There are 55 factory patches, which are grouped as 11 banks (accessed by the Gear Shift knob) with five patches for each bank (accessed by the 5-way pickup selector switch) and can be accessed either from Patch Play mode or Edit mode. In Patch Play mode, you get the presets as programmed from the factory but you can’t tweak them. However, the red and blue tog-pots can be rotated to control the amount of distortion and reverb, respectively. Edit mode lets you manipulate the parameters of the effects so you can fine-tune them to your needs. To enter Edit mode, you quickly push down twice on the Digital Varitone knob and the Gear Shift knob will turn violet.
Patch editing gets even deeper when interfaced with a computer, offering seemingly infinite options that can be created, shared, and saved to the 55 patches.
The Firebird X features a full compliment of effects that can be used simultaneously including distortion, reverb, delay, chorus, tremolo, octave, phaser, and flanger, to name just a few. There’s even a built-in three-track looper (remember Gibson also sold the TGE-05 Echoplex Digital Pro Plus rackmount looper, so this technology is not new to them). The included Blue Lightning Pedalboard and Switchboard is an essential part of the whole package and connects to the Firebird X via Bluetooth, so there’s no cabling between the guitar and the foot controls. They offer a visual display of parameters, settings, and battery life, among other bits of important information, and also enable foot control of the looper functions. Without the display, I would have been lost trying to guess my way around the numerous presets and settings.
The Firebird Soars
As a straight-up guitar, the X sounds great. The first four banks contain Firebird, Single-coil, Humbucker, and acoustic pickup configurations and sounds. In other words, the X has the fundamentals covered and it wasn’t hard to dial up a variety of basic sounds from Paul Kossoff-inspired classic rock to Green Day power chords to hair metal shred with just the conventional pickup choices. You can also choose any of the above-mentioned configurations to use with the effects by moving the silver tog-pot to PU/Prog position.
I enjoyed some of the Piezo sounds like the J-200. It’s a credible emulation and would be fine on most gigs that require an occasional acoustic part. The Old Jazz patch also sounded pretty convincing. It was definitely strange to hear dark, hollow-body smokiness emanating from this flashy axe but I was still able to play some old-school jazz runs that sounded great. I also enjoyed many of the effects like the tremolo and phaser.
The neck on the Firebird X is easy to play, feels pretty fast and enables great upper fret access from the contoured neck joint. It isn’t quite as comfortable as the other Gibsons in my arsenal (a Les Paul Standard and ES-339), but it’s easy to imagine it becoming a familiar shape under the fingers.
Because of the mind-boggling number of options and its steep learning curve, the Firebird X demands pretty serious dedication—especially if you’re going to ditch a standard guitar with pedalboard or multi-effects setup and make it your main gigging guitar. It’s like a more extreme version of going from PC to Mac, where you’ll have to re-think and re-configure familiar tasks.
An obvious concern with any digital-based technology is its rapid obsolescence rate, and that’s been a hot topic with the Firebird X, just as it has on other techno-centric guitars guitars like the Fender VG Strat and the Line 6 JTV-6 Variax guitar. The most practical mindset to adopt when considering the Firebird X might be to consider the guitar within the context of your current needs rather than looking at it as a lifelong investment. Axe-Fxs and Macbook Pros are ultra popular these days but will they still be cutting edge in five years? Probably not, but in those five years, you might get a whole lot more done with them then you would resisting technology.
And from an optimistic angle, the Firebird X’s software is infinitely upgradeable with firmware updates, as is the internal DSP hardware, which is on a chip that’s user-replaceable, so it’s conceivable that this guitar would be viable for the foreseeable future (hey analog pedals are hotter than ever, right?). Whether Gibson will still support it or have parts in 10 years remains to be seen, but they have poured an enormous amount of money and time into R&D (several million dollars and 6 development teams around the world) so it’s very possible that they will. The company's plans to offer regular firmware updates and a coming app store open to third party apps seem to support that possibility.
If you’re one of those cynics that had an adverse reaction to the Firebird X when it was first announced, there’s probably little that will get you to change your mind. And if you’re perfectly happy with your guitar and effects setup and don’t mind lugging around multiple instruments to gigs and sessions, you might not have any use for it—in fact, if you’ve mastered your setup, you’d probably be better off sticking with it. However, if you actually tried the Firebird X out and really put in the time to get into its features and sounds (rather than reading about it on forums), you’d find that in addition to just offering great conventional guitar sounds, the guitar’s versatility can exponentially increase your sonic palette and inspire you to go to new places musically. It certainly did for me.
you want a fully integrated, feature-packed self-contained guitar and effects package that can thoroughly cover virtually any gigging or recording duties, and have the money and time to get the most out of it.
you can’t be swayed into thinking that Gibson should produce anything other than traditional instruments.