ProGuitarShop

The Gibson Guitars You’ve Never Heard Of

August 5, 2016

By PGS staff

ThorpyFX - Fallout Cloud

Think of the historic guitars of the 20th century and realize the impact Gibson has had on our music. Robert Johnson played his L-1 to define the Delta Blues for generations; Charlie Christian’s ES-150 allowed the Jazz guitarist to be heard in a big band for the first time. Woody Guthrie stood up for humanity with his 1945 Gibson L-0, decorated with his famous phrase “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Elvis strummed his J-200, swung his hips, and established rock ‘n’ roll as the most significant and popular form of music in the coming decades. Keith Richards picked up his ‘59 Les Paul to record “Satisfaction,” and kick the British Invasion into overdrive. Jimmy Page plugged his ’59 Les Paul into his Marshall amp and, with the help of his Led Zeppelin band mates, created the soundtrack to mystique itself, while Yes guitarist Steve Howe and his ’64 ES-175 took music to a whole new realm of progressive rock.

 

Les Paul, Chuck Berry, Robert Fripp, Robbie Krieger, Tony Iommi, Frank Zappa, and maybe even your unnamed favorite are but a few on a long list of musicians whose legendary status is associated with that of their iconic Gibson guitars. Few guitar makers have enjoyed as great a presence—and as enduring an influence on Western pop culture—as Gibson. But for all of its extraordinary successes, Gibson has created quite a few designs that have remained obscure, though not necessarily unappreciated. Let’s take a minute to look at a few of these.

Gibson Moderne

The Gibson Moderne is, by far, one of the most storied and mysterious of the rare guitars. In 1957, Gibson sought to upgrade its image as the “traditional” guitar manufacturers and regain some of the market share lost to Fender’s bold, new designs. A trio of modern guitar designs was proposed. The Flying V and the Explorer went into a relatively unsuccessful three-year production run, in which fewer than two hundred of each guitar were made and sold before being discontinued in 1960. The third model, the Moderne, never officially made it into the hands of the public, but stories of its design did. Over the years, the Moderne became something of a mythical design. Prototypes were rumored to have been built and either destroyed or closely guarded as the rarest and most coveted guitar in a handful of collections. Unfortunately, anyone who could have possibly known the truth about the Moderne is no longer around to verify any of the many stories. Billy Gibbons believes and affirms his Moderne is one of the elusive originals, but his story remains unverified as he is somewhat secretive about it and refuses to let it be inspected. Gibson finally revisited the design in 1980 with a brief re-issue that was met with limited success. Original Heart guitarist Howard Leese has one of the prototype reissues. In 2012, the Moderne was once again introduced, and the story continued.

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Gibson RD

The Gibson RD was introduced in 1977 to be the guitar of the future. The design proved to be quite brilliant and playable, with a body that suggested a more organic variation of the reverse Firebird of the previous decade. Three variations of the RD were available throughout it three year run, all with two humbuckers, a 25.5-inch scale length along with the same body and set neck crafted from maple for a bright tone. The RD Artist was the premier model that featured active Moog circuitry, a switchable bright mode, treble boost, bass boost, compression and expansion circuits. The RD Custom featured active circuitry with a switchable bright mode. The RD Standard came with passive electronics, like most guitars. All three models were popular among the small but enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 guitarists who bought one before the line was discontinued in 1980. The original ’77 RD Artist is now considered quite collectable, with a collector’s price to match its legend. In 2007, and then again in 2009, Gibson reissued the RD Standard with substantial changes in materials and hardware.

Gibson Corvus

The Corvus was introduced in 1982 to in an attempt to recast Gibson in a new light as a bold, adventurous innovator. Corvus is the name of the genus that includes crows and ravens, and the complex design of guitar’s alder body suggested the shape of a crow in flight. The Gibson Corvus had a rare (for Gibson) bolt-on neck and came in three different models, each differentiated by and named for its pickup configuration. The Corvus I had a single humbucker with one tone and one volume control. The Corvus II featured a pair of humbuckers, each with its own tone control and a single master volume control. The Corvus III came with three single-coil pickups and the same three controls. Despite being a great sounding, easily playable guitar, the Corvus line sold poorly and lasted a mere two years before being discontinued in 1984.

1969 Les Paul Personal

The Gibson Les Paul Personal should have been a lot more popular than it eventually proved to be. It represented all of Les Paul’s personal preferences and innovations that followed after he lent his name to Gibson’s most famous and successful guitar. Ever the restless inventor, Les Paul designed his own low-impedance pickups, altered the body dimensions for a slightly wider, more bottom rich tone, and added circuits and switching for different phase and tone operations. The 11-position “decade” control chose a range of tonal signatures from almost acoustic to open humbucker sounds, and the tone switch reconfigured the controls three different ways for a vast range of options. The guitar even featured a microphone jack on the upper bout. As versatile as it was, the Les Paul Personal proved to be too complicated for most guitarists and was discontinued in 1969 after a production of only 370.

1973 Les Paul Recording

With the discontinuation of the Les Paul Personal in 1969, Gibson saved some of Les Paul’s innovations for the guitar that eventually became his favorite, the Les Paul Recording Model. Designed to be a versatile tool in the recording studio, the Recording featured the same diagonal, low impedance pickups that could deliver an impressively broad and malleable range of sounds directly to a recording console. Of course, Les Paul used his favorite recording model for live shows, a flip of a switch activated the high end of the custom low/high impedance circuitry for use with a standard amp. The Les Paul Recording Model stayed in production until 1979, with several thousand of them created. It has come to be recognized as a highly-collectable guitar with a respectable collector price tag keeping them in the hands of those value them the most as outstanding studio tools.

With the Gibson logo on the headstock, few obscure models will go for a price that is practical for most entry level guitarists. But if you should find an old Marauder, Dusk Tiger, Melody Maker, Futura, S-1 or any of the guitars featured here, chances are good you’ll have unearthed a treasure that is well worth any reasonable price.  

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Comments

  1. Brian Bishop says:

    2008 Ultratone….never saw the light of day.  They would have sold at least one!

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 7:53 am
  2. Kstmgtr says:

    How did a Dusk Tiger make it into the last paragraph?  They must be some of the most ugly and over-complicated guitars Gibson ever made.  Someone’s been trying to sell one here locally for years for a princely sum.  No one has bought it yet, and I suspect the owner will have the guitar for years to come.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 8:04 am
  3. Kevin says:

    How about the L5S? The first year[although allegedly made in 72 none were shipped until 73, I’ve read] they had the low impedance pickups which were consequently replaced with standard humbuckers. At first glance they look like an LP, but are thinner and have a different tailpiee[trapeze], gold hardware, and were Gibsons’ flagship single cut solidbody. Not hollow like an L5. They sold at a 30 to 40% premium over an LP..

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 8:11 am
  4. Tim says:

    @kstmgtr - Dusk Tiger, indeed!  All these others are cool in some way because they were designed by guitar makers.  Dusk Tiger is what happens when marketers design guitars.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 8:16 am
  5. Sita Lewi says:

    I learned and master the walk the dog,  scramble the ducks   and shoot the fleas on 1973 Les Paul Recording. I made my own Gibson Moderne using the ship building techniques I learned watch my paw paw work. Having self-taught myself all simple electronics as a child, the wiring was so easy not to mention the Improvement I added.  I learned to play slide with my feet on the Gibson RD. Thus I can play two guitars at once. In high school I watched my girlfriend in metal shop and we made our first sound boxes. Again the electronic were so simple.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 8:26 am
  6. BB says:

    I owned and gigged the neck thru version of the Corvus ( Aka the Futura) for about 3 years. nice lightweight guitar with great sustain and tone. but terrible stock pickups, in which nothing aftermarket would fit due to the oversized holes in the guard.
      mine had the Kahler /Gibson Supertune vibrato on it.  never could find a case to fit it.
    which I had never sold it now,  it was such a conversation starter.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 8:42 am
  7. Randy Alexander says:

    I had a Corvus…Bought in brand new in the early 80’s…It wasn’t a very good guitar,and i traded it for something else….Can’t remember what….An Explorer maybe?

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 9:06 am
  8. BradleeTheDawg says:

    This list is kinda old news - I’ve actually played most of them. You guys must be able to dig up something even weirder than these aren’t you?  Every once in a while some really oddball Gibson comes across our bench. Like a doubleneck EB-O with TWO bass necks (WHY???). Or a doubleneck L6-S with a 6 and a 12 and the 12 on the bottom.  I always figured they were one-off custom shop/ special orders and etc.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 1:42 pm
  9. BobSkippy says:

    @Kevin I think the idea was to identify the REALLY obscure Gibson models…  :-)

    I’ve got a ‘79 L-5S in Tobacco Sunburst myself; VERY cool guitar! I won a pair of Skatterbrane pickups last summer, so I replaced the original pickups (1 Tarback, 1 T-top, iirc). The gold-plated hardware was VERY pitted and corroded, so I just got nickel-plated parts from Stew-Mac; they look AWESOME!

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 1:46 pm
  10. billy says:

    i have an 1983 corvus 3 never played it. still in mint condition anyone know what it may be worth?hell only open the case maybe 3 or 4 times.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 3:56 pm
  11. BobSkippy says:

    @billy I’d say probably somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000 in mint condition.  :-)

    The caveat is that the Corvus is kind of a ‘niche guitar’; to find a buyer, you need to find someone who WANTS a Corvus! Buyers might be few and far between, but when you DO find them, you’re pretty much GUARANTEED that they’ll buy it!  :-)

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 4:27 pm
  12. Pieter van Diesen says:

    I miss the Les Paul Signature

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 6:08 pm
  13. Ron Lawrence says:

    Great little article on some terrific guitars—love to get my hands on an RD to try.  And the Les Paul Personal is a beauty: I can only imagine how much variation that deisng offers for a player really working out a unique sound.  Thanks for posting this.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 9:35 pm
  14. Rob Bernstein says:

    1976-ish, I wanted a Les Paul, couldn’t afford one (I was in High School), so I bought a Gibson Marauder. Bolt-on neck, Lucite pickups designed by Bill Lawrence.
    Horrible guitar.
    Sold that and bought a ‘78 Les Paul Standard (brand new) for $568, which I still own.
    Certainly not Gibson’s finest years but this turned out to be a great guitar.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 10:37 pm
  15. Carl Elliott says:

    The L6-S was a very fine machine as well.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 10:44 pm
  16. Ross says:

    Always good fun to read these things.  I remember the RD well as well as the Les Paul Studio.  I owned a Marauder for a short time because it was a great value when I was young.  When Gibson did the limited run reissue of the Moderne a few years ago, I bought one.  It’s ok, nothing special and the balance is rather off.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 10:46 pm
  17. Elliot says:

    There are a lot of guitars that this article could have talked about.  How about Gibson’s “The Hawk?”

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 11:07 pm
  18. Dale says:

    I bought an S-1 when I was 14 yrs old, back in 1979 and still have it. I love that guitar.

    posted on August 5, 2016 at 11:09 pm
  19. John Trallo says:

    The Gibson’s that I had that got away (and the ones that didn’t!)

    I had a 1966 SG Standard w/P-90’s that I bought new. I traded that in on a 1971 Les Paul Deluxe w/mini humbuckers that I became quickly disappointed with and sold for a downpayment on an L5-S. (discussed below)

    I had a 1969 Les Paul Personal. It was an interesting guitar with a multitude of tone variations, and an extremely comfortable neck. It was also one of the heaviest guitars I’ve ever played - heavier than any other Les Paul, or even most basses. It was great for recording purposes, but for me it was not very practical for live gigs. Sold in 1993. 

    I also had a 1961 double cut-away Les Paul Custom (SG body style) with 3 PAF humbuckers, Gibson Vibrola tremolo, ebony fingerboard, all white w/gold hardware, and original square case. Nicknamed “The Fretless Wonder” because of it’s wide low profile frets. Sold in 1979. (What the hell was I thinking?)

    Now, the ones that didn’t, and are still part of my substantial guitar collection. 
    I have a 1972 L5-S (*that I bought new) with 2 humbuckers, red sunburst finish, ebony fingerboard, gold hardware, Grover tuning machines, and the “Gibson Vase” inlayed on the headstock. Still have it, still gig with it. It’s like a Les Paul Custom on steroids.

    I also have an early 1966 (first year re-issue) Gibson Flying V 100% all original, w/Gibson Vibrola, neoprene bridge saddles, Kluson tuning machines, natural finish with black headstock, and w/original square case w/yellow lining. I also still play this baby, too.

    posted on August 6, 2016 at 1:05 am
  20. Carl Elliott says:

    Fortunately I own a 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, I’ll never part with it.

    posted on August 6, 2016 at 5:49 am
  21. Glenn Whitehead says:

    I think the mastermind behind Wang Chung actually endorsed the RD series. I also had a red Corvus with a really bad vibrato bar thing, sort of like a Jazz Master bridge. The board was fast but it lacked bottom and heft. It actually didn’t balance well or play while seated very well. Was never going to be a keeper like my old SD Curlee!

    posted on August 6, 2016 at 7:42 am
  22. Roger Holt says:

    I still have my marauder with the chicken head pickup selector.

    posted on August 6, 2016 at 8:38 am
  23. Ray O. says:

    Further to the comments about the L5-S, I have any original 72(73?) with dual (1 angled) low-impedance pickups, the classic L5 tailpiece, cherry sunburst finish, rectangular tune-o-matic bridge, and purple-lined Gibson case. It looks and plays great, and is so eye-catching, it’s fun just to play for its shock value. I bought it used in 1974 and have had it since.

    posted on August 7, 2016 at 4:00 am
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    posted on August 10, 2016 at 7:05 pm
  25. Charlie Francek says:

    You might also add your second line of guitars ( Epiphone ) also made a run of Moderne’s in 1999 and sold through the now defunct Mars Music, I bought it ,got a hard epiphone case for it and still have it. It has only been played a few times, over the years I have seen a few of them going on Ebay for 2 times the price I paid for it. It was made like the gibson’s except it has a white pick guard on it. I have heard that it had a limited run of 300 world wide.

    posted on August 12, 2016 at 11:26 am

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