The Flying V Turns 50

Here’s an article you’re sure to enjoy! The history of the Flying V, a truly iconic rock’n’roll guitar that was so ahead of its time that it still manages to look cutting edge even today! At the bottom of this article, we made our list with our Top 5 favourite Flying V models.

The sleek, space age lines and bold tones of Gibson Flying Vs have seduced generations of players, putting the “Wham” in Lonnie Mack’s licks and making Albert King’s big-bellied southpaw bends hang in the air like smoking Crisco at a Saturday night fish fry.


[originally Ted Drozdowski | 01.31.2008,]Though its origins may lie in the blues, the Flying V found a home in rock and roll, too. A fleet of three Vs gassed Jimi Hendrix’s jams ’til he kissed the sky. The guitar humbucked up T. Rex’s roar and gave the Scorpions enough wind to “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Metallica’s monolithic wall of sound has a vein of V at its igneous core, and Zakk Wylde has blasted his signature model on-stage and in the studio with Ozzy.

This year marks the golden anniversary of the debut of the Gibson Flying V, and this is the story of the guitar’s birth.


The Flying V was born on a field of battle that still rages: Gibson verses Fender. In 1957 Gibson’s then-president Ted McCarty wanted some new six-strings to tussle with Leo Fender’s popular Stratocasters. Sure, the Les Paul was already making history, but McCarty wanted more contemporary reinforcements with some eye-candy appeal. After all, the Les Paul had debuted in 1952 during the height of the Korean War. It was a new era.

So Gibson’s design gurus came up with patents for both the Flying V and the Explorer. They were modern looking instruments during a period when Americans were enjoying peace and prosperity, and more leisure time than ever before. And they smacked of the day’s yen for progress. Scientists had elaborated on technology from World War II and Korea to make great leaps in rocketry. Satellites began to circle the Earth. Science fiction novels and movies were the rage.

The aerodynamic charms of both models, but especially the “swept back, forward looking”—as Z.Z. Top’s Billy Gibbons has put it—Flying V made it seem like personal jet packs were just around the corner.

The prototype Flying Vs were mahogany and deemed a bit too heavy and a bit too costly to compete with the Strat. So the first models to leave Gibson’s original factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, during 1958 were made of the lighter and more readily available korina wood. Their sales didn’t break the sound barrier. According to Larry Meiners’ thoroughly enjoyable Flying “V”: The Illustrated History of This Modernistic Guitar, less than 100 were ordered by dealers in ’58 and ’59.

It would take another decade-and-a-half before the Flying V would have the last amplified laugh, but early sales were so slack that in 1960 the model was struck from Gibson’s catalog. Dave Davies of the Kinks tells a story about buying an original-production V from a Los Angeles guitar shop in 1964 at the fire-sale price of $60. The V’s suggested retail at the time was $247.50. Today a ’58 or ’59 V fetches between $120,000 and $145,000.

Nonetheless, the Flying V began carving its place in history almost immediately thanks to two players.

Bluesman Albert King named his brand new 1958 V “Lucy,” a sleeker-shaped little sister to B.B. King’s “Lucille.” With that guitar Albert perfected a highly original strain of blues powered by primal funk that would influence Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and countless others thanks to classic songs like “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Crosscut Saw.”

Lonnie Mack’s V, which he called “Seven,” was practically a mail-order bride. He put money down at Cincinnati, Ohio’s Glenn Hughes Music after eyeballing the model in the Gibson catalog. While many players scoffed at its cut, Mack marveled at the arrow-like shape—a figure that literally aimed toward the future—and admired the pair of humbuckers on the V’s face.

When his arrived, Mack was told it was the seventh off the production line. Almost immediately Mack modified “Seven” with a Bigsby vibrato arm. Mounting the vibrato required setting a metal bar between the guitar’s Cadillac-like fins and transformed “Seven” into the most recognizable Flying V on the planet.

A half-century later, the guitar has survived two fractures and is still Mack’s beloved main axe. Its most recent appearance was on 2007’s Stevie Ray Vaughan retrospective Solos, Sessions and Encores, where Mack uses “Seven” to spar with his acolyte on a live, roasting-hot “Oreo Cookie Blues,” recorded in 1986 at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. Albert King also appears on that disc’s opening track, wielding his V as he trades solos with Vaughan and B.B. King on the Elmore James classic “The Sky is Crying.”


Some Flying V fanatics say the original korina Vs and their more contemporary reissues, including a Lonnie Mack signature model from the 1990s, have greater sonic presence than other V variations due to their strings-through-body design. Mack appears to have gotten extra lucky. When Gibson’s Custom Shop examined “Seven” to create the Lonnie Mack Flying V, the pickups were found to have extra windings, which adds tonal beef.

Nonetheless, plenty of guitarists have gotten gigantic amounts of primeval growl with subsequent versions of the Flying V, starting with Jimi Hendrix shortly after Gibson returned the model to production in 1967 with one prominent modification: a stock Vibrola tailpiece to anchor its strings.

Though Hendrix was known for show-stopping finales wherein he reduced his Stratocasters to splinters or turned them into firewood, all three of his Vs survive. Hendrix hand-painted his first with original psychedelic artwork shortly after he bought it. The guitar may have been used to record tracks for Axis: Bold As Love, and it appeared onstage in ’67 and ’68. Sadly, Jimi’s paint job was stripped off at some point and replaced by a facsimile.

His second Flying V was a Sunburst model—also a departure from the instrument’s original natural korina finish. It now resides near the entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The Hard Rock franchise also owns Hendrix’s third V, a left-handed model.


And here’s our list of Top 5 Favourite Flying V models:

1) Gibson Custom Jimi Hendrix Flying V – Beautiful guitar, with a perfect reproduction of Jimi Hendrix psychedelic visuals. This guitar takes you back to Monterey in the 60’s…this is definitely the best Flying V money can buy. But boy, you gonna need a lotta money…

2) Gibson V-Factor X (1967 Flying V Reissue) – Worn Brown The Gibson Worn Brown finish is quite simply ace, so this one looks great…classy retro looks!

3) Epiphone Limited Edition 1967 Flying V (Black/White) – This half-black, half-white Flying V looks pretty unique, and for its originality and very affordable price, deserves a place in our list!

4) Gibson V-Factor (Flying V) New Century – Mirror Scratchplate/ Ebony – OK, we chose two fantastic retro-looking Flying V already, so what about a fantastically futuristic one? This “New Century” model could feature in a film that depicts a rock band in the year 2308, playing in Mars, and you still wouldn’t think it looked out of place! 

5) Gibson V-Factor (Flying V) Faded 3-Pickups (Worn Ebony) – This baby rocks! A Flying V with 3 pickups? Come on…and that worn looks…you could marry this guitar!



~ by dolphinblog on January 31, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Flying V Turns 50”

  1. […] forget to read the “Flying V Turns 50″ article, which also includes our Top 5 favourite Flying V […]

  2. Don’t forget the Reverse Flying V!

    weird… very weird!

    Nice history of the V! I’ve stumbled it.

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