1972 Gibson Firebird medallion

The 1972 Gibson Firebird medallion limited edition is one of the great Gibson guitars from the 1970ties. It is an accurate reissue of the original reverse Gibson Firebird V manufactured from Spring 1963 till mid 1965.

“Again, we were looking for something not quite as wild as the Flying V and the Explorer, but a little bit different because again, we needed something to compete against Fender.”

Ted McCarty, vice president of the Gibson Guitar Corporation – Interview with A.R. Duchossoir, October 1979

The look of the Gibson Firebird is very unique, like a more rounded Gibson Explorer shape or an enlarged and flipped over Fender Jazzmaster. Also the construction with the middle piece of the body and the neck made from long pieces of laminated wood is only used on this guitar type.

“That was designed by Ray Dietrich at our request and we paid Ray a commission as an artist. He was very famous automobile designer…he designed the bodies for Duesenberg and he came up with this particular shape.”

Ted McCarty, vice president of the Gibson Guitar Corporation – Interview with A.R. Duchossoir, October 1979

The original Gibson Firebird was built in several versions (I,III,V and VII) which differ in the number of pickups, the fretboard material and inlays and the tailpiece. The model was generally equipped with a special type of mini humbucking pickups, except some late transition models which were equipped with single coil P-90 pickups. The short lived model was in 1965 substituted by the non-reverse Firebird. The decision for this change may be a combination of lack of success (approximately 4000 reverse Firebird were produced) and a dispute with Fender about a similar body design to the Fender Jazzmaster/Jaguar. Funny that the non-reverse Firebird looks even more like a Jazzmaster.

Johnny Winter - Rockpalast 1979 with a Gibson Firebird

Johnny Winter – Rockpalast 1979 with a Gibson Firebird

What really caught my attention on Gibson Firebird’s was the playing of Johnny Winter in the late 70ties and early 80ties. At this time it was not easy to get a Firebird or Firebird-Style guitar because they weren’t produced anymore (by the way to play like Johnny Winter is also not an easy task…). The opportunities were to buy an original reverse model, a 1972 medallion reissue or a 1976 Bicentennial reissue (or a Ibanez reissue). At that time a Firebird was rare and expensive (f.e. a fender strat 63 was approximately 2.500 DM and a Firebird III from 1964 was 4.000 DM). Though my first Firebird was a nice 1976 Bicentennial reissue, followed by 1963 Firebird III in completely rocked condition and last but not least the 1972 Gibson Firebird medallion.

366 of these “Medaillion Firebirds” were built around 1972 with the features of an original Firebird V:

  • a bound Indian rosewood board with trapezoid inlays
  • Kluson Banjo Style tuners
  • Gibson Tune-O-Matic bridge with Deluxe Vibrola tailpiece
  • two Gibson mini humbuckers – in this case gold plated Gibson Pat-No Pickups from a 1960ties Firebird
  • all hardware is chrome plated

From the playing point a reverse Gibson Firebird is also very special – either you love or hate it:

  • The neck feels long but with a perfect access to the upper frets.
  • The Gibson Firebird is not balanced very well hanging on a strap – it is neck/headstock heavy.
  • The guitars a prone to headstock breaks (as in this case).
  • The mini humbuckings have a clearer tone then a full size humbucking pickup, making this guitars sound somewhere in between a classic Gibson and a Fender guitar.
  • The balance of the pickups on the 2 or 3-pickups is seldom fine. The neck pickup often sounds awesome, but the bridge pickup often sounds thin like belonging to another guitar. The pickups on this particular guitar are fine and very well balanced, which is a rare find.

This is my personal No.1 Firebird which took me over 10 years to find.

Some additional links about Gibson Firebird’s can be found here: