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Firebird I, ’64


Cardinal Red, Serial # 191966.

Firebird I’s are hard to find in Sunburst, but custom colors are very rare indeed! My good friend Paul Munden found this one for me and I am grateful to him for sending it my way!

n the early 1960s, Fender’s increasingly popular solidbodies compelled Gibson to develop new strategies to reach young guitarists. While the SG series helped Gibson’s sales, company managers knew they needed even bolder guitars in their catalog if they wanted to reach an emerging generation of rockers. In an effort to go head-to-head against Fender’s Jazzmaster, Gibson turned to Ray Dietrich, a famous Detroit automobile designer, to help create an entirely new line.

Introduced in the spring of 1963, the new Firebird series consisted of four guitars (the Firebird I, Firebird III, Firebird IV, and Firebird VII) and two Thunderbird basses (the Thunderbird II and Thunderbird IV). The Firebirds had a unique, asymmetrical body shape consisting of two mahogany “wings” attached on either side of a long mahogany neck that ran all the way to the bottom strap button. Seth Lover designed the Firebird’s mini-humbucker pickups, and in a departure from Gibson’s traditional three-on-a-side array, six banjo-style tuners were positioned in a row along the right side of the headstock (the opposite side of Fender’s iconic arrangement). The standard finish for these guitars was a dark tobacco sunburst, but you could also order 10 custom colors that imitated Fender’s palette, only with different names.


The Firebird I pictured has features common to the entry-level Firebirds made in 1964. These include a mini-humbucker in the bridge position, a 24 3/4″ scale, an unbound rosewood fretboard with dot inlays, a compensated bar bridge, and a short Vibrola tremolo. This guitar is finished in a vibrant cardinal red.

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