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Gibson Firebird III, ’65

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Sunburst, Serial # 258940.

Transitional model with reverse body, P-90 pickups, and Kluson strip tuners instead of banjo tuners! Very rare!

In 1962 Gibson president Ted McCarty decided that a bold new guitar was needed to compete with Fender’s popular Jazzmaster.  For a fresh all-new concept, McCarty sought outside help and hired well known automobile designer Ray Dietrich.  Dietrich had recently retired to Kalamazoo Michigan after 50 years of designing for top companies like Lincoln, Packard, Ford, and Chrysler.

The new Firebird (after a name suggested by Dietrich) line was introduced in the spring of 1963. The series was made up of four guitars (the Firebird I, III, IV, and VII) and two basses (the Thunderbird II and IV).  The guitars had a unique neck- through construction running all the way to the bottom strap button, with asymmetrical “wings” attached on either side.  The headstock had six banjo tuners on one side (the reverse of Fender’s tuner placement) to complete the unique irregular look.

 

The unusual construction of the Firebirds made them difficult, and expensive to produce. Once the guitars had shipped, the fragile headstock/neck area was found to be weak and easily breakable with the heavy banjo tuners adding to the problem.

This, poor sales, and pressure from Fender about copyright infringement on its “off-set waist” design, caused Gibson to redesign the entire Firebird/ Thunderbird line with more conventional (less costly) construction methods.  The overhauled versions utilized a traditional glued-in neck on a new more conservative off-set body that looked like a flipped over version (non-reverse) of the earlier guitars.

 

The rare1965 Firebird III pictured has features of both the original reverse Firebirds, and the redesigned non-reverse versions of that year. It retains the reverse body style, and neck-through construction of the original series, but has a flat headstock (rather than the sculpted two-level) with conventional Kluson tuners (instead of banjo tuners). The neck is unbound, like the non-reverse models, and P-90 pickups replace the original mini-humbuckers.

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