GIBSON GUITARS The Flying V

Posted: January 6, 2017 in Guitars
Tags: ,
The Axe Attack Of The Flying V

“They only made 20 of them at the time. I used that one on ‘Memphis’ and I still use it today.” So said Lonnie Mack in 1968, five years after his top five US hit with that great track, which helped define the highly distinctive guitar trademarked by Gibson on 6th January, 1958: the Flying V. The Gibson Flying V  guitar model first released by Gibson in 1958. The Flying V offered a radical, “futuristic” body design, much like its siblings: the Explorer , which was released the same year . These designs were meant to add a more futuristic aspect to Gibson’s image, but they did not sell well. After the initial launch in 1958, the line was discontinued by 1959. Some instruments were assembled from leftover parts and shipped in 1963, with nickel- rather than gold-plated hardware.

Lonnie-Mack-with-Gibsons-Flying-V-Guitar

Another estimate says that 98 were made originally, but either way, those 1958-59 originals are now valued at between $200,000 and $250,000. Indiana bluesman Lonnie Mack was one of the early adopters of an instrument that remains one of the most striking looking axes in the world of guitars. Blues Rock guitarist Lonnie Mack and Albert King started using the guitar almost immediately. Mack used his 1958 Flying V almost exclusively during his career. King used his original 1958 instrument into the mid-70s and later replaced it with various custom Flying Vs. Later, in the mid-late 1960s, such guitarists as Kinks Dave Davies , in search of a distinctive looking guitar with a powerful sound, also started using Flying Vs. The renewed interest created a demand for Gibson to reissue the model.

Albert King

Lonnie named his guitar Seven, because he was told it was seventh off the production line; his fellow blues practitioner Albert King was another who started using a Flying V soon after they came into that limited circulation, and he called his Lucy, in responce to fellow bluesman B.B King’s Lucille.

The first of the guitars were made not of mahogany, but of limba, a lighter wood, and the look, designed by Gibson president Ted McCarty, was deliberately futuristic. But it didn’t prove popular at first, and it was the milestone ‘Memphis,’ and other Mack recordings, that helped the new generation of rock guitarists take an interest in the Flying V.

Dave Davies

Dave Davies of the Kinks, Arthur Lee of Love and Jimi Hendrix were among those to realise that the guitar had both audible and visible appeal. Gibson weren’t slow to recognise the new interest, and relaunched the guitar, this time with a mahogany body, in 1967. That year, Albert King recorded ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ with his Lucy and future stars like Stevie Ray Vaughan were spellbound. Albert even cut a song that may have appeared to be named after a popular TV series, but was really a love letter to his Flying V, ‘(I Love) Lucy.’

Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash was another fan of the V. “I [used to go] up to the music shops in London on the train and [look] in the windows, And I used to build up these fantasies about owning a Flying V. At one time it was a Les Paul, but then it changed. Mine is lust a fairly basic mid-’60s V. I recently acquired another one in mint condition, which is really nice.”

Paul Stanley

The guitar also fitted perfectly with the glam-rock look and sound of the extrovert rock bands of the early and mid-1970s. Marc Bolan was closely associated with it, as was Paul Stanley of Kiss ; Ronnie Montrose of Montrose and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen both acquired 1958 models in the 1970s.

Heartbreakers logo

Tom Petty liked the guitar so much that for years, the Heartbreakers’ logo was a Flying V piercing a heart. “I always thought the Flying V was great ever since I saw Dave Davies playing one in the Kinks on television in Gainesville,” Tom Petty told Q magazine in 1989. “I thought, ‘Yeah, that looks cool, so the first one I could afford, I bought.” Petty became less keen when the V became associated with the subsequent “hair” metal bands, such as Quiet Riot. The Scorpions also favoured one in the 1980s, as did modern rockers Hüsker Dü, and then Lenny Kravitz gave the instrument a Hendrix-style endorsement in the 1990s. Flying Vs later became a popular heavy metal guitar due to their aggressive appearance and were used by guitarists Micheal Schenker , KK Downing, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett. 

The Flying V2 version of the guitar arrived in the late 1970s, and there have been later variations such as the Reverse Flying V and the bass version of the guitar, the V Bass. But it’s the design of the original 1958 guitar that is in modern production at both Gibson and Epiphone Guitars.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a musical instrument and guitar

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