Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Book review - Flying V, Explorer, Firebird: An Odd-Shaped History of Gibson's Weird Electric Guitars by Tony Bacon

I'm on the last couple of pages of this book now so I'll give it a review.

I have several of Mr Bacon's books, one is signed by him after I met him at some guitar show some years back.  He researches well and writes in a good manner and normally they are excellently illustrated.

This is a good read even if it is a bit jumbled as it is simply a timeline of these guitars starting from the birth of the idea for the "modernistic" trio in the mid/late 50s as Gibson looked to fight back against the fuddy-duddy image that it had from it's association with flat top acoustics, mandolins and archtop jazz guitars.  You have to say that the flying V and Explorer must have seemed like something from another planet when they came along.

Whilst focused on the Gibson roots there are several off-piste points talking about the "lawsuit" Ibanez trilogy in the mid 70s and the many offshoots that have come from the Gibson pointy boys lineage, so reference to Jackson Randy Rhodes, all the various V and Explorers that Hamer, Dean, BC Rich et al have exploited in the metal arena.

There are a couple of things I read which made my brow furrow but the area of guitar research is littered with the problem of relying on much word of mouth and there are many unscrupulous dealers who will happily perpetuate a story if it helps a sale.   For example Mr Bacon states the solo on Freebird was on a Firebird not Collins famous 58 Explorer - maybe he is correct but I always thought it held up as the legendary Explorer solo.   Also he claims that song "over-rated"... I bet he'll get a full post bag over that statement!  Also the Firebird X is mentioned in one sentence and hardly giving it any justice, I think it deserved a bit more - but the the RD range has two photos and they sank pretty much without trace.

Also the mystery of the Moderne is if anything made more intriguing.  There is a photo showing Gibson execs at NAMM with a mock up Explorer in the Futura shape (as on the patent but not as in production).  Now in the interviews they say "we made examples, took them to shows and got feedback".  Tony Bacon concludes that the Moderne never progressed from the patent sheet of paper until the "reissue" of '82.  But what if there was a Moderne prototype shown at NAMM and that is still sitting in a basement in Michigan somewhere?  And is it just me or wouldn't both/either of the Ibanez and Gibson takes on that model have been better with the Explorer hockey stick head?

However I learnt a huge amount about this range.   I've always fancied the Explorer more than a V if I'm honest but I'm unlikely to ever own either...  In the 70s when I first became clued up on guitars I rapidly realised the rarity of these.  There were only 22 Explorers assembled between 58 and 62.  Then they were fetching "high" values of $5000 a pop... now everyone wants a Sunburst Les Paul and despite them being (relatively) more available they over took the Explorer and V in values.  Now sadly I wish I had had $5000 in the mid 70s :-)

I just noticed on another blog that Mr Bacon's next release is a tome on Squier Electrics, given my ownership for nearly 30 years of my 62 strat I'm interesting in looking getting that.

1 comment:

  1. Aw, c'mon face it, if you'd had $5,000 in the '70's, you would've most likely blown it anyway!