OK, it's not a 1959 Flying V, the one famous in the hands of Albert King . . . But if it weren't for his love, there's a good chance the Flying V may have languished in the pile of guitar history's epic fails. This one a 40th anniversary tribute to those legendary 58/59 Vs.
It's hard to imagine today, but the launch of the Flying V in 1958 was an utter flop. One of a trio of modernistic guitars (with the Explorer and the prototype-only Moderne), with body shapes for the space age. Seems there weren't that many space-ready guitarists out there at the time - set aside the challenges of playing it sitting down. Only 98 Flying Vs were produced in 1958 - 59, before the model came off the production line. When the first Flying Vs came out in 1958, you could buy one for $247.50, at the time a top-end price comparable with a Les Paul . . . Today, if you wanted one of those 58/59 Flying Vs, you'd be paying at least 1,000 x that amount. There are some very lucky owners out there!
Albert King was one of those lucky owners, born under a bad sign or not. He had a 1959 Flying V, a right-handed one, which, just like Jimi Hendrix after him, he played upside down. He may have been playing the space-age guitar, but he was a bluesman's bluesman through and through. I spent a few happy hours listening again to his playing while pulling this page together - the lightness of touch, the use of space, the feel and electricity of his playing, an influence on blues and rock guitarists to this day. There were times when I just stopped writing, and listened in awe (yes, you wish . . .).
Discontinued in 1959, it took another 7 years before Gibson dusted off the design, even if still with some caution - they produced only 173 between 1966 and 1970, trading the legendary korina wood of those 50s models for mahogany. Which is the wood used on this V'98, with a finish to get as close as you can to the look of the korina original. Plays like a dream, with all the warmth and cut that a pair of ceramic pick-ups are going to give you. And, short of getting a second mortgage, one of the closest plays you'll get to one of those 50s Vs. Bring on the space age!
See & Hear It In Action
I'll Play The Blues For You, 1972: A masterclass in feel, space and timing, just wonderful.
Stormy Monday, with Stevie Ray Vaughan: It's not the 59 Flying V, but his utterly unique signature Dan Erlewine "Lucy" Electric Guitar, a sort of hybrid between a Flying V and a Les Paul. But that's not the point, Just sit back and delight in 9 minutes of pure blues greatness from the gods. And then watch it again, and again!
Flying V'98, Limited Edition
Number of Frets
Grover Rotomatic 102s
Gibson 496R & 500T Ceramics
Gibson Nashville Tune-O-Matic
"Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be". When Gibson saw the market results for the first two years of their "design of the future" Flying V, they must have shared the same sense of irony as Brazil. But they were so right in the end: "The swept-back modernistic lines of this really "forward-looking" instrument will be a real asset to the combo musician with a flair for showmanship". Timing is everything. All they needed was a few more showmen. With Dave Davies and Jimi Hendrix in the 60s, and several platoons of heavy metal guitarists in the 70s and 80s, the Flying V finally established itself as the one and only showman's guitar.
Today, there's a lot more options for the guitar god showman. But the Flying V still wears the crown - a shredder's nirvana, with all that unrestricted access up to the 22nd fret, or an iconic statement in its own right.
The Flying V has been a ripe ground for reissue since 1966. The closest to the original 58/59 Flying Vs is probably the Heritage V, first released in 1982. The string-through-V-plate tailpiece, the headstock logo, and the choice of korina wood.
But this one comes a close second. Three top hat knobs in a line, the lower bout jackplate, ceramic humbuckers and black pick-up surrounds, that characteristic right-pointed pickguard, all that gold hardware, and a finish that's korina in all but material. An unmistakeable bloodline to the ancestor.
And yes, it plays like all classic Flying Vs should. Buckets of warmth in the neck position, electrifying cut in the bridge position, and a lovely low action, built for speed. Come on, if it's this or the second mortgage, I know what I'd go for!
Sources & Links
The Flying V Story, courtesy of Vintage Guitar & Bass: Just imagine, $247.50 for a Flying V in 1958 . . . Multiply that by 1000 if you want to buy one today!
Gibson 1998 Catalogue: Featuring the V'98 in bold Translucent Purple . . . though, to be fair, if you want to go for the colour explosion, best go all out with our Nuclear Yellow 1988 Flying V'90.
The Flying V'98 Spec: Thanks to Gibson Musical Instruments for the detail in the original release year.