2006 Gibson Hummingbird, as made famous by Keith Richards
Keith Richards' first choice acoustic since 1964. Yes, this one's a younger model, but it's a design that's barely changed over the years. The pedigree, quality and tone is all there. A glorious guitar to play. Wild horses couldn't drag me away.
I've seen the toilet that Keith Richards used to finish off writing Wild Horses. Odd claim to a connection, but I'm not the only one. The legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, at 3614 Jackson Highway in Alabama. A place of pilgrimage for bands and fans ever since it was first opened in 1969. The Rolling Stones took up a few days' residency there in December 1969, following an unplanned break in their US tour. In just three days, they recorded what were to become two of their greatest singles, Brown Sugar and Wild Horses, plus companion track for the album Sticky Fingers, You Gotta Move. The story goes that Keith hadn't finished writing Wild Horses at the time, so needed some quiet space to complete the process. That quiet place was the toilet inside the studio. He took his Hummingbird in there, and came out with the finished the song. Divine inspiration in a toilet.
Of course, Keith Richards isn't the only one famous with a Hummingbird in his hands. From Bob Dylan to Thom Yorke, from Tom Petty to Dave Grohl, this is a go-to guitar for anyone looking for that legendary honeyed warmth. The first of Gibson's square-shouldered guitars, at the time of its release in 1960, it was second only to the J-200. Famous for its looks as much as its sound - that detailed scratchplate giving it immediate recognition in the classic Gibson acoustic line-up.
The spec's changed in only the smallest of ways since it was first introduced - and, like many more modern Gibson models, reverts more towards the original spec than some of the changes made along the way. Classic parallelogram inlays, beautiful heritage cherry sunburst finish, X-braced top, and that gorgeous warmth of sound. It's enough to make you want to lock yourself in your toilet and, finally, come up with the masterpiece the world has been waiting for!
See & Hear It In Action
1965 Hummingbird, Norman's Rare Guitars: Mark Agnesi with a stunning 1965 Hummingbird. Like he says, "It really is the sound of the sixties. All of my favourite records are recorded on one of these." The adjustable bridge might have been replaced by a fixed bridge in 1970, but in all other respects, the pedigree and heritage abides!
Heritage Cherry Sunburst
Number of Frets
Sitka Spruce & Mahogany
L R Baggs Element Active System
The Hummingbird was Gibson's first square-shouldered acoustic. Up until that point, the dividing lines between a Gibson and a Martin had been pretty simple: round shoulders for a Gibson and square shoulders for a Martin. There's a fair amount of discussion about whether the shape of the shoulders makes a difference to the sound of a guitar. And the answer is generally maybe, and only in a contributory way. It's all about the combination of features, rather than a single part of the design. The bracing, the scale length, the body dimensions, the choice of wood, the bridge, and so on.
As far as I know, there's no paper test that's going to tell you what a guitar will sound like. The real test is how it sounds. So, I tried the Hummingbird against a square-shouldered Martin D-28 and a round-shouldered Gibson J-200. Not a scientific test - just some open and barred chords for comparison. They're all glorious guitars. I'd say the Hummingbird sits between the Martin and the Gibson. A lot of the rich warmth of the J-200, with more of the metallic attack of the Martin. That's how it sounds to me, at least!
This is from the Gibson Acoustic line, built at the Bozeman plant in Montana. Opened in 1989, the Bozeman factory restored the reputation for hand-built quality and tone that Gibson had lost in the profit-seeking 80s. Today, many say that the Bozeman guitars are as good as, if not better than, the prized acoustics Gibson built in the 30s and 40s.
Based on my non-scientific tests above, this one has a tonal range that sits between a D-18 and a J-200. Which makes it one hell of a versatile guitar. Great for strumming, picking and lead work. The only thing I'd recommend against is a lot of rhythmic soundboard tapping. Only because, even though this guitar is over 15 years old, it's in incredibly good condition. That scratchplate will take a lot of use, but best avoid giving the body a full-on work-out ;-).
Besides, you probably won't need to. This one is loaded with an L R Baggs Element Active transducer pick-up. Pure reproduction of the guitar's acoustics at volume. Just an added bonus for what is already a legendary guitar!
Sources & Links
The Rolling Stones at Muscle Shoals: Nice piece by Ultimate Classic Rock with the story behind the Stone's session at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Just three days and, bang, Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, and You Gotta Move.
2003 Gibson Acoustic Catalogue: Just before this one, but essentially the same build for this square-shouldered classic - plus every other acoustic Gibson was putting out at the time. Some glorious guitars in there! Thanks to GuitarCompare for keeping this one on archive.
Guitar HQ on the Hummingbird: A go-to resource for all your vintage guitar questions and specs, Guitar HQ with the spec evolutions for the Hummingbird since introduced in 1960 . . . and the full-circle Gibson often come to return to the original spec.
Gibson Hummingbird: All the info you need if you're thinking of buying a brand new model, direct from Gibson . . . though you might be more in pocket to hire this one.
The Full Gibson Acoustic Centennial Range: Yes, this one isn't one of the Centennial 100 J-200s. But for eye-candy, this video from the Chicago Music Exchange takes some beating!