Tracing the evolution of the guitar world''s biggest mystery: the Moderne

The Gibson Moderne remains the undisputed biggest mystery in the history of guitar. To what extent did the original exist? Designs? Prototypes? Unused parts? Production models? In the upcoming June issue of Premier Guitar (watch for it online next week), we take a deeper look into the mystery, and into the differing theories behind the existence of the original. Until then, we're looking at some of the Modernes that unquestionably existed -- reissues, knock-offs and custom builds that pay tribute to the enigma that is the Moderne.

In 1957, Ted McCarty applied for patents on the designs of the Explorer, Flying V and Moderne. The patent was issued in 1958 with this drawing, and the rest is (incredibly murky) history. Check out our June issue next week for our investigation into the Gibson Moderne.

Three headstock concept drawings for the Moderne. The origin of the drawing is unknown.

This photo from a 1982 issue of Guitar World magazine shows Billy Gibbons' supposedly original Moderne from the side (behind the Flying V). The authenticity of Billy's guitar has never been proven.

Undated photo of Billy Gibbons' supposedly authentic Moderne. Photo from Ron Wood.

Luthier Dan Erlewine ended up with this possibly original, origin-unknown Moderne. If it is an original, it's been modified. The guitar changed hands and ended up in the posession of George Gruhn, who is said to have sold it to a Japanese business man.

A full-length look at the Dan Erlewine/George Gruhn Moderne.

A small number of Bigfoot sightings in the Kalamazoo, MI area include descriptions of a Moderne-like guitar in the eyewitness reports.

Ibanez produced copies of all three of Gibson's future concepts during the midst of what would become the lawsuit era in 1975. The Moderne copy was called the Futura, and like most iterations of the Moderne, these too are now hard to find.

Ibanez Futura mid-'70s reissue

1982 Gibson Moderne Heritage in natural finish. Gibson "reissued" the guitar in 1982 based on the original blueprint; only 143 reissues were manufactured, and the guitar came in Natural, Red, White and Ebony. The '80s reissues are rare enough to command upwards of $5000. Photo: Dave's Guitar Shop

1982 Gibson Moderne Heritage reissue headstock. Photo: Dave's Guitar Shop

The 1982 Gibson Moderne Heritage models were built with korina, but this mahogany prototype was also made that year.

This prototype for Gibson's '82 Moderne Heritage reissue belonged to Howard Leese.

In addition to the $200,000 that 1971 hijacker D.B. Cooper requested in ransom, some people say that a Gibson Moderne prototype that was aboard the plane went missing during Cooper's escape.

Moderne built by Glen Miller using authentic Gibson parts leftover from the '80s Gibson reissues.

Two more of Glen Miller's custom Modernes, made with leftover parts from the '82 Gibson reissues. Photo courtesy Glen Miller.

In 2001, Epiphone reissued the Moderne in extremely limited quantities. Photo:

A maze of modulation and reverberations leads down many colorful tone vortices.

Deep clanging reverb tones. Unexpected reverb/modulation combinations.

Steep learning curve for a superficially simple pedal.


SolidGoldFX Ether


A lot of cruel fates can befall a gig. But unless you’re a complete pedal addict or live in high-gain-only realms, doing a gig with just a reverb- and tremolo-equipped amp is not one of them. Usually a nice splash of reverb makes the lamest tone pretty okay. Add a little tremolo on top and you have to work to not be at least a little funky, surfy, or spacy. You see, reverb and modulation go together like beans and rice. That truth, it seems, extends even to maximalist expressions of that formula—like the SolidGold FX Ether.

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Megadeth founder teams up with Gibson for his first acoustic guitar in the Dave Mustaine Collection.

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Gibson 1960 Les Paul 0 8145 is from the final year of the model’s original-production era, and likely from one of the later runs.

The story of 1960 Gibson Les Paul 0 8145—a ’burst with a nameplate and, now, a reputation.

These days it’s difficult to imagine any vintage Gibson Les Paul being a tough sell, but there was a time when 1960 ’bursts were considered less desirable than the ’58s and ’59s of legend—even though Clapton played a ’60 cherry sunburst in his Bluesbreakers days. Such was the case in the mid 1990s, when the family of a local musician who was the original owner of one of these guitars walked into Rumble Seat Music’s original Ithaca, New York, store with this column’s featured instrument.

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