, Maestro vibrato
tailpiece with "leaf and lyre" decoration, mini-humbucking pickups with
metal covers and mounting rings, black
"reflector top" control knobs, toggletype pickup selector on the upper treble
bout, adjustable truss rod, asymmetric
"reverse" peghead shape, Kluson banjo


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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
Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - 4
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Vintage Guitar - June 2018 - open - Contents
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