There are a lot of uniquely shaped guitars that look more like modern pieces of art rather than a functional instrument. One odd guitar that really took off and gained a lot of popularity is the Gibson Flying V guitar. Love them or hate them, these guitars have been around for a very long time and are still sought after today.
Now, let’s explore some eye-opening facts about this bizarre piece of wood.
1). The Birth Of The V
In 1957, the Gibson guitar company’s president Ted McCarty was ready for his guitars to make a notable and lasting impression on the industry. He was looking for futuristic designs that stood out in a crowd. Thus, the V came flying into existence. McCarty hired a separate art company to design a few of these futuristic-like instruments. In 1958, the V, Explorer, and Es-335 were all unveiled to the public.
2). Double Flip
Although this ‘V’ shape was unique, the design wasn’t 100% original. After the immense success of Gibson’s flagship guitar, the Les Paul in 1952, the company was riding the top of the musical instrument wave. Then, Leo Fender responded with the Stratocaster, the flashy double cut guitar. McCarty knew he needed a revamp, and used the double-cut design of the Strat as his inspiration.
3). First Flight Ends in A Crash
Although these guitars were new and different, they did not garner the response or the sales Gibson was hoping for. In fact, in 1958, the year the guitar was launched, only 81 were shipped and in 1959, a whopping 17. This was in part because they were pretty expensive compared to other guitars.
4). Rare Wood
Another reason for the original V’s being that pricey is the rare Korina wood they were made out of. The wood was very similar to mahogany but lighter in both color and subsequent tone. Luthiers love this wood and refer to it as “super mahogany.” It is amazing wood for guitars but it is also extremely rare so they cannot mass produce the models. This is why companies stick to the more common guitar woods like mahogany and rosewood, and why the original Flying V’s are so expensive.
5). All Hail The King Of The V
Although there were not many of these guitars in circulation, Albert King was attracted to the unique design which fit his left-handed playing style very well. This bluesman ripped it up on his 1958 Korina Flying V he named “Lucy” and it became part of his image. He loved these guitars so much that there is a Flying V etched on his gravestone.
6). King’s Collection
Albert King is most notable for playing the V and he also had one of the most impressive collections in history. Some of these guitars are the most valuable guitars out there. Where are King’s guitars now, you may ask? Well, they fell into the hands of an unlikely source. Action movie star and martial arts expert Steven Seagal is also an avid guitar collector and not that bad of a blues player. He happens to own most of Albert King’s original V’s as well as the copies.
7). Jimi’s V
Jimi Hendrix is known for his Strat manipulating abilities and changing the blues guitar game forever. A little less known is the fact that Hendrix had three Flying V2’s in his collection. One of which was a 1967 V with his iconic trippy, psychedelic artwork. Like Albert King, Hendrix gravitated toward the V because of its design that made it easier for left-handed players to play.
8). How Do I Hold This Thing?
Many guitar models lend themselves to be played both standing up, by using a strap that goes around the user’s shoulders, and sitting down. A lot of models have a sloping, contoured shape that rests comfortably on the player’s leg to stand upright. If you look at the Flying V, it does not have this. In fact, you may wonder how anyone sits down with one of these things. If you have ever tried this, you will see that the head of the guitar seems heavier and will ultimately come down into your lap. Either that or you will be fidgeting so much, you won’t get much practicing in. This is why most players will use that shoulder strap to stand with the guitar. But, there is usually a piece of rubber on the inside horn of the V that is used as a leg rest. The idea is to put the Flying V in between your legs to allow limited movement of the instrument. I know… weird.
9). Wait! There’s More…
The Flying V did not sell as well as Gibson had planned. Enter Tim Shaw. Shaw began working at Gibson in 1978 and was a major developer of the V2, the follow up to the V. The general shape was similar but this time the woods were walnut and maple and had a cool layered effect because of the finish. They also made cool ‘boomerang’ shaped pickups that added a new flare.
Then, there was the even more outrageous Reverse Flying V. Yes, that would be the V going the opposite way. These were released in 2007 in conjunction with an anniversary of the original V.
In 1981 there was a Flying V bass, but these didn’t last very long.
10). Throw Your Horns Up!
As metal gained more and more popularity, other companies like Jackson and B.C. Rich designed their versions of the Flying V. These guitars became a sort of “badge of metal” and this odd shape showed up everywhere. Bands like Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Pantera all used V shaped guitars through the years.
More V Users:
Lonnie Mack (Pivotal V Player)
Dave Davies – Kinks (Pivotal V Player)
Billy Gibbons – ZZ Top
Kirk Hammett – Metallica
Eddie Van Halen