By Larry Meiners
The late Ted McCarty’s impact on Gibson and the guitar world could not be overstated. Under Ted’s leadership, Gibson released their most popular selling models and set all-time sales records in 1965. Ted was involved in the development of the Les Paul, ES-335, Tune-O-Matic bridge, PAF humbucker, Firebird, Explorer and the Flying V.
The Flying V was radical, modernistic and created as a departure from Gibson’s traditional line of conservative instruments. Ted wanted to shake-up the guitar business and put his competitors, especially Fender, on notice that Gibson could be innovative and produce exciting guitars too.
During 1957, the patents for the Flying V were being submitted and the construction materials were chosen. Korina wood was Ted’s first choice due to its light color and mahogany-like grain pattern. Korina is lighter than Mahogany and produces a similar sound. The first Flying V featured a two-piece body (1 ½” thick), one-piece neck, 1 11/16″ nut width, Brazilian rosewood fingerboard, long neck joint tenon into and past the neck pickup cavity, smooth and rounded heel cap at neck joint, pearl dot inlays, black bell-shaped truss rod cover, raised plastic Gibson logo, gold-plated ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge, V-plate (string-through body), two gold-plated PAF humbucker pickups with black-plastic mounting rings, headstock angle of 17o, gold-plated Kluson tuners (single-line, single-ring) with plastic tulip buttons, rubber strip on bottom of treble-side wing, three black bonnet knobs (two volume and one master tone control), toggle switch and input jack with plastic surround.
From 1958 through 1959 Gibson tried to sell the Flying V and the Explorer, but their sales figures were disappointing. Dealers mostly bought Flying V guitars to hang in their store windows to attract attention. Gibson moved on to other new models and discontinued production in 1959 with less than 100 Flying V guitars sold. Fast forward to the present, these original Flying V guitars command tens of thousands of dollars and are considered very rare.
During the 1990s, musicians, collectors and guitar dealers were paying ever-higher prices for classic vintage guitars. Gibson took notice of this activity and began to introduce a new series of replica instruments called the Historic Collection. These Historic guitars were marketed to collectors of modern instruments, as well as players seeking the vintage look and feel. Gibson’s Custom Shop began to build a 1959 Flying V reissue model. Since most of the original Flying V manufacturing drawings were lost when the Kalamazoo plant closed, the arduous task of re-creating new design drawings began. The Custom Shop obtained several vintage instruments to examine and measure, ensuring proper construction details. The first Historic Korina Flying V prototypes were built in 1991 and displayed at the NAMM Show. A few years later, Gibson changed the name of the guitar to the 1958 Flying V. Then, in 1998 Gibson changed the name back to the 1959 designation. They are produced in limited quantities presently and are as rare as the originals. The 2001 List Price for this guitar is $13,992.00.
These 1959 Korina Historic Flying V guitars are made in Nashville. Their serial numbers are black ink rubber stamped with the first number 9 representing a 1959 Historic model, then a space followed by four digits. The first of the four digits represents the last number of the year it was built (6 = 1996), the last three-digits represent a Custom Shop production number. From 1995 into 1998, Gibson changed the name to the 1958 Korina Historic Flying V, using 8 as the first digit. In the 1998 Historic Catalog, Gibson again referred to this model as the 1959 Flying V. After 1999, Gibson started using six-consecutive numbers without a space on some models.
For more information on this Historic Flying V and all other Gibson Flying V models made from 1958-2001, buy the Flying “V” – The Illustrated History of this Modernistic Guitar book available now at JK Lutherie, 1-800-344-8880.