Conceived amid the chrome and tailfins of the Motor City, forged on the workbenches of Kalamazoo, proven on rock and blues stages around the globe, the Gibson Firebird was one of the most radical instruments the world had ever experienced when it hit the scene in 1963, and it’s still a guaranteed head-turner today. Its classic reverse-body styling strikes a pose that is truly unique, and tonally it’s a bird apart too: its powerful yet bright mini-humbuckers and through-neck construction contribute to a sound that’s both cutting and sustainful. Roughly 2,500 Firebird III guitars were produced between 1963-’65, including the few “non-reverse” Firebirds in the transition period that marked the demise of the rare, original “reverse-body” styling.
Seeking sleek new looks amid the competitive solidbody electric guitar market of the early ’60s, Gibson went right to the source of marketing style and hired automotive designer Ray Dietrich—designer of the Duesenberg car, among others—to take the standard vision of the instrument back to the drawing board. The result was a guitar that was clearly ahead of its time: the new Firebird had a body that appeared to be the reverse image of other solidbody styles on the market, an upside-down six-in-line headstock (using “banjo” tuners to avoid spoiling the lines of the phoenix-head profile), and a solid integral neck/body section with glued-on wings, a rarity in guitar manufacture at that time.
In addition to the increased resonance and sustain given to the Firebird by its “through-body” construction, a new style of Gibson Mini-Humbucking pickup (two of them on the Firebird III) lent the model a bright, stinging tone. Although they look much like the Mini-Humbuckers that Gibson acquired from Epiphone, they are actually an entirely different design, employing a pair of alnico bar magnets with the pickups’ coils wound directly around them.
As has so often been the case with visionary Gibson designs, however, the rediscovery of this bold electric by a host of major artists—Brian Jones, Phil Manzanera, and Johnny Winter among them—helped to make it a classic in the eyes of future generations of guitarists.
The Gibson Custom Shop’s rendition of the 1964 Firebird III captures all the flair and panache of the original model circa 1964. It is still made in the labor-intensive “through-neck” style, with its mahogany and walnut neck/body section and mahogany wings dressed in a Vintage Sunburst finish. A Maestro Vibrato tailpiece partnered with a wrapover bridge with compensated saddle ridge provide stylistic versatility, while Gibson’s Firebird Mini-Humbucking pickups remain true to the tone of the originals. Each Firebird III comes complete with a Custom Shop case and a Certificate of Authenticity.