Noel Gallagher's 1967 Gibson Firebird I Non-Reverse
The wood may be the only original feature, but the history lives forever: a guitar that Noel played throughout Definitely Maybe and What's The Story?
Look back (without anger) at the early years of Oasis and this guitar pops up everywhere: with the song that broke Oasis big time into the US in the video for Live Forever, with an outing on Top Of The Pops for Rock & Roll Star, in the line-up for the video for Whatever, on the cover of single Don't Look Back In Anger, pictured in any of the many biographies of the band in those early years, and more.
Appearances are one thing. But this guitar is also the one Noel played on the recordings of "Some Might Say" and "(What's The Story) Morning Glory?". It may be the Sheratons, the Union Jack, the 355s or, today, the Jaguars that come to mind when you picture Noel, but go back to where it all began, and this is the real deal. If you want to know What's The Story, read on . . .
Provenance aside - or more because of the provenance - the only original feature on this guitar is the wood...
Everything else is a modification, even down to the nut and strap buttons. The body itself had been home-resprayed at some point in distant time before Noel got his hands on the guitar - which, with the wear it has since had, gives it a uniqueness that, even without the provenance, would make it stand out head and shoulders in an identity parade. Which is helpful, given the serial number has also been erased during its long life.
Despite its incredibly lightweight body, it's a massive-sounding guitar. You've got to hand that to the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pick-ups. These were added some time between September and December 1994, replacing the three P90s that were in place when Noel first bought the guitar. You can still see the routing in the body for those three pick-ups. From three to two may sound like a loss. Until you plug in and play. And, OMG, these Pearly Gates are immense. In Seymour Duncan's own words: "Our country fried Pearly Gates Set transforms any Les Paul style guitar into a classic rock outlaw." So, it's not a Les Paul, but with this pair, the Firebird knocks stripes off any off-the-shelf Les Paul Standard.
To play, it's a dream - an unlikely combination of super-thin neck and fat frets, with a lovely low action. And a roar and drive from those pick-ups that will give you your very own Marty McFly shaped hole in your wall.
A guitar that will, like the song, live forever.
See & Hear It In Action
Noel on set for the video shoot of Whatever, with Firebird in the line-up. Not played in the video, just adored.
Semi-profile on the cover for 1995's Don't Look Back In Anger, some might say Oasis' biggest anthem.
And one of the stills from that same photoshoot, courtesy of Brian Cannon at Microdot. Definitely was there then.
Noel Gallagher with The Firebird: If ever you want to find out what specific guitar a Guitar God has played, go to Equipboard. An incredibly comprehensive and verified sourcebook. Here, a classic picture of Noel with the Firebird.
And, as a video history of this guitar's appearances - and some of Oasis' finest songs from their first year:
Rock & Roll Star on Top Of The Pops (1994): To be precise, 18 August 1994. Oasis' first ever appearance on Top Of The Pops, in the same week that Definitely Maybe topped the UK album charts. Noel pulls out all the stops for the celebrations with the Firebird and its earlier set-up of three P90 pick-ups.
Cigarettes & Alcohol Official Video (1994): Something worth living for. The single was released on 10 October 1994, the video recorded a few weeks before. Why is that important? Read on . . .
Whatever Official Video (1994): One of their finest anthems, filmed on 15 December 1994, for Christmas release. And, as far as I can find so far, the first outing for the Firebird in its current two pick-up configuration. Which narrows down the change from three to two pick-ups to a three-month window after the recording of the Cigarettes and Alcohol video. Good will to all men.
Live Forever US Video Release (1995): The US video release. That song, this guitar.
Only Noel and his guitar tech at the time, Jason Rhodes, could tell us exactly when and where he bought this Firebird. But putting the pieces together, it must have been some time between going into the studio to record Definitely Maybe in December 1993 and its first TV appearance on Top Of The Pops in August 1994.
And then it's hardly out of the spotlight for the next 12 months - on TV, video, and in the studio, not to mention countless pictures of Noel with the Firebird. Check out the video history above - which also narrows down the timing of the modification from three P90 pick-ups to the two Pearly Gates humbuckers that are still on it today.
With the success of Definitely Maybe, Noel had the keys to the Aladdin's Cave of classic guitars that we all dream of. And he went for it, big time. So, it's rarer to see him with the Firebird into 1995 and beyond. But it remained a go-to guitar for Noel. And he played it during the recording of "Some Might Say" and title track "(What's The Story) Morning Glory?" on 1995 follow-up to Definitely Maybe - an album which went on to become the biggest selling album of the 1990s.
And, who knows, probably not even Noel, it may well have taken a place in the multi-guitar layering that went into shamefully underrated third album Be Here Now. Just one of the fifteen or more guitar tracks behind "D'You Know What I Mean?"
After that, there's not much to say about further appearances while still in Noel's possession. But by 1999, he was ready for one of the rare clear-outs of his guitar cave. So, this one and a number of other guitars famously owned by Noel, first came onto the market in August 1999, with provenance from Noel and Jason Rhodes, at the New King's Road Vintage Guitar Emporium. Dave Brewis snapped up six of those guitars just 10 days later on 20 August 1999, listing it among the other gems at Rock Stars Guitars. Which was where I was lucky enough to find it in March 2002. Sometimes, the slow and unsophisticated early days of the internet are a hidden blessing.
One final thought. And, yes, I know this is speculation. But when I first plugged this guitar in all those years ago, cranked up the volume, kicked in the overdrive, the sound from this guitar was the absolute match for (It's Good) To Be Free. A massive song released as one of the B-side tracks to Whatever, and then later on The Masterplan. (It's Good) To Be Free was recorded on 7 October 1994, at The Congress House Studio, Austin, Texas - during a two-week break from Oasis' first multi-city tour of the States. That would narrow the date down to late-September/early-October. If I'd just had these pick-ups installed, I couldn't think of a better way to unleash their power than on the overdriven feedback of (It's Good) To Be Free.
As the song goes, whatever. But live for ever, this guitar definitely will.
Sources & Links
The Firebird Story from Vintage Guitar And Bass: More information about the Firebird variants, the basis for this highly modified guitar, from the incredibly thorough and well-researched Vintage Guitar And Bass people.
And more of the history from Music Radar: For even more detail, thanks to the tireless research of the people at Music Radar.
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Pick-ups: Based on Billy Gibbons' '59 Les Paul pick-ups, some of the hottest pick-ups you'll ever play.
Rock Stars Guitars: And on the subject of Rock & Roll Stars, it was probably this guitar that planted the long-incubated seed for God's Own Guitars when bought back in 2002. Recommendations and big thanks to the gentleman that is Dave Brewis at Rock Stars Guitars, seasoned ambassador for the gods' guitars and their equipment.
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