Welcoming back some old favourites
The launch of the Gibson 2016 range has brought with it a number of surprises. The new two-tiered approach, covering traditional and high performance models, has been well received, giving players the option of buying a new model with or without the extra frippery like e-tuning systems. But its the return of three old favourites which caught our eye. Every new Gibson line-up will have a host of Les Pauls and SGs, but it’s in 2016 that we’ve seen the return of the Flying V, the Explorer and the Firebird. Here we take a look at these three new Gibson 2016 models, and outline why we’re pleased they’ve returned to the fold.
Starting with perhaps the most recognisable of the three, the Flying V is a genuine, bona fide guitar legend. Initially launched in 1958, the V is easily one of the most distinctive electric guitar shapes out there. Nowadays, it’s seen as a mainstay of the world’s of rock and metal, but in 1958 it was introduced simply because it had a futuristic vibe unlike anything else available at the time. Aside from the obviously unique body shape, it incorporated a few design traits so the tone didn’t suffer as a result of the oddly shaped slab of wood, notably the headstock being pinned back at a 17 degree angle and the placing of its pickups as close to the centre of the body as possible.
Initially, the public rejected the Flying V and it wasn’t until 1967 that the guitar was reissued with a new pickguard and stopbar tailpiece. Ever since, it has cemented its place at the heart of Gibson’s range. Players from plenty of different genres have grown to love the famous V, notably Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, who recorded Hot For Teacher using one.
The 2016 model differs slightly from the original versions. Whereas the early models favoured a wood called korina, the new models use tried and tested mahogany for the body and neck. The headstock angle remains, while pickups come in the form of a ’57 Classic and Burstbucker 3. The new model doesn’t feature a pickguard, giving it a raw and ready appearance, while the classic ebony or wine red finishes hark back to the classic Vs of old. The High Performance version keeps these features while also offering the G-Force tuning system and a zero-style nut, as seen on the 2015 Gibsons.
Also returning in 2016 is the Explorer. Again, this is one of the more distinctive guitars you’ll find, made famous by players like James Hetfield of Metallica and Bill Kelliher of Mastodon (although, as a disclaimer, Hetfield’s was actually produced by ESP…) As you can probably tell from the two names listed there, this is a guitar shape which is closely associated with heavy metal. It is unlikely to be found strapped around a neck of a cutesy indie singer.
The Explorer shape was launched alongside the Flying V in 1958, but suffered the same lack of love as its pointy brethren. Gibson discontinued the guitar in 1963, but brought it back into the line up in 1976 when it saw guitars from other manufacturers enjoying success using the same body shape thereafter.
The 2016 variants, reissues of the 1976 version, stick rigidly to the design principles of the original models. It’s a thick slab of mahogany, with two super-high output ceramic pickups which make it perfect for heavy rock and metal. Again, there are two versions; the Traditional model is stripped back and ready to rock, while the High Performance version includes all the trimmings for the pro player, along with a Gibson hard case.
The Gibson Firebird is another interesting guitar making a return this year. Launched in 1963, the Firebird marked Gibson’s attempt to change public opinion of it back in the day. After initial success with the Les Paul, it saw Fender race ahead in the bid for popularity at the time. In an effort to reverse the trend, Gibson hired a respected automotive designer to come in and suggest some changes. Ray Dietrich’s approach was effectively to take the Explorer body shape, tone down some of the sharp edges and turn everything backwards that could feasibly be turned backwards. What Gibson got was a solid body guitar with rounder corners akin to car tail fins from the 50s, a reverse headstock with ‘banjo’ style tuners and a couple of mini-humbuckers to provide the power. Not averse to pickguard etchings, the Firebird also featured a natty outline drawing of a pretty badass looking bird to top things off. The Firebird also featured a neck-through body design, meaning the wood from the neck continued right down to the base of the guitar, giving it extra sustain and rigidity.
The 2016 versions of the Firebird come in, yep, you guessed it, Traditional and High Performance versions. Both feature the standard specs we’ve outlined above, with the Traditional model favouring gearless Steinberger tuning keys in place of the High Performance’s G-Force system. And, to keep a nod to the model’s heritage, both come in the classic vintage sunburst finish.
Overall, it’s great to see these new models re-join the party. There’s always been a place for guitars which don’t fit the mould (or the hard-case) and these guitars are great for players looking to step away from the obvious Strat/Tele/Les Paul/SG route. The Flying V and Explorer models are perfect for players of heavier styles and will deliver tonal performance and durability in spades, while the Firebird is slightly more esoteric, likely to find favour more with players of country and blues styles.