Jul 9, 2013
My first not-entirely-crappy guitar was an Epiphone Firebird. At the time, owning an Epiphone was as close as I was ever going to get to owning a Gibson (hell, it even SAID Gibson on the truss rod cover, I think), and damn I was excited. It was kind of a neck-divey piece of crap looking back, but I loved rocking it out… mostly because I didn’t know any better.
Anyway, that first Firebird started a lifelong fascination with oddly shaped guitars – for years I wouldn’t deign to play a guitar that wasn’t a V or a Kelly or an ML or something crazy like that (except Les Pauls, always loved those). But funnily enough, I never did own another Firebird shaped guitar after that.
The Mac Daddy models of the Firebird line are the Firebird V and VII – both beautiful rock machines with unusual-for-Gibson specs like multi-piece neck-through bodies and big banjo tuners. These guys are the cream, and Gibson certainly make sure you pay for it. There hasn’t really been a more affordable alternative to these Firebirds… until now. (and before you try and tell me about the old Firebird Studio models, yes, they’re the same shape, but they had full sized humbuckers in them… I consider mini-hums a prerequisite to being a true Firebird!)
Firebird Studio 70s Tribute
I think that Gibson have hit a home run with the recent “Insert Cool Decade” Tribute series – affordable guitars made to a price point, but still retaining the hallmarks and (largely) aesthetics of their more costly cousins, and retaining the most important thing to many people – the Gibson logo, haha.
Firebirds get a much anticipated inclusion in this line-up with the 70s Tributes, complete with mini humbuckers! However, these modern mini-hums are a little different from vintage variants – they’re actually blade/rail humbuckers with a cover slapped on the top. Hmmmm.
Another unusual feature is what Gibson are calling their “Thin to Thick” neck carve – starts off thinner at the lower frets and gets chunkier as you approach the neck joint. Gibson claim that with this neck, you’ll be “rocketed back to an age of fierce, fast soloing” – I think this is a bit (a lot) of marketing bullshit, but what it DOES mean is that you’ll have a strengthened neck joint, often a weak point in thin bodied set neck guitars like the SG and this Firebird.
The body is mahogany and the neck is maple, all covered in a light satin finish. To keep the time/cost of finishing down, it looks like Gibson haven’t bothered to grain fill, and you can see it visibly through the outer coat. I think it’s kinda cool, and like I’ve said many times, I think a thinner coating of paint is conducive to good tone!
Cost cutting measures continue, and with this guitar, the Gibson logo isn’t even silkscreened onto the headstock itself – it goes on the truss rod cover! So, uh, don’t lose the truss rod cover okay?
Hold up hold up hold up.
The neck is maple? That’s quite unusual isn’t it? Wait a second… what’s the fretboard material??
Hold your breath and look away, traditionalists – it’s baked maple.
If you haven’t heard, a little while back there was some legal troubles with Gibson importing rosewood from India, and the FBI even raided and confiscated a whole bunch of their fretboard stock, so while that was being resolved they began to experiment with something new.
Gibson needed to find a solution to continue manufacturing and production. Hence…. Baked Maple was revived. It was also previously by Gibson in the late 70’s for fretboard material on select models. Baked Maple starts off its life the regular maple fingerboards that you often see on Fender guitars (or on the Gibson Firebird X) The whole process results in a maple fingerboard that looks a lot closer to Rosewood or Pau Ferro than unprocessed Maple.
“Baked” maple has been baked in an oven at 200-300 degrees for a period of time. This process is called “torrification,” and it makes the wood very hard, live sounding, and stable. It is not a chemical process, and is environmentally friendly. According to Gibson, the baked maple they use for fingerboards has the sound of ebony with the look of medium-brown pau ferro.
To me, baked maple is much like normal maple, except chocolate brown in colour! To be honest I almost didn’t notice and wrote it off as a standard rosewood fretboard just by colour, until I looked a bit more closely and realised that it didn’t have that streaked, porous appearance that rosewood has.
Feel-wise, I’ve always been more affected by how the fretboard is finished (glossy? satin?), and so this didn’t really feel much different from most Gibson fretboards, personally.
Thin to Thick
Just a quick note on the neck – it really does feel quite different to what I’d expected. It’s a fairly substantial neck profile – not rounded and fat like a 50s style neck profile, but instead it feels like a beefed up D shape, with big “shoulders”.
Time to get into the tones!
For clean tones, the 70s Tribute certainly does a spanky, bright sound. It doesn’t really chime, though – to my ear these are definitely more modern sounding pickups than vintage-inspired. Nothing necessarily wrong with that though – have a listen and see how you feel about it.
Introducing a little more gain on the amp side, I found that the pickups were quite sensitive to playing dynamics, which is always good. It was easy to get cleanish tones on the neck pickup, then switch to the bridge with a heavier picking hand attack to crunch things up.
Despite my initial feeling that it was more of a modern sounding pickup set, the 70s tribute does a pretty decent bluesy tone:
Chris Shiflett from the Foo Fighters is often seen wielding a Firebird, so I thought I’d cop some Mesa Dual Rec-style tones and see what kind of chunky riffs the 70s Tribute could pull out… and to be honest I was pretty damn impressed. It’s here that the brightness comes into play, and helps the lean, mean rhythm tone slice through the mix. It’s tight, chunky, and just awesomely fun.
At the local price of $1999 (currently on special at NZ Rockshop for an insane $1599!) the Firebird Studio 70s Tribute is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a rock machine that’s a little out of the ordinary. If you’re after more vintage-slanted FB tones I think you may need to look somewhere else, or perhaps at least look at replacing the pickups that these come with.
Let’s call it… 3.9 F*ck Yeahs! Hahaha yeah the grading system is getting more and more fragmented!
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like to join in the discussion on our forums about this guitar, come check out the thread right here: http://forum.sixstringsamurai.co.nz/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=68