Gibson introduced the Firebird in its first form in 1963 with design assistance from top automotive designer Ray Dietrich. Gibson boss Ted McCarty persuaded Dietrich out of retirement to design a guitar not limited by the usual traditions of guitar construction. The result, influenced unsurprisingly by 1950s car design would also lean on a softened, rounded, reversed version of the iconic '50s Gibson Explorer. The autumn of 1963 would see the Firebird released with four models; the I, III,V and VII mirroring the Les Paul and SG line, which used the terms "Junior", "Special", "Standard" and "Custom”. The original reverse shape lasted until mid-1965 when Gibson reversed the shape after slow initial sales, complaints from Fender and not to mention a difficult and expensive model to produce. This ‘new non-reverse’ shape lasted in the catalog until 1969. Original Reverse Firebirds were only in production for a short time and the top of the range VII’s were produced in very small numbers with only 110 shipped in 1965 with that figure accounting for both Reverse and Non-Reverse versions.
This guitar is one of the last of the original Reverse Firebird guitars sold before the redesign was implemented in mid-65. Featuring the neck through construction that the early Firebirds are known for with Mahogany wings. The headstock has the almost inevitable repair with localised finish work and the body and neck have been over-sprayed. The serial number can still be made out and dates to 1965. The overspray has been on the guitar for some time and has aged very nicely in keeping with the look and feel of an original finish. Tuners are the correct Gold plated Kluson Banjo tuners. The pickguard shows some wear to the iconic engraved and painted Firebird logo and the long Lyre Vibrola has had the gold plating worn and rubbed off. The guitar has had a new nut fitted and benefits from a re-fret: originally the VII would have left the factory a ‘Fretless Wonder’ making it hard to play for modern styles. It retains its original PAT. Sticker Firebird pickups and quartet of matched CTS pots with the source code of 137 3363. All component are correct but the loom has been disturbed at some point previously. Like the Vibrola, the gold plating is missing from the pickup covers resulting in a stunning vintage look. The Knobs are period correct model replacements as is the guitars switch tip. The Gold plated bridge is the correct later Patent number version ABR-1 with metal saddles.
The guitar feels great to play, the nut measures a transitional 41.88mm but thanks to the necks chunky C meets D profile feels generally bigger than a contemporary SG or ES-335 would. The depth at the first fret is 21.27mm increasing to 24.79mm by the 12th fret. The Firebird pickups measure 6.45K and 6.16K in bridge and neck position with the middle pickup only being in the circuit out of phase in the middle position with the bridge pickup. The weight is a quite impressive and comfortable 8.9kg given the guitars size and additional hardware. Thanks to the re-fret the guitar plays well, the frets have been played but have plenty of height.
Produced from late 1963 and discontinued after the July 1965 NAMM show numbers for the Firebird are low with the expensive VII model produced in the smallest quantity with an estimated 200 of the original versions ever produced. Used by players diverse as Brian Jones, Phil Manzanera and PJ Harvey, Firebirds, like V’s and Explorers have a physicality to them that other guitars don’t compete with. You can’t help feeling like a Rockstar with the guitar on a strap. The combination of sustain from neck-through-body construction, note attack from the Ebony fingerboard and bite from the pickups gives the Firebird VIIs an incredible tone like no other. Thanks to the repairs and changes this one is priced very well especially given it's rarity. Comes complete with hard case.