Premier Guitar

1979 Gibson RD Artist

October 18, 2011
In 1977, Gibson looked to expand their guitar offerings by releasing a new batch of instruments intended to keep pace with the keyboard and synth craze happening at the time. Introducing the RD series (short for Research and Development), this line of guitars and basses were equipped with electronic circuitry for the first time in Gibson’s history. The RD family offered a trio of 6-string guitars with the RD Standard, RD Artist, and RD Custom models, along with a pair of 4-string basses named the RD Artist and RD Standard. The RD Standard models lacked the active electronics that were developed with Bob Moog shortly before he left the Norlin Corporation (who owned both Gibson and Moog in the late ’70s). Some notable RD artists include Jimmy Page who wielded his ’77 RD Artist during Zep’s performance of “Misty Mountain Hop” at Knebworth in 1979, and U2’s Adam Clayton, who used his Gibson RD Artist model during the Achtung Baby sessions in 1990 and 1991.

The model pictured here is a 1979 RD Artist with a maple body and Firebird-like cutaway that wasn’t received warmly by guitarists—similar to the infamous Firebird X. Constructed with an ebony fretboard atop a 3-piece mahogany neck, the Artist models had a 24.75" scale length. For those wanting to venture into Fender territory, the RD Customs offered a 25.5" scale length. This RD Artist features two humbuckers, four control knobs, a 3-way pickup selector, Tune-o-matic bridge, and a TP-6 tailpiece Additionally, the Artist model was outfitted with 3-way switch for mode selection—neutral, bright, or front pickup expansion with back pickup compression. Ultimately, the RD Artist experiment died in 1982 with a total of just 2,600 units manufactured. As part of Gibson’s 48th Guitar of the Week series in 2007, the RD Standard bass was reissued in silverburst, with a limited edition run of 400 instruments.

A special thanks to Jeff Sadler and Rock N Roll Vintage for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.