While previous Gibson flattops had slope-shouldered designs, the Hummingbird’s square-shouldered profile was
closer to that of Martin’s dreadnoughts.
Legendary Gibson flattop guitars attained prominence during the “Golden Age” of the 1930s, right alongside corresponding Martin models. Gibson flattops continued to be top-quality instruments throughout the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1960 that Gibson attempted its first “square shoulder” guitar, with a shape similar to Martin’s dreadnoughts. (Previous Gibsons of similar size had always been “slope shouldered.”) This new model was called the Hummingbird.
The Hummingbird’s signature detail is its ornate, near-kitschy pickguard.
The original catalog text describes the guitar’s intended niche: “A fabulous new acoustical guitar—one of the finest ever made for voice accompaniment. The sound is big, and round, and full with the deep rumbly bass so prized by guitar players.”
The shape, size, and X-braced top gave the guitar a rich, warm sound that supported, but didn’t overwhelm, the singer’s voice. To help justify the Hummingbird’s position just below the flashy J-200 on the price list, the guitar was given an ornate, near-kitschy pickguard adorned with a hummingbird hovering near blossoms, vines, and a flitting butterfly. The large, split parallelogram fretboard inlays added undeniable flash.
This 1961 Hummingbird exhibits all the attributes detailed in the catalog: “Fine grained spruce sound board in cherry-red sunburst finish with Honduras mahogany back and rims and beautiful hummingbird pickguard. New extra slim neck for fast, low action and more comfortable playing—one piece Honduras mahogany neck with adjustable truss rod. Bound rosewood fingerboard with large parallel pearloid inlays. Special adjustable rosewood bridge.” Gibson shipped 595 Hummingbirds in 1961.
The screws at either end of the ceramic saddle on this 1961 Hummingbird are for adjusting string height.
The 1962 list price was $250. A 515 Faultless plush-lined case was an additional $50. The current value for a 1961 Hummingbird in excellent all-original condition is $4,500.Sources for this article include Gibson’s Fabulous Flat-Top Guitars: An Illustrated History and Guide by Eldon Whitford, David Vinopal, and Dan Erlewine, the 1962 Gibson Catalog, and Gibson Shipment Totals 1937-1979 by Larry Meiners.