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A RIDE ON THE WILD SIDE OF GIBSON
Gibson’s impact in the world of electric guitars is undeniable—their designs are some of the most recognizable in guitar making history. While models like the SG, ES-335, and Les Paul are timeless and unforgettable, Gibson also produced a fair share of models that missed the mark at their time of production but capture an essence or feeling that keeps making them at best, right on the mark and at worst, interesting and engaging experiments in guitar making. This article will highlight some of these strange and mysterious models!
Produced from 1981-1983, the Victory was Gibson’s attempt at reimagining the Fender Stratocaster. During the 80’s guitar players demanded faster, smoother playing necks, and wanted more tonal options than what was previously available on most models of guitar.
The quest to manufacture a “Super Strat,” or an improved version of Fender’s iconic and versatile instrument was in full effect and pushed Gibson to step out of their comfort zone and offer a guitar with three humbucking pickups and a coil tap switch. This is where the MVX gets its name; the MV stands for “multi-voice” and the X stands for “ten,” this meant that there were ten total different tonal options available on the Victory between its three coil-splittable humbuckers.
Often called “The Great White Whale” or “The Holy Grail” of rare vintage guitars, the Gibson Moderne is shrouded in as much mystery as any mythical beast it could be compared to. In 1957, then head of Gibson guitars Ted McCarty filed three patents for new, futuristic guitar designs that were meant to compete with Fender’s innovative Stratocaster design. The “Futura,” better known as the Gibson Explorer, and the Flying V later went into production in 1958 and have since become classics in the lineup of Gibson guitars.
However, a third design, known as the “Moderne” never officially went into production by Gibson. It is rumored that only five or six prototypes of this guitar were ever made in the factory originally. The Moderne featured a sharp diagonal line at the top of the body, a Flying-V-like split at the base of the guitar, and a crescent moon shaped curve on the bottom end of the body to accommodate playing in the sitting position. The Moderne also featured a sort of bulbous, rounded headstock with string pegs that guided the strings in a diagonal line to the tuning peg instead of a straight line. The Moderne was “reissued” from 1982-’83 under the “Heritage” series, and again in 2012. However, since an original model has never surfaced, the ‘82-’83 models are considered by some to be the first true “production” models.
Gibson Custom goes to space with this wild sci-fi inspired rocker. Inspired by the 1967 Flying V model, this modern reinterpretation features a contoured maple top for increased comfort while sitting and Jetsons-esque appeal for the shredder of the future. An Apex headstock carve keeps this interstellar traveller pointed in the right direction with color-matched heat shields…er, hardware. Just make sure you keep some finger prints on this player or else you might literally get blinded by the light coming off of the pick guard.
The headless corpse of marketing failures by Gibson; the Corvus started out its life as Gibson’s attempt at cherry-picking the popular “no headstock” trend started by Steinberger basses in 1982. The notch at the bottom of the guitar was originally where the tuners and “headstock” of the guitar would reside, but after the marketing team saw the design, they decided the guitar needed a headstock, which, according to research and development head Bruce Bolen “totally screwed up the design.” The Corvus was a bolt-on neck design released alongside the “Futura” which was the not-Explorer, through-neck counterpart. Regardless of who was to blame for this guitar design, this guitar was widely unpopular and discontinued after a few years.
Introduced as Gibson’s “Guitar of the Month” in September 2008, the Reverse Explorer follows the vein of the Reverse Flying V and also features ’57 Classic and ’57 Classic Plus humbuckers, and a McCarty-inspired headstock shape. A carbon fiber-like pickguard shaped like a lightning bolt cements this guitar as a shredder and comes exclusively in an Antique Walnut finish. Unlike the Reverse Flying V however, this guitar never got a reissue, and is limited to 1,000 copies worldwide.
Aside from being one of the most innovative guitar technicians and thinkers ever, Les Paul was a renowned studio musician and recording artist. The Les Paul “Recording” was Gibson’s attempt at creating a guitar that would suit Les in the studio. Introduced in 1971, the Recording featured Paul’s specially designed low-impedance humbucker pickups, which were designed to provide cleaner, broader bandwidth frequencies when plugged directly into a mixing board or console. As one of the forerunners of multi-track recording, this helped Les in the studio because he could lay down more tracks without the sound degrading.
The guitar also features a wide variety of tone controls. These included volume, individual controls for treble and bass, “decade,” which tuned or altered treble harmonics, microphone volume for the on-board xlr input, a pickup selector, tone switch and phase switch. The guitar also included a high/low impedance switch, which allowed a player to switch to low impedance for recording into a mixing board or console, and high impedance for playing through a standard guitar amplifier in a live setting.
Gibson’s cheapest instrument in 1980, the Sonex-180 was made from a synthetic material called “Resonwood” that surrounds an inner tonewood core. This material was incredibly resilient, and could survive temperatures ranging from -40°F to 180°F. The Sonex Standard model pictured here featured a coil-tapping switch, which gave more tonally diverse options to the two Gibson Dirty Fingers humbuckers that were featured on the guitar. The Sonex series also featured bolt-on necks, which further cut down on costs for the consumer. The most common finishes for the Sonex included ebony, white, burgundy, silverburst and solid-color silver. According to Factory record less than 100 solid-color silver units were produced, making it the rarest of the Sonex models.
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