A Tribute to a Fascinating
American Guitar and All Firebird Musicians
In Memory of
Ted McCarty and Ray Dietrich
: In 1968 I purchased my first professional guitar: a white non-reverse Gibson Firebird I. To finally own a professional guitar was very exciting, especially after playing an old no-name acoustic followed by a very cheesy Teisco Del Rey Japanese solid body (with an even cheesier candy-striped pick guard) My Firebird cost $200, not an insignificant sum for a 15-year-old in 1968.
At the time I wasn't aware of the Firebird history. I didn't realize that I had just missed the boat on the "good" Firebirds - the reverse model with a single piece of mahogany for the neck and body, banjo tuners, and a beveled reverse head stock. These were produced from 1963 through 1965 in relatively limited quantities. It turned out that the reverse models were rather expensive to manufacture and Gibson was having a hard time getting quality wood to keep the series going. The company opted to somewhat "cheapen" the line by altering the body design, and moving down to gluing the neck into place which reduced the sustaining bite of the original reverse series. Gibson also replaced the cool toggle switch with a really lame slider. About a month after playing my white Firebird III, the switch started to make noise. Nevertheless, I was thrilled with my new guitar and played it regularly in bands until I traded it in '72 for a Gibson ES335, a Fender piano, and a pair of tennis shoes. The guy who traded with me immediately customized the 'Bird' with new Humbucking pick-ups and he replaced the slider with a toggle switch. When I saw what he had done, I knew the trade was a mistake. Since 1972, I have searched guitar trader catalogs (and most recently eBay) for a white non-reverse III -- with no luck.
In the late-70s I decided to seriously go for a reverse 'Bird' but I soon found out that these were very collectible and the prices had skyrocketed. The guy who ran Guitar Trader in Cherry Hill told me that he rarely saw an original but when he did there were so many collectors that it flew out of his shop. (This was long before eBay). Eventually, I kind of gave up on my quest. Then in 1997, I walked into Atomic Music in College Park, Maryland -- a great start-up used guitar shop at that time and now a fabulous store-- and there was a vintage 1964 Gibson Firebird on consignment for a reasonable price. I grabbed it and it's been my main ax ever since.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: A few years ago I bid on a 1968 White Firebird on eBay and I won it. ..Instant heaven. It was rather amazing to play this guitar after so long. I immediately recognized the feel of the neck and the sound, and I even began to remember old riffs that I hadn't played in over thirty years.
I added a Roland Gr-33 pickup and split the signal into one straight guitar output to my Peavey, and a second synth output to a Sunn PA. I figure that my original pro guitar is now "cutting edge," and unless someone steps forward, I may be the first person on the planet to use a 68 Firebird in this way. UPDATE: Oct 2006: I have since retired both of my Firebirds from active gigging, replacing them with a James Burton Telecaster (which I added the synth to) and a 1982 Gibson Les Paul Standard. This way, I can protect my Firebirds from the road.
Finally, for my 64 Bird, I put new Gibson bursts humbuckers (replacing the Dimarzios the previous owner had installed) and dedicated the 64 to slide. Here's a new picture of them.
So now l continue to work hard to make this the best Gibson Firebird web site on the net, and will post any photos of you playing a Gibson Firebird, or closely-related Gibson instrument below. If you'd like, I'll add your name and your web site URL and/or a personal ad. Again, my thanks for your consideration.
LETTERS, WE'VE GOT LETTERS:
In a message dated 01/05,
In a message dated 02/05 , Bruce writes:
(Steve's reply: Thanks Bruce. Those posters really take me back)
In a message dated 06/04 , Larry writes:
You may be pleased to know, though, that two months
ago I cleaned up the
Thanks and take care, Larry Bailey
In a message posted 9/04:
Hi, I was checkin' out your Firebird page and thought
Here's a link to a site I found that's all about
another link with some more info about his guitars,
Someone sent me a great letter and this pic of a young Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top playing a Firebird 1. However, I lost the letter, so please contact me so I can add your name etc. Thanks.
How would you like to own one of each "reverse" style? You'd never get used to the tuning order! I don't know why they did this, but it only lasted for one year. The "non-reverse" birds came along in late '65 and fizzled out biyearly '69. Talk about cheap attributes, the late '60's birds didn't even have neck binding (Firebird VII included). The V had dot inlays, and the body was an unsculpted slab of mahogany. For a top of the line Gibson that's pretty damn cheap!
at the shipping totals for reverse birds, it seems that they made
many more I's and III's than they did V's and VII's. That's a
shame as I've always been an inlay and neck binding lover. To
me, that's what set Gibson apart was their attention to hand craftsmanship.
It took extra time and ability to create those better models.
Anyway, I hope this gives you a bit of insight.
Thanks Mike. Does anyone have a picture of Allen Collins playing a Firebird?
In a messge dated 02/14/03, "Jpoe9" writes "Here's one of my favorite pictures of Allen on his Firebird. Hope you like it."
BUMMER: In a message dated 06/16/03 , Anthony writes:
On your Firebird tribute page you have a letter from a fan regarding the "Free bird" solo. This letter alleges that the solo was recorded on a Gibson Firebird. Sorry to bust your bubble, but in Issue #46 of Guitar World ("Special Collector's Issue: The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos," page 16), they interview Gary Rossington and summarize his words as "On the studio version of the song, which appeared on Skynyrd's debut album, Collins played the entire solo himself on his Gibson Explorer, with Rossington playing rhythm on his Les Paul, "Bernice," and adding slide fills on his SG."
Sorry to be the one to tell you, but it looks as though the Firebird didn't make an appearance on "Free Bird."
In a message dated 7/16/03 , Ian writes:
story that Allen played the Explorer on the first recorded version
of Freebird is not true. He used the Firebird V when he did this
one on the first album. He did not own the Explorer then. I know
this because I lived with the man and that same guitar in the
picture is the Firebird. I glued the neck back together on it
and restored it to its case in one piece. Allen had left the guitar
leaning against the back of the car after retrieving it from the
trunk forgetting it and backed over it !!!!!! This guitar was
restored to a playable condition to play Freebird once again.
In a message dated 1/15/03 , DP writes:
for this page. I bought the Firebird that I owned used in 1969
for $160.00. I have yet to play another guitar that sounded so
smooth at the higher registers. Unfortunately because of financial
problems I had to let that guitar go. I have always kept my eye's
open for another but never came across one until I was in LA a
few months back and visited the Guitar Center on Sunset Blvd and
went down into their vintage guitar area. I had never seen my
model because it was a 1965 with the black pickups and I didn't
realize it was a limited run. They had 2 '65's there but I didn't
have the money right then but I do plan on going back soon.
In a message dated 1/31/03 ,Trevor writes:
At any rate, my bird.. Man alive Steve, it plays me. Short story
for the website (edit as necesary):
gave me a Yamaha(I still love that guitar). I began taking lessons
and soon discovered that I was extremely partial to rock 'n' roll.
I asked my parents in November, after only playing for a month,
if I could have an electric guitar for Christmas. They took me
as seriously as they took me the first time and jokingly said
that if I could learn fifty songs before Christmas, they would
buy me an electric guitar. Within 2 weeks, I had a complete list
of 50 songs ranging from Christmas carols to church music to the
Rolling Stones. That Christmas I got an early 90's Squier Bullet(the
most flat toned conglomerate of wood and strings in existence).
At any rate, now, six years later, I've finally acquired my Firebird.
The connection between this guitar and myself is both amazing
and completely satisfying. Playing it now, I remember back all
those years ago. Somehow I just knew.
OK, so that was more of a short book. Don't know if you really want to add all of that to your site, but I thought you might find my story interesting. I'm glad I could help you finally come back to your bird. I still need to buy a case for mine, but I saw how much you paid for yours so if I have a few bucks extra, I'll send them your way, just hit me with an address. Listed below is the URL for my band's site. I hope to have some pictures of me playing my bird up there pretty soon. Once again, I'm glad I could help you come back to your bird. Have a good one and I'll talk to you later.
Trevor Quinby, www.bullettrane.cjb.ne
In a message dated 2/21/03, ,K.M. writes:
Absolutely love this site!!!! Just came across it. I only own Firebirds. I have been devoted to them since seeing The Allen Collins band play in early 80's here in Florida. I reckon you could say I collect them, but also I have used a Gibson Firebird II all over the world gigging. I was in the US Army in Europe in the late 80's and played in a killer band. The Germans always commented on the beauty of my guitar. I love Lynyrd Skynyrd and was hugely influenced by them. Especially Allen Collins. The logo on the pick guard has been tattooed on my arm for many years now. I wonder how many other Firebird devotees tattooed the flaming bird somewhere on their bodies? I like the Epiphone re-issues also. They sound good. Love this site. Thanks a lot. K.M. (Steve's reply: "Thanks K.M. Any other tattoos out there?)
In a message dated 3/01/03 , Threedollarwatch writes:
Just wanted to acknowledege
your site and send a friendly "hello" to all my fellow
Firebird owners/players. I am the proud owner of a '63 Firebird
I. Having researched it by way of it's serial number, I've learned
that mine is one of just 80 model I's shipped in '63; it is one
of the earliest of that lot, also, as it bears no logo on the
pickguard. It has some minor cosmetic flaws, but over all it is
in excellent, unmolested, original condition.
In a message dated 4/10/03 , Jack writes:
Hey Steve, found your website.Great stuff. I've owned a 1964 reverse Firebird V with original hardshell rectangular case since 1966 when I bought it from an acquaintance for $200. It cost him around $500 at the time. It's the one with the Gibson lyre plate behind the bridge, it's the sunburst model, and I've been in love with this guitar the whole time. It seems to be the same one used by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones that you have on your website. The guitar is a dream, and I'll never part with it. I also have a 1973 Gibson L6S that I use on gigs. I bought it because I became really uncomfortable using my Firebird in public. But the Firebird is a rare machine, beautiful to look at, and super to play. I play it through a 1981 50 watt Marshall head and 2 or 4 speaker Marshall cabinet (or through both sometimes) and WOW!!! I've had offers for it, even trade it for a Gibson SG standard, but no dice. This lady stays with me, and will be passed on. I'm feel really lucky to have it. Keep up the great website. Hope to hear from you. Jack
My name is Jeroen Maas and I play in a Dutch pop-band. I like your Firebird-site a lot and I hereby send you a picture of me playing my new Gibson Firebird VII in Blue Mist Metallic. It's a great guitar and I get great comments on it all the time. I play it through an original 1965 Fender Super Reverb (blackface) and the two make a truly great couple! By the way, my band is called "Sun Sour Hippie Qué" and you can check our site at www.sunsourhippieque.nl Succes with your website!
kind regards, Jeroen
Thanks Jeroen, and I got your latest CD, and I thought it wa really great, especially track 4 which may have the sweetest Firebird tone I've ever heard recorded. Incredible!!!
Love your site - I have a Black 1976 Reissue Reverse Firebird (Which I bought new when I was 15).
I recently read a book called " Without You : The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Mantovina. On pages 105 and 239 there are pictures of Joey Molland (of Badfinger) playing a Firebird V and on page 237 a Firebird III. I don't have a scanner otherwise I would have sent them to you. I also spent some time on the web trying to find pictures of Molland with the guitar, but was not able to do so.
Thanks Gene. Anyone have these pics to share?
Please e-mail me additional information you wish to contribute to this page, and any photos of your own Firebird, especially you playing it, and I'll post them in LETTERS, or in the Artist Gallery. Thanks, Steve Moore
Gibson Firebird Firebird Guitar Firebird musicians Firebird Reverse Firebird KISS guitars tDavid Bowie Earl Slick Paul Stanley Les Paul Leo Fender Ted McCarty Paul McCartney Thurston Moore Sonic Youth 1 time Ray Dietrich Johnny Winters Firebird Eric Clapton Allen Collins Steve Stills Stephen Stills Cream guitars Tony Crane Good, do Noel Gallager OASIS Oasis