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The Gibson Firebird is one of the most distinctive and iconic models in the company’s long and storied history, as well as one of the most aptly named, as it has risen like a phoenix several times in various configurations over the years. The Firebird was originally released in 1963, after the limited success of Gibson’s earlier radically-shaped Flying V and Explorer models failed to meet sales expectations. Gibson president Ted McCarty hired auto designer Ray Deitrich to deliver a guitar that could compete with the flashier solidbody designs being offered by Fender and other competitors. The resulting Firebird had a sleek, angular space-age design, with an extended lower bout that brought to mind the tail fins that were still popular on many cars of the era, and a number of innovative and distinctive features that made the guitar as trendsetting as it was instantly recognizable. The original models featured a “reverse,” or upside-down body design, with the longer bout on the bottom, or treble side of the guitar, and somewhat resembled the earlier Explorer design, but with that model’s sharply pointed edges rounded out and reduced. Perhaps the most notable feature of the Firebird, apart from the radical shape, is that it was the first Gibson model to feature neck-through-body construction, with side wings glued to a multi-ply laminate neck running the length of the guitar, from the headstock to the end pin - a design that tends to produce a very solid, stable instrument with enhanced sustain. Another notable feature was the use of mini-humbuckers, which tend to produce brighter, clearer tones than typical dual-coil pickups. Early Firebirds also featured reversed headstocks, with the tuners on the treble side, and the tuners themselves were banjo-style, with the tuning pegs located on the back of the headstock, rather than on the side. The early models (accompanied by similarly designed Thunderbird basses) were available in several configurations denoted by Roman numerals, with the entry-level Firebird I offering a single pickup and hardtail bridge, all the way up to the Firebird VII, sporting three pickups, Maestro “Lyre” Vibrola tailpiece, and upgraded hardware and appointments. Later versions featured “non-reverse” bodies (with the extended bout on the top, or bass side) and headstocks; “set” or glued-in necks, rather than the through-body design; a variety of pickups, including P-90 single-coils and standard-sized humbuckers; and twelve-string and Studio models. While the early versions did not quite ignite the public’s imagination the way the Les Paul had, the Firebird has been in production since its introduction, having caught the attention of major players like Eric Clapton, blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and, perhaps most famously, Johnny Winter. All four Rolling Stones guitar slingers - Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood have used Firebirds, as has Joe Perry and Dave Grohl. Interestingly, Neil Young’s main axe, “Old Black,” is a heavily modified ’53 Les Paul with a Firebird mini-humbucker at the bridge. Current models range from stripped-down Reverse and Non-Reverse Studio versions to period-correct 50th Anniversary models, and even a Custom Firebird V complete with mini-humbuckers and Maestro Vibrato tailpiece. This iconic classic is still going strong - order your Gibson Firebird today and take flight!
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