The Gibson Flying V was a guitar well ahead of its time when it was introduced in 1958. The Flying V’s intense magnetic appeal, powerful sound, and unusually familiar shape have made it one of the most instantly recognisable guitars in the world.
Back in 1957, Gibson’s then-President and chief designer, Ted McCarty, undoubtedly had an eye on the ‘50s tail-fins of cars by Cadillac and Chrysler when he designed the V, part of Gibson’s 1958-launched Modernistic line alongside the Explorer and super-rare Moderne.
And while some of the greatest guitar players of all-time—including Lonnie Mack and Albert King—immediately embraced the Flying V, it wasn’t until Gibson reintroduced the guitar in 1967 that the rest of the world caught on. Guitar Gods like Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbons, Michael Schenker, and Lenny Kravitz have all succumbed to the Flying V’s fascinating allure.
Ted McCarty’s earliest 1957 prototypes were made of mahogany, and had the ‘V’ sides but a rounded Les Paul-like rear bout. These were simply too heavy, so the cut-out bottom was added to the design and the wood changed to Korina (aka Limba).
“One of the design team guys said, ‘that looks like a flying ‘v’,’” recalled McCarty, “and the name just stuck.” Pickup designer Seth Lover once claimed the cut-out was actually his idea and was done so the guitar could be stood-up vertically against a wall with ease.
On its 1958 commercial debut, Lonnie Mack started using a Flying V immediately. Blues legend Albert King was another early adopter. His first V was a Korina ’59 and some King historians claim it was his first electric guitar.
The Kinks’ Dave Davies was another early adopter, although his use of the Flying V started much later, in 1965. According to Davies, the airlines lost his only guitar when he came to America on tour that year, so he stopped into a shop to get a replacement. When he failed to find a guitar that he liked on the racks, the owner pulled from storage a dusty case that contained an original Fifties V.
Demand for the rare and elusive Flying V suddenly increased due to its new exposure, which motivated Gibson to issue a new Flying V model in 1966. This second version of the V had a mahogany body and neck, a larger pick-guard, a modified headstock shape, a triangular control knob configuration, and a traditional stop tailpiece or Gibson Vibrola instead of the V-shaped string-through-body tailpiece. However, the new version was only marginally more successful than its predecessor. Just 111 of the guitars shipped in 1966, and the shipments decreased each year afterward, until the guitar was discontinued in 1970.
Jimi Hendrix was the most notable guitarist to adopt this second version of the V. In 1969, Gibson built a one-of-a-kind custom left-handed Flying V for him, featuring gold-plated hardware, pearl Gibson logo headstock inlay, and Trini Lopez–style split-diamond fretboard inlays. Hendrix famously used his custom V to perform several songs at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. Keith Richards also caught many guitarists’ attention when he played a late-Fifties V at the Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park concert on July 5, 1969.
In 1971, Gibson produced the limited-edition Flying V Medallion model, which was essentially identical to the 1966 version, with the exception of its shorter peg head. The company produced only 350 Medallion Vs.
The Flying V returned to regular production for a third time in 1975 with a version similar to the 1966 V, and since then some variation of the Flying V has remained a regular production model of the Gibson electric solid-body guitar line.
Demand for the Flying V reached critical mass in the Seventies as hard-rock and metal guitarists fell for its aggressive styling. Performing with UFO, Michael Schenker played a white 1975 Gibson Flying V, which he later decorated with a distinctive black-and-white “negative” mirror-image motif.
This guitar is a Gibson Flying V restored by Arturo Valdez in 1978 for Laurie Pappas. It is based on a 1975 Gibson Flying V, with a redone neck. The pick-guard and covers were replaced with wood assorted to the guitar.