1968 Gibson Reverse Series Firebird I and GA-15RVT Explorer Amp

The story of a rare Gibson Firebird and the lucky kid who got it

When it comes to great gear-acquisition stories, they often start with a chance visit to a pawnshop, flea market, or garage sale. Other times, however, a piece of gear starts out being just another guitar and ends up being the guitar of a gearhead’s collection. And that’s the case with Tony Acuri’s left-handed 1968 Gibson Reverse Series Firebird I.

The southpaw started playing guitar when he was 5 years old. In 1966, Acuri competed in the Allegheny Guitar and Accordion Contest. The young guitarist didn’t place and was quite dejected, but there was a silver lining to the defeat. “My dad said if I won first place overall in 1967, he would buy me any guitar I wanted,” remembers Acuri. “I spent a whole year practicing ‘Malagueña’ and lo and behold, I won the 1967 competition. So the next time I was at my guitar teacher’s studio, I went through his catalogs to pick out a guitar, and I came across Gibson’s Firebird. The only reason I wanted it was because of the cool emblem on the pickguard!”

Acuri’s father put the order in and was charged $291.50—including a hardshell case and a $50 up-charge for the custom left-handed setup (shown on the receipt at right). In addition to the left-handed Firebird I, he purchased a Gibson Explorer GA-15RVT amp. It took more than a year for the package to arrive because apparently back in the ’60s, the entire production line had to be stopped, shut down, and reset for a left-handed instrument. The best part of this tale is that Acuri still owns and uses both pieces of cherished gear.

The guitar and amplifier are still all original. The guitar’s trussrod cover was originally upside down, but Acuri had it changed in the ’70s. “I thought it didn’t look cool upside down,” says Acuri. “Looking back, it was a dumb teenager mistake.”

Besides the custom left-handed setup, the Firebird I has a mahogany body, layered white pickguard, mahogany neck, 22-fret Brazilian rosewood fretboard, partial blackface reverse peghead with pearl logo inlay, 6-on-a-side banjo tuners, nickel hardware, Tune-o-matic bridge, and vibrato tailpiece, and was loaded with two P-90s.

The GA-15RVT Explorer amp is a 12.5-watt combo loaded with a 10" speaker. The amp has a 12AU7 and two 6EU7 preamp tubes and two 6BQ5 power tubes. The single-channel amp’s controls are Loudness, Treble, Bass, Reverb, Tremolo Depth, and Tremolo Frequency. This Gibson combo was only manufactured from 1965–’67.

A special thanks to Tony Acuri for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.

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