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September 2014
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Book Review: "Flying V, Explorer, Firebird" by Tony Bacon

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Flying V, Explorer, Firebird
Tony Bacon
Backbeat Books


If the Flying V, Explorer, and Firebird are perhaps a bit too edgy for your style or current gig now, just imagine what you would have thought when those birds were launched in 1958 (Flying V, Explorer) and 1963 (Firebird). “Radical” would’ve been an understatement. Gear author Tony Bacon’s latest book explores the history of these provocative instruments and explains how they’ve impacted nearly every nontraditional solidbody shape that has come along since.

Bacon does a great job connecting the historical dots and trapezoids of this story, which actually begins fairly soon after Fender’s introduction of the Esquire in 1950 and Gibson’s rollout of the Les Paul in 1952. Although on a much smaller scale, the gear scene back then was very much like it is today, with builders keeping a close eye on each other’s stuff, borrowing ideas, and advancing concepts in the name of innovation and commerce. The secrecy element was alive back then too, with Gibson continuing to use the PAF label after being awarded a patent for Seth Lover’s humbucking pickups, and even putting the wrong patent number on them for a few years. The thinking was that competitors equipped with the proper patent filing would be able to learn too much about humbucker design.

The book contains hundreds of photographs, patent drawings, and vintage ads that are alone worth the $25 price tag. Though lacking the historical perspective on the nuclear aesthetic of the time that helped mold these guitars’ shapes as much as anything else, as well as any new information on the mysterious Moderne (that was patented and meant to be the third frame of the new Gibson triptych), this book is deep when it comes to the official history and the reverberations of the guitars in its title. Definitely “must-read” stuff for Gibson fans.
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