Pros: Pretty accurate reproduction, looks, playability, Gibson quality
Cons: Maybe a touch overbalanced towards the peghead
In the late 1950's. the Gibson Guitar Company began experimenting with new, innovative, and futuristic guitar designs. Out of this experimentation was born guitars like the Flying V, the Explorer, and the Moderne, although there is no evidence that an example of the latter was ever manufactured. One of the last creations to arise from this experimental period was the Firebird series, which began in 1963 with the issuance of the Firebird I. My review today deals with the 1963 Firebird I Reverse, a reissue of the first guitar in the venerable Firebird line.
The 1963 Firebird I Reverse is a component of the Historical Designer Series--the company manufactures reissues of some of their classic vintage instruments, and tries to stay as close to the original specifications as possible. It's not to difficult to recreate the look and style of a vintage instrument, but the sound of those old guitars is a little trickier--there's just something about pickups from the 50's and 60's that give vintage guitars a sound that's unparalleled by the modern electronics of today. I'm very familiar with the Firebird series--I own an all-original 1964 Firebird III that's worth a mint, so I consider myself pretty well in the know when it comes time to evaluate a reissue of one of these special guitars.
The 1963 Firebird I Reverse is the epitome of a rock 'n roll guitar. It has a solid mahogany body that's probably about one inch thick, and a neck-through-body design. This means that the neck and the center of the body are essentially one piece of wood, with the sides, or wings, of the guitar glued on to the centerpiece. The neck is mahogany, with a rosewood fingerboard and simple mother-of-pearl dot inlays. The 1963 Firebird I Reverse comes with one mini-humbucker pickup, and one volume and one tone control. It also features a wraparound adjustable bridge-tailpiece, banjo tuners extending from the back of the peghead, and a laminated multi-ply white-black pickguard with the engraved Firebird emblem in red. All of the hardware on this guitar is nickel, and there's not one inch of binding anywhere on the instrument. It comes in a variety of finishes, including the classic vintage sunburst, but some of the funky Gibson finishes from the period are also available, like cardinal red, polaris white, and frost blue.
Now, time for questions.
What Does Reverse Mean?
The reverse body means simply that the treble horn of the guitar is larger than the bass horn, which gives the guitar a somewhat lopsided look. Take a peek at the photo on this page and you'll see what I'm talking about. In 1965 or so, Gibson started making non-reverse Firebird models, and the Historic Designer Series has also reissued models of this style of Firebird.
Is It Well Built?
Yes indeed--the 1963 Firebird I Reverse is manufactured with that solid quality that I've come to expect from Gibson. Even though the design and appointments of this guitar are rather lean, Gibson cut no corners in building this guitar. The craftsmanship is superior and I believe that it could last a lifetime or two if properly cared for. My 1964 Firebird III is almost forty years old, and I perform with it on a regular basis. It's held together superbly, and I would expect nothing less from the 1963 Firebird I Reverse, even if it is a modern reissue.
How Does It Look?
It looks like the guitar equivalent of a street rod--sleek, lean, mean and totally built for speed. The body design is timeless, and the vintage sunburst finish is absolutely gorgeous, completely recreating the look of vintage instrument. As I said before, the appointments are few, but for the most part it's a faithful reproduction of the original Firebird I, except for the bridge-tailpiece. The original guitar had a stud bridge with compensating ridges, which proved to be unsatisfactory to many players, who promptly replaced it with a retrofit tune-o-matic bridge. With this exception, the 1963 Firebird I Reverse is true to the original design, down to the banjo tuners and laminated pickguard.
Does It Play Like It Looks?
You betcha--the thin profile neck is lightening quick, and the wings join the neck at the end of the neck, so all frets on the fingerboard are easily accessed. The mahogany body is a bit large, but it contours to the abdomen pretty well, and is not quite as heavy as, say, a Les Paul. If you want to get picky, the guitar is a bit overbalanced towards the peghead, but if you adjust your strap just right you won't spend your gig trying to hold the guitar up. I like playing this one, especially because of the ample neck and the "soft" rosewood fingerboard.
Does It Sound Like A Vintage Instrument?
Of course not--like I said earlier, that sound is impossible to recreate unless you get in a time machine. That being said, the 1963 Firebird I Reverse has that fat, beefy Gibson sound, even though the single mini-humbucker pickup is a little more limited than a Firebird with two mini-humbuckers. Still, the 1963 Firebird I Reverse has a crunchy, clean sound that can be biting and mellow, and when it's in distortion mode, it sounds like a good SG. The big solid mahogany body gives the sound loads of sustain, rivaling that of the slab king, the Les Paul. Overall, the sound is great, but it could be better and more versatile if it had two pickups, but hey--it's a reissue, and it's true to the specs of the original, except as I pointed out earlier.
Who Should Buy This Guitar?
Well, anyone who wants it and has the money, I guess. I've seen these guitars priced at anywhere from $900.00 to $1,300.00, so if you can find one towards the lower end of the range, you're probably getting a bargain. Not only that, you'll own a little piece of history too.
Thanks for reading.