Gibson Flying V: An Icon Across the Decades

Gibson Flying V: An Icon Across the Decades

15th Jun 2020 @ 12:33 | Sam Orr

Many a guitar hero has sported and many a hopeful has coveted this enigmatic masterpiece...

Originally announced in the Gibson Gazette in 1958 (the newsletter that was sent to dealers in years gone by) the Gibson Flying V was set to soar over the guitar world.

It's all in the name

Crafted from the now endangered and poisonous species of wood, West African Limba, also known as Korina Mahogany, the Flying V guitar was a sight to behold. The striking design essentially comprises a V-shape with a guitar neck set into it, completed by a pointed headstock.

The body was joined in the middle using two pieces of the wood and featured a piece of Brazilian Rosewood for the fretboard. Another feature on the Korina model is the rubber slip pad on the lower side, this is literally to stop the guitar slipping off your knee when sat down to play. This has always caused great debates; if you place the guitar over your knee, this problem is non-existent...I digress. 

The guitar received mixed reviews, some deemed it a mere prop for music shop window displays, others saw it, and its build-brother - the Explorer - models as far out tools to take the rock world by storm in 1958.

A firm favourite

Released in April 1958, the Korina V’s shipped out in small numbers, Walter Carter confirmed that only 81 in 1958 and 17 in 1959 making them some of the rarest and lusted after electric guitars of all time. 

Some of these guitars made their way into the hands of Dave Davies, Albert King, Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Lonnie Mack and Slash. 

To hear the unique tone of Korina Flying V, check out "Albert King - Live Wire/Blues Power". This is a masterclass in blues guitar played on a real 58’ V named Lucy.

Photo: Lionel De Coster

The price of one of these guitars in good condition is usually in excess of £45,000 and they are seldom for sale.  

Bonamassa himself collaborated with Epiphone over his Amos Korina Flying V, named after the owner of the store that took delivery of an original model that Joe now owns. 

Roll on the 1960s

The next phase of the Flying V cam in 1966, Gibson reinvented the layout of the controls and began to make the V out of Honduras mahogany.

Lonnie Mack was one of the first artists to use a Korina V fitted with a Bigsby, he rarely used another guitar other than his favourite Flying V. 

Another notable user of the Korina V is Keith Richards who famously used one at the Rolling Stones now-legendary show at Hyde Park in memory of Brian Jones. He can be seen in footage using an original 58 model. 

Dave Davies of The Kinks had his guitar lost by an airline on a U.S. tour and picked up a Korina V to use on American television performances, he is holding the V in the most unnatural way on these performances. 

The Korina’s radical V-shaped, through-body stringing bridge had gone by 1966 and was replaced with a short Vibrola sometimes seen on Gibson SG’s like the 1961 model. 

Other changes included a reduced body thickness and slight neck angle increase. The controls were laid out slightly differently. As the Korina had the controls in a line, the 66' model had them clustered together which was beneficial to some but not all. 

The headstock logo was changed on the 66' model to being printed on the truss rod cover whereas the Korina had its own gold badge logo.

All V’s from 1958-1975 were fitted with the largely popular PAF humbuckers.

The Hendrix 67' model

Around this time, Jimi Hendrix picked up on a 67’ model in sunburst that he promptly painted with psychedelic designs and used on European tours with the Experience. His model has all the characteristics of a 67’ build with a short Vibrola.

Photo: Mike Cattell
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

An interesting fact about his specific guitar was that he gave it away to Eire Apparent (a band he was producing at the time), which later ended up with Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep and subsequently in a second-hand shop. This guitar was then discovered by Dave Brewis of Prefab Sprout and restored using decals for the paint job. 

The guitar was identified due to the dot marker having an imperfection in the pearl used, it clearly has a distinctive line in it, and this is how the guitar was identified as Jimi’s own model.

Jimi was also known for having another sunburst model which was rarely used and has a very weak connection.

Gibson cloned the painted Flying V in 2006 in a limited run authorised by the Hendrix family, only 100 were made, the first was given to Dave Brewis for the help in recreating the guitar as a gift. Each guitar was hand-painted by Bruce Kunkel to replicate Jimi’s artistry from 1967. The guitar came strung left-handed also to replicate Jimi’s preference. 

A one-off Flying V custom was built specifically for Jimi Hendrix 1969/70 which was a left-handed, black Flying V with an ebony fretboard, Trini Lopez inlays, gold hardware, short Vibrola and a bound neck. This guitar was used at the Isle of Wight concerts and the now infamous Rainbow Bridge film.   

This guitar was also cloned in as a limited run in 1991.

Soaring through the '70s

During the ’70s, Gibson Flying V’s flew again, in 1971, Gibson released the Medallion V which is also a very rare model that was limited to 350 pieces, identifiable by the medallion inlaid into the front of the guitar's body.

Marc Bolan of T-Rex was also known for his use of a 1967 Flying V in Cherry red, his specific guitar also had the Vibrola fitted as standard. He can be seen in various promotional shots cradling his V. 

The standard production V ran throughout the 70s with slight alterations made in 1975 until 1982, a three-piece body was used, and the headstock became more rounded at the top.   

In 1979, the V was transformed into a new monster, the Flying V2, this model featured V-shaped pickups. This short-lived model was discontinued in 1982 and is now quite a collector’s piece.

As 1979 continued, Gibson continued with their production of the Flying V despite the V2 also being in production. The model had changed to suit the times and now featured pearl block inlays that had usually been dot markers on all V’s since 1958.

The Explorative '80s

The dawn of the 1980s saw Gibson hark back to the original Korina models again, reissuing them with great accuracy. These models were made from 1981-1984 and are known as the Heritage series. Like their original counterparts, these models also command high prices on the used market. 

Around this time, Eddie Van Halen could be seen cradling an original Korina flying V on the cover of Guitar World magazine, at this time, Van Halen was in the midst of fame and the image of him holding a V likely inspired many to follow him in his choice of guitars. 

There are a few different colours of the Heritage model aside from the standard Korina finish, notably in black and candy apple colourways.

Around this time, companies like Hamer and Dean began to use the now-classic design of the Flying V by making their own pickup configurations and layouts. Gibson held their own with the “V” in 1981 through to 1984, this guitar was all body-mounted eliminating the need for a pickguard as the Gibson Flying V had always used to cover out routing. This model was also proudly displaying a maple cap on a mahogany body much like the classic Les Paul construction. 

The Flying V went through a few alterations during the 1980s notably with the 1984-1987 XPL V which incorporated a Kahler Flyer tremolo. 

The Designer series was in production from 1984-1985 and featured a hand-painted design that was signed by which artist created them. These models were pretty much the same as the V with no pickguard. 

During 1985, Rudolph Schenker was issued with a "Scorpions" edition V, which was painted half black and half white. These were released in very small numbers. 

As the ’80s continued the V was changed quite considerably with different inlays and trem configurations. 

The Trini Lopez inlays returned on the V90 in 1989 through to 1990. The V90 was also made as a limited "Golden Eagle" edition featuring an oddball Steinberger folding leg rest. 

Nancy Wilson of Heart was also a fan of the Flying V, she was often seen using a '70s model Flying V on tours.

During 1989, Gibson decided to reissue the 1967 Flying V minus the Vibrola tremolo system. These models were initially available in four colours: black, white, cherry red, and sunburst. Following their introduction, the guitar became a huge hit running production from 1989 to 2018. The longest-running production Flying V guitar.

Resurrecting some classics in the '90s

In 1991, Gibson reissued the model they built for Jimi Hendrix in a limited run of 400, these guitars are similar to Jimi’s model, however, they were all built right-handed, without Vibrola and ebony fretboard and with a small “Hall of Fame” decal on the back of the neck and an engraved truss rod cover indicating the number of production (*** of 400)

There have been other special edition models of the Flying V since 1991. Many of them have been part of series’ such as the Gothic series which were a range of guitars finished in matte black with ebony fretboards, the Voodoo series which were black with red grain stain added. 

Other ranges included the worn range of Gibson guitars, which is a great finish still in use today on some of the ranges - namely this Les Paul Junior Tribute DC in Worn Ebony.

The Flying V was also available in the Epiphone range in three variables, a reissue of the Korina in a very cool black finish a '67 style guitar also and a cheaper bolt-on neck version. 

The Gibson Custom Shop has produced some excellent Flying V’s as one-off’s over the years, including a signature model for Lenny Kravitz

Currently, Gibson offers a few variations of the Flying V, some of which give nods to the past whilst looking at the future players.

The 2019 Gibson Flying V Tribute is a great model for those seeking a solid rock sound, the build quality of these models is consistent, and the features offer the player great value for money.

Lightweight mahogany body and a pair of loud ceramic humbuckers compliment this guitar very nicely. Loaded with Grover tuners, if you can rely on one guitar to scream through the night, it’s this one.

The Standard Flying V is a mix of the 1958 models and the 1967 models in one, featuring the same control layout as a '67 with the aesthetics of a '58, these guitars are a worthy addition to the Flying V family history. These guitars also have a different logo, which is inlaid on the headstock and not placed on the truss rod cover as with most Flying V’s since 1967. This model shares the logo placement with that of the Jimi Hendrix Custom Flying V and subsequent reissues. 

Standard Flying V models that are currently available all feature Gibson BurstBucker 2 and 3 pickups which are essentially hot-rodded PAF units and are guaranteed to give that solid Gibson tone no matter what amplifier you put them through. These guitars are all shipped in the classic brown and pink Gibson case that we all know and love.

Gibson has also introduced a 70’s model that pays tribute to the guitars used by the likes of KK Downing from Judas Priest. These models have the inclusion of pickup surrounds mounted to the pickguard and a rounder headstock for those Metallica moments.

The pickups are Gibson 70’s voiced pickups with a bound fretboard, orange drop capacitors and Grover machine heads fitted as standard. This model is only available in white, what other colour did anyone need a Flying V in back then?

Seminal recordings made with the V's help

There have been some incredible albums recorded with Flying V’s over the years, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett used a black 1979 model to record "Kill 'Em All". This record cemented Metallica’s standing in the world of metal and James Hetfield followed suit with a Flying V to compliment Kirk’s on some of the band’s earliest tours. 

Albert King was seldom seen without his trademark Korina Flying V, this guitar was used to record the now legendary "Born Under A Bad Sign", a record of which inspired a young Stevie Ray Vaughan no end. 

Wishbone Ash are another great band who were often seen using a pair of Flying V’s, their seminal hit record "Argus" showcases some fine guitar playing and a unique tone that only a Flying V can give. 

Lenny Kravitz used his 1967 Flying V to record the ground-breaking "Are You Gonna Go My Way" in 1993. 

There are many more records that the Flying V has appeared on, Johnny Winter and Leslie West of Mountain fame were also seen using Flying V’s in their careers. West customised his V’s by adding just a single P90 to a 67’ model much like his Gibson Les Paul Junior model that he famously used at the Woodstock festival in 1969.

Flying Vs at Dawsons Music

If you’ve never picked up a Gibson Flying V, come to a Dawsons store and check one out, they have a tone and reputation all of their own, you’ll not be disappointed.

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