This day in 1958 – Gibson guitars launched it’s ‘Flying V’ electric guitar. Guitarists who played a Flying V include, Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.
Gibson manufactured prototypes of the guitar in 1957. Production guitars were made of korina wood, a trademarked name for limba, a wood similar to but lighter in color than mahogany. This Flying V, along with the Futura (Explorer) and, initially, the Moderne, made up a line of modernist guitars designed by Gibson’s then-president Ted McCarty. 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.
McCarty started out with a mahogany guitar that was rounded in the back instead of being cut out. Gibson decided to change the back for weight reduction.
Pioneering blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack and famed blues guitarist Albert King started using the guitar almost immediately. Mack used his 1958 Flying V almost exclusively during his long career. As it was seventh off the inaugural year’s assembly line, he named it “Number 7”. 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 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.
Gibson reissued the guitar in mahogany in 1967, updating its design with a bigger pickguard, and replacing the original bridge, which had the strings inserted through the back, with the stopbar tail piece more commonly associated with Gibson models.
Flying Vs later became a popular heavy metal guitar due to their aggressive appearance and were used by guitarists Rudolf Schenker, Andy Powell, Michael Schenker, K. K. Downing, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and Dave Mustaine.
The 1958–59 korina Flying V is one of the most valuable production-model guitars on the market, ranked at No. 5 on the 2011 Top 25 published by Vintage Guitar magazine, and worth between US$200,000 and US$250,000.
Both Gibson and Epiphone currently produce a 1958-style Flying V, designed to look like the original korina models.
Although a staple in the Gibson lineup, the guitar has been discontinued on-and-off again in the 2010s, along with the Gibson Explorer. In 2016, Gibson produced the Flying V Pro which (similar to the Explorer Pro) had a slightly smaller body and had cream binding on the neck and body. Since the 2017 models have been released however, Gibson have changed its name to the Flying V 2016. As of 2017, Gibson USA manufacture only the Flying V 2017 which has a ‘half’ pick guard and is available in both Ebony and Alpine White, as well as Traditional spec and High performance models. Gibson Custom continues to produce the Flying V Standard and Custom.