Gibson Firebird Guitar Born 1963

Gibson Firebird GuitarContinued on from “Birth of the Les Paul

The Gibson Firebird guitar and bass, which came along in 1963, were among Ted McCarty’s final triumphs for Gibson. (He left Gibson to take charge of the Bigsby company in ’66 [McCarty died in April 2001, at the age of 91] and also became the mentor of Paul Reed Smith, whose guitar company produces several models named after McCarty.) McCarty hired automotive designer Ray Dietrich to create the Firebird’s parabolically curvy body shape. By this point in the century, electric guitars were vying with cars as the same ultimate symbols of modernist, space age flash. The Firebird is markedly similar to Fender’s sporty Jazzmaster and Jaguar (intruduced in ’57 and ’62, respectively). Over at Fender, George Fullerton had come up with the idea of offering the Jazzmaster in custom automobile-style colors like Fiesta Red and Lake Placid Blue. “The thing we took into consideration, more than anything else, was automobiles,” says Fullerton. “You’d see a new car that had a candy apple red or blue sparkle finish, and people would say, ‘Wow, did you see that color they have on the new Chevy?’”

In the annals of 20th century guitar design, special mention myst go to Roger Rossmeisl, a German luthier who moved to America in the Fifties. Here, he combined solid craftsmanship with a flair for the unusual. Rossmeisl’s late-Fifties work for Rickenbacker imparted trememedous stylishness to that company’s designs, including those ultra-coll cat’s-eye soundholes. In the late Sixties, for Fender’s Wildwood series, Rossmeisl came up with the idea of injecting live trees with colored dye and then harvesting the trees to make gutars whose finishes boasted natural woodgrains in some garishly unnatural hues. In the late Sixties drug counterculture, the idea of some guy running around injecting trees caused considerable mirth and gave new meaning to the phrase “shoot up the forest.”


Photo courtesy of Vintage Guitarz
“This is an early reverse Firebird V, one of 62 made in 1963. The first few reverse bodies were made with a very streamlined, stark appearance…two piece neck through body construction, plain white guard, and more angular body with sleek, slightly thinner, elongated horn. I’ve never seen another ’63 in this condition. This is without a doubt one of the rarest solid body electrics ever shipped by Gibson. Of the few shipped and at least half have received neck breaks that these are prone to so there are probably no more than a couple dozen or so of these that have remained unscathed.. The exclusiveness of this guitar is very close to Flying V and Explorer territory as far as numbers go. It is in superb condition.”

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