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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Gibson's 'Flying V' - Reshaping the Guitar World


The Gibson "Flying V" Reshapes the Guitar World
The Gibson "Flying V" Reshapes the Guitar World (photo credit: https://guitarsandthings.wordpress.com)/

On January 7th, 1958, Gibson Guitars marked a significant moment in music history by receiving a US patent for their 'Flying V' electric guitar model. This distinctive design not only redefined the aesthetics of guitars but also left an indelible mark on the sound and culture of rock music.


The Founders' Vision and Impact on the Brand Orville Gibson's story began in the 1890s in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While the exact year he began crafting and selling musical instruments is not precisely documented, his approach to mandolin making, characterized by craftsmanship and attention to acoustic detail, was eventually carried forward into guitar manufacturing. During this early period, Orville was awarded two patents:

Orville Gibson's first patent
Orville Gibson's first patent (photo credit: www.kpl.gov)

Patent No. 598,245 (February 1, 1898): Orville Gibson's first patent revolutionized mandolin design with a unique carved, arched top and back, drawing inspiration from violin construction. This innovative approach, diverging from traditional bowl-back mandolins, not only enhanced sound quality and durability but also extended to guitars and other stringed instruments. The result was a stronger, more resonant body, defining the future of Gibson instruments.

Patent No. 621,676 (March 21, 1899): This subsequent patent further refined his design, detailing a method to carve the mandolin's top and back from solid wood pieces, a stark contrast to the common practice of bending wood strips for sides. This technique marked a significant advancement in the construction and quality of stringed instruments.

Gibson Guitars: A Legacy of Craftsmanship. The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., (later changed to Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1953) was founded in 1902 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, following the acquisition of Orville Gibson's innovative mandolin designs by a group of investors. This formalized the start of the company that would grow to become one of the most renowned names in the world of guitars and stringed instruments.

Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company vintage ad
Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company vintage ad (photo credit: https://woodencanoemuseum.org)/

After the formation of the company, Orville Gibson was not actively involved in the company's day-to-day operations or management. Orville had been a craftsman and innovator, focusing on the design and construction of the instruments rather than the business side. After the company's formation in 1902, it was managed and run by the investors and other appointed managers who were responsible for turning Orville's innovative designs into a larger-scale manufacturing enterprise. The company's early success in mandolins laid the foundation for its foray into guitars, where it would eventually become a household name.

Innovative Patents and Their Impact. One of Gibson Guitar's most significant early patents was for the adjustable truss rod, patented in 1921 by factory manager Ted McHugh. This innovation revolutionized guitar and stringed instrument construction. The truss rod is a metal bar or rod that runs along the inside of the neck, countering the tension of the strings to keep the neck straight and allowing for adjustable neck curvature. This invention was crucial for maintaining the structural integrity of the neck and improving playability, especially as string tension increased with the advent of steel strings.

Another pivotal Gibson invention was the humbucking pickup, patented in 1955 by engineer Seth Lover. Known as the "PAF" (Patent Applied For), this pickup design reduced the hum and noise that plagued single-coil pickups, significantly improving the sound quality of electric guitars. Humbuckers produce a warmer, richer tone and are a staple in genres like rock, blues, and jazz. The PAF humbucker has become a defining feature of many Gibson models and has had a lasting impact on electric guitar sound and technology.


Jimi Hendrix and the Gibson Flying "V" guitar
Jimi Hendrix and the Gibson Flying "V" (photo credit: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/)

Gibson's 'Flying V': A Symbol of Musical Rebellion (Patented 1958) In 1958, Gibson unveiled the 'Flying V', an instrument that was much more than a mere guitar; it was a declaration of musical rebellion. With its striking V-shaped body, the 'Flying V' shattered the conventions of traditional guitar design, boasting a bold, futuristic look. But its impact went beyond aesthetics; the 'Flying V' was renowned for its powerful, clear sound that resonated with rock and blues musicians. Its innovative design enhanced playability and comfort, particularly during live performances, earning it a revered place among influential guitarists like Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. The launch of the 'Flying V' marked Gibson's bold foray into uncharted design territory, mirroring the changing musical tides of the late 1950s and 1960s.


Gibson's Trailblazing Tech: Advancements Beyond the "V". Gibson continued to innovate and secure patents for various musical instrument designs and technologies after 1958. By the 2000s, Gibson embraced the future of guitar technology with the development of self-tuning guitars, often referred to as "robot tuning" technology. This groundbreaking innovation transformed the tuning experience, allowing guitars to automatically adjust to various tunings quickly and accurately through onboard electronics and mechanical components. This advancement represented a significant leap in guitar technology, catering to the needs of modern musicians who require versatility and precision.


Slash and his Gibson Les Paul guitar
Slash and his Gibson Les Paul guitar (photo credit: https://www.guitarworld.com/)

Continuing their tradition of innovation, Gibson also made strides into the digital realm. They introduced digital guitars capable of directly interfacing with computers and recording equipment, enhancing functionality for both recording and live performances. These digital guitars marked Gibson's foray into a new era of musical technology, blending traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge digital capabilities. Additionally, Gibson has been at the forefront of pickup design and enhancements, constantly evolving their humbucking pickups and other electronic components to refine the sound and functionality of their electric guitars. The company's commitment to ergonomic and design innovations has also led to several patents aimed at improving guitar playability and comfort, as well as aesthetic enhancements, ensuring that Gibson guitars not only sound great but also feel great in the hands of musicians. Reflecting on Gibson's impact, legendary guitarist Jimmy Page once said, "My relationship with the Gibson guitar is a special one. It has been a companion in my creative journey like no other instrument, defining not just my music, but also who I am."

Did you Know?

  • First Archtop Guitar: Gibson's L-5, introduced in 1922 by designer Lloyd Loar, was the first commercially available archtop guitar, featuring a design inspired by the violin, which significantly influenced the development of jazz guitar.

  • The Birth of the Les Paul: In 1952, Gibson collaborated with renowned guitarist Les Paul to create the Gibson Les Paul, a solid-body electric guitar that became one of the most iconic and influential guitars in music history.

  • Gibson's Recording King: During the Great Depression, Gibson produced guitars under the name "Recording King" for the Montgomery Ward department store, making quality instruments accessible during tough economic times.

  • Innovative Acoustic Technology: Gibson's 1960s 'Dove' and 'Hummingbird' acoustic guitars were among the first to incorporate adjustable bridge saddles, allowing for precise control over string action and intonation.

  • Gibson's First Electric Guitar: The ES-150, released in 1936, was Gibson's first electric guitar. Featuring the Charlie Christian pickup, it's considered by many as the first commercially successful electric guitar.

  • The SG Standard’s Longevity: The Gibson SG Standard, introduced in 1961, is Gibson's best-selling model of all time and is celebrated for its lightweight, iconic design, and versatile sound.

  • The Super 400: A Jazz Staple: The Gibson Super 400, introduced in 1934, is one of the largest archtop guitars ever produced, becoming a staple instrument in the jazz world.

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