Flash Gordon meets Orville Gibson and Produces the Flying V2

Gibson’s Second Generation of their Modernistic Flying V Guitar

By Larry Meiners

As the story goes… during the late 1950s America was enjoying the economic boom of the post-war era and soon the baby boomer generation would provide considerable influence on America. Rock-and-roll was born and anointed a King. The space race was on and so was the guitar race. Many instrument companies like Fender were growing by introducing new guitar designs with innovative features offering strong competition against instruments from established makers, including Gibson.

Gibson’s president, Ted McCarty was taken to task by his dealer network. They were requesting a new, exciting electric guitar to sell. He responded with the Korina Flying V, Explorer and Moderne in 1958, which he also helped design. However, the dealers mostly only bought the Flying V guitars and none of these instruments sold well. By 1959, these guitars were on their way out of Gibson’s solid-body line-up. In all, less than a couple hundred instruments were produced.

Supply and demand were in equilibrium. Little demand, little supply. As often happens, years later, these once ignored instruments experience high demand and prices escalate rapidly due to their lack of availability. Subsequently, Gibson introduced three different reissue Flying V styles between 1966 and 1975.

The Flying V design evokes thoughts of the 1950s era automobile tailfins and the decades fascination with the future and space travel. At the time Gibson was preparing the Korina V for it’s market debut, the Russians were launching the first man-made orbiting satellite named Sputnik. During the short life of the walnut/maple V-II, America launched the first reusable manned spacecraft, the shuttle Columbia. During the 1970s, Ziggy Stardust, KISS and disco represent the musical change which Elvis, Chuck Berry and the teen idols reflected in the 1950s. A radical design for radical times.

By 1979, twenty-one years after the first Flying V guitar, Gibson introduced their self-described Second Generation Flying V-II.
The following description is from the September 30, 1979 Gibson Price List:

FLYING V-II

The Second Generation Flying V-II is available in High Gloss Natural finish. Features include two newly designed Gibson Boomerang pickups, 5/8″ brass studs mounted under bridge for added sustain, a sculptured 5-piece maple/walnut body construction, walnut/maple neck, polished brass fingerboard nut, mini fingerrest, 24 3/4″ scale length, 22 frets, ebony fingerboard, and gold plated parts.

Flying V-II with case………………………………………………….. $1199.00

Additional descriptions from a 1979 Gibson catalog addendum sheet:

Unique scarfed body design, Adjustable gold-plated Tune-O-Matic bridge, Exquisite unique V shaped gold-plated tailpiece, Width at fingerboard nut 1 11/16″.

Gibson built V-II guitars with a combination of wood types, using walnut and maple. Gibson designed this V to use these woods interchangeably. For example, when walnut was cut for the guitar top, back and middle (3 layers), maple was used as the thin laminate material (2 layers). Maple top V guitars use walnut as the thin laminate. Walnut top versions seems to be much more prevalent. Also, Gibson produced V-II guitars in custom colors.

These modernistic Flying V-II guitars were made with 5-piece necks to match the body construction. Necks were glued together using a similar 3-piece neck style of the period (middle section grain reversed for strength) with the addition of two thin strips of the alternate wood between the three neck pieces. At the back of the headstock where it meets the neck, a volute was added for additional strength. Neck volutes became larger throughout the decade of the 1970s on most Gibson guitars and these were no exception. Stamped on back of V-shaped headstock is the serial number and the ‘Made in U.S.A.’ notice. It is interesting to note that Gibson used both gold Gibson Deluxe, single ring plastic tuner button, Kluson-like machine heads, as well as the more common Schaller-like gold metal tuner button heads with the Gibson brand.

Gibson’s original factory in Kalamazoo built the V-II as well as the now famous Korina V. The Flying V-II stamped serial number has 8 impressed digits. Digits 6-8 less than 500 (and produced before July of 1984 for all Gibson guitars) indicates it was made in the Kalamazoo plant. The company eventually moved all guitar production from Kalamazoo to Nashville.

In 1979, a Flying V-II carried a list price of $1199.00 with case included. That placed the V-II on the price list as Gibson’s second most expensive solid body behind the Les Paul Artist priced at $1299.00, without case. It was priced 50% more than the Les Paul Standard ($799.00) and 25% more than the Explorer II ($949.00).

Although many believe the Explorer II and V-II were introduced at the same time as a set, the Explorer II was included in Gibson’s price list many months before the V-II. While the Explorer shared the same contoured body styling as the V-II, it used Gibson’s Dirty Finger humbucker pickups as compared with the V-II’s most unique feature, it’s Boomerang V-shaped pickups.

Tooling and production of the unique V-II pickups, tailpiece, body/neck laminations and routing no doubt drove the cost of the guitar higher than many other Gibson solid body instruments. The higher cost was probably a factor leading to it’s high standard list price.

V-II Boomerang pickups were not used on any other Gibson guitar. Looking at the underside of these transducers reveal no clues as to their construction because they are potted with a dark compound. Potting usually quiets a pickup by reducing microphonic effects.

Inside the V-shaped black plastic pickup cover are two separate single coils. These appear to be wired in series and out-of-phase for noise immunity. Each coil is assembled with a clear plastic bobbin containing a bar magnet. Both bobbins are taped to a base plate. This plate appears to be a soft, stamped metal in the shape of the bottom end of a hockey stick. Gibson’s S-1 guitar pickups resemble these individual bobbins but are larger. Potting may also have been required to hold the bobbins against the top of the pickup cover because the base plate does not allow for screw attachments.

The bass string side coil sits against the back of the pickup cover and is almost perpendicular to the guitar strings. It’s coil length covers the three bass side strings (E, A, D). The other coil is situated against the bottom front-side of the cover and has an exaggerated slant as compared to a Stratocaster bridge pickup. This coil covers the treble side strings (G, B, E). With the end of the bass coil pointing into the treble coil one quarter of the way down it’s length at about a thirty degree angle from perpendicular, forms the hockey stick with a knob end. Both coils are wrapped with black tape to the baseplate.

Measuring these pickups indicate a high output level, or as players say, these are “hot” pickups. They ranged from 11k to 13k ohms. Sound characterizations are usually subjective, however these guitars have some of the warmth of a Les Paul and a bit of the bite of a Stratocaster. Because they are hot pickups, they tend to be somewhat muddy which is a characteristic of hot, twin-coil humbuckers. With the configuration and output of these V-II pickups in combination with the laminated woods, the sound produced will be like no other solid-body. If it’s a different tone you’re after, the Flying V-II may be worth a test flight.

Add these one-of-a-kind pickups with metal mounting rings to a special V-shaped tailpiece, 5-piece laminated construction, sculptured body, fancy engraved truss rod cover, brass nut, Gibson headstock inlay and an ebony fretboard which terminates around the V-shaped neck pickup mounting ring and you have a very special instrument. Gibson was still producing a traditional 1970s type Flying V guitar during the time a V-II was available.

The standard books and tags issued with the V-II included; Owners Manual booklet (with USA shaped guitar on the cover), Gibson Warranty Card (Gibson listed as a Division of Norlin Industries, Inc.), Gibson Hang Tag (with USA shaped guitar) and Important Shipment Release notice card.

Finally, Gibson included a bright yellow hang tag during the fall of 1980 which offered the following: PERSONALIZED TRUSS ROD COVER FREE with the purchase of this instrument… OFFER GOOD ONLY ON GIBSON FLYING V II AND EXPLORER II MODELS PURCHASED BETWEEN OCT. 1, 1980 AND DEC. 31, 1980. The back of the card was to be filled-out and returned to Gibson in Kalamazoo with a copy of your bill of sale. These special truss rod covers were also made for dealers buying V-II guitars for inventory during this period.

The V-II production numbers are not available for 1980-1982, although 157 were shipped in 1979. That may imply a low figure for the first year of production and low initial demand although it was not included in the Gibson price list until late that year.

For comparison, Chart 1 was compiled to highlight the differences between the V-II and other Flying V guitars.

Chart 1
Flying V 1st Issue 1st Reissue 2nd Reissue 2nd Generation
Production ’58-’59 1966-1970 1975-1980 1979 -1982
Wood Used Korina Mahogany Mahogany Walnut/Maple
Head Logo Raised Plastic Embossed TR Embossed TR Inlay Veneer
Pickups PAF Pat. # Decal Pat. # Stamped Boomerang
Tailpiece String-through Stop, Vibrola Stop V-shaped Stop
Production Less than 100 175 3000+ Unknown
Gibson produced V2 guitars in custom colors such as blue, red and black sparkle finishes in addition to the more common natural finished versions. Besides these colors, original V2s have turned-up in such wild finishes as Silverburst, Goldburst and Candyapple Red, as well as White.

During 1982 toward the end of this guitar’s production life due to lack of demand, Gibson made several changes in an attempt to increase sales and lower costs. They replaced the most unique feature of this instrument, the boomerang pickups. They now were built with their standard Dirty Finger humbucker pickup with plastic rings. These pickups have screw pole-pieces on both coils. This change also negated the need to route a V shape into the bottom of the ebony fretboard to accommodate the front of the boomerang pickup. With the addition of the these humbucker pickups, they eliminated the pickguard as well. Gibson seems to have finished all of these humbucker versions in Candyapple Red and White. A third and final variation for the Gibson V2 eliminated the Gibson headstock inlay in favor of a gold Gibson decal. These changes did not bring about the desired results and the guitar was dropped from the lineup later that year.

The V2 was not a minor variation but a bold attempt to remake this new Flying V into a high-end sales leader. This design did not last much longer than the original Korina V however and by 1982 the V2 was added to the discontinued list. The marketplace had spoken again.

Copyright © 2003 Larry Meiners All Rights Reserved