Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Gibson Nighthawk Guitar

The Gibson Nighthawk represents a very unique guitar that combines aspects of the Gibson family of guitars with features one would find on a Fender Stratocaster.

1993 Nighthawk CST3
The Nighthawk was introduced in 1993. It’s maple-capped, single cut-a-way mahogany body, along with its mahogany neck, white binding and traditional headstock are reminiscent of Gibson’s Les Paul Guitar, however the design is radically different in many aspects.

The guitars body is smaller than one would find on a Les Paul instrument, the cut-a-way is more pronounced and the guitars top is flat, without the carve that one would find on a traditional Les Paul. What’s more, many of the Nighthawk guitars came with three pickups. Each pickup was very unique and quite different.

Bill Lawrence OBL L-500
The neck pickup was an OBL humbucker manufactured by Bill Lawrence. The original Bill Lawrence OBL L-500’s were made in Germany from 1986-1989. The spacing for the flat blades on these was unusual as it was 2.225” which allowed the pickup to be used on Gibson and Fender instruments.

The middle pickup was also manufactured by Bill Lawrence under his OBL (Original Bill Lawrence) brand. This was a single coil pickup.

The bridge pickup was a Gibson mini-humbucker that was manufactured on a slant that was positioned in a very similar pattern to what one would find on a Fender Stratocaster.

The original Nighthawks had a mahogany body was capped with a flame maple top. The saddle/bridge assembly could have been right off a hard-tail Fender Stratocaster. The unit was gold plated and attached to the body with four gold plated wood screws. The strings were fed through the body and attached on the guitars back through six grommets.

Like a Stratocaster saddles, the Nighthawk had six individual string saddles each with two adjustable height screws and a screw to adjust the strings length for perfect intonation.

The guitars scale was similar to most Fender instruments in that it was 25 ½”. The bound mahogany neck had 22 frets on its rosewood fret board. The style of the position markers were inlaid based on the version of the instrument.

The headstock was topped with a traditional Gibson flower-pot inlay and the Gibson Logo. Kluson tuners with white caps held the strings in place.

The electronics on this guitar were not the norm for Gibson. Instead of the usual Switch-Craft 3 position toggle switch, a 5-way blade switch ala Fender Strat was utilized. A single volume and a single tone potentiometer with top hat knobs were featured.

The five position tone knob yielded 5 distinct tonal combinations, but the push-pull feature on this guitars tone knob added an additional set of 5 tonal combinations, bringing a total of ten distinct sound combinations.

The dual humbuckers coils were split into differing combinations outlined in the diagram.

1993 CST
Gibson also produced two pickup Nighthawks with the OBL neck pickup and a slanted Gibson mini-humbucker.

These guitars came with similar accoutrements, but the electronics only yielded five distinct tones.

Gibson Nighthawk - CST3 and CST
There were three original versions offered by Gibson. The first was the Nighthawk Custom with the designation CST or CST3 for either two or three pickup models. This was the deluxe version which featured a beautiful flame maple top.

The headstock, neck and body were bound with white trim. The rosewood fret board was topped with crown-shaped pearloid inlays. The instrument was available in either antique natural, fireburst or translucent amber finishes.

Nighthawk ST3

The next version was called the Nighthawk Standard with the designation ST or ST3 which signified two or three pickups. This guitar had a flame maple top, but was not quite as decorative as the Custom version.

Nighthawk ST
The neck and body were bound with white trim on this model. The rosewood fretboard had split parallel-o-gram pearloid inlaid position markers.

The colour optons included fireburst, translucent amber and vintage sunburst.

Nighthawk SP
 The Nighthawk Special designated the SP and SP3 based on number of pickups came with similar pickups and electronics as the other versions.

Nighthawk SP3
Only the body was bound and the neck did not have any decoration.

During the mid 1990’s Gibson seemed to stretch things a bit by coming up with some limited edition models of many of their instruments. The Nighthawk was no exception.

Landmark Series
The Landmark series included a decal representing a state park or monument. This instrument came with twin Series M mini-humbucking pickups.

Nighthawk LTD Edition
In 1994 Gibson released a series of 100 Limited Edition Nighthawks. These were ST3 versions with a dark chocolate brown finish and a truss rod cover that stated it was a Limited Edition model.

The Hawk
The Hawk was a very plain version of the Nighthawk and came with twin Alnico humbucking pickups.

1998 Blueshawk
I recall seeing the Blueshawk at a mid 1996 guitar show.

Little Lucille
This guitar and the “Little Lucille” edition (which included a Varitone) were dedicated to Blues players and came with twin P-90 pickups. The body of the Blueshawk was hollow and it had 2 F-holes.

2009 Limited 
Production on all Nighthawk guitars ended in 1998 and did not resume again until 2009 when Gibson released the limited edition version that year.

It featured two pickups; a P-90 as the neck pickup and an Alnico humbucker for the bridge.

2010 Nighthawk Standard
A year later the Nighthawk Standard 2010 was released as a limited edition model. It was fancier with a quilted maple cap. The body was chambered and made of poplar. The hardware was gold plated. As with most Nighthawks the bridge was fixed. This model came with three pickups. This guitar was equipped with Burstbucker pickups in the neck position and bridge position which came with a split-table feature, and a gold blade single coil as the middle pickup. The guitar was offered in a variety of finishes which included Chicago Blue, Memphis Mojo and St. Louis Sauce. (Who thought this stuff up!?)

2011 Nighthawk Standard
This guitar carried over to 2011 but that year it was offered with a Vintage Sunburst finish and a higher price tag. The body was solid mahogany without a cap or veneer. It came with twin Burstbucker pickups.

In 2011 the Nighthawk Custom was offered under the Epiphone banner with a reduced price. This guitar was similar to the CST3, however instead of a maple cap, it had a maple veneer over its mahogany body. It came in a variety of finishes.

2013 was an adventurous year for Gibson. They offered three versions of the Nighthawk during this period.

2013 Nighthawk Anniversary Edition
The 20th Anniversary Nighthawk Standard edition was offered. It was very similar to the Nighthawk ST3 however the pickup combinations were different, but still offered 10 unique tones. It was available in Antique Natural or Fireburst finishes. This guitar was  priced at $1500.

Nancy Wilson Nighthawk
That same year, Nancy Wilson of Heart became an endorser of the Nighthawk with her own Nighthawk Standard model.

It came with a mini-humbucker in the neck position and a slanted humbucker in the bridge position and very similar to the original Nighthawk ST. It was designed by Nancy and Gibson and only available in a Fireburst finish.

Nighthawk N-225
According to the catelog, in 2013  Gibson also offered a unique version called the Nighthawk N-225 which is unlike the previous models. This model may have been available as early as 2012. This guitar has a double cutaway design. The body is made of chambered maple with split diamond F-holes. It featured two pickups; a P-90 in the neck and a Dirty Fingers Plus pickup in the bridge position.

This pickup is an updated version of the Dirty Fingers pickup and was designed by Jim DeCola. Like the original, it employs a ceramic magnet but has a more focused tonality designed for scorching lead tones, saturated rhythm and sustain depending upon whether it is used in full or split mode.

This is accomplished through the push-pull feature on the tone potentiomer. Gibson’s usual toggle switch determines which pickups are utilized.

The guitar also features a throw-back style Gibson Vibrola tailpiece. The maple neck is glued in and features a rosewood fretboard with 22 frets. Block inlaid position markers adorn the fretboard of the unbound neck.

The headstock features Gibson’s split diamond design inlay and utilizes Grover tuners. The hardware is all done in black anodized paint. It is available in a natural transparent finish, a red transparent finish or a black finish with fancy red pin-striping.

2015 Epi Nighthawk

Gibson discontinued the Nighthawk guitar as of 2014, but still offers it under their Epiphone banner.

2014 Custom Quilt LTD
Currently the 2014 Nighthawk Custom Quilt is available. It is a very similar instrument comparable to the Gibson CST3 and has three very different pickups.

The neck pickup is a 4-wire NHR mini-humbucker, the middle pickup is a NSX single coil and the bridge pickup is a slanted NHT 4-wire humbucker.

The mahogany body is topped with AAA+ maple veneer. The glued in neck is also made of mahogany and has a scale of 25 ½”. The body, neck and headstock are bound with white trim. The position markers are inlaid Gibson crown style blocks. The headstock features a Gibson flowerpot design and comes with Grover tuners.

The bridge/saddle unit is once again similar to a Fender hard-tail Strat bridge with strings going through the body and attaching at the guitars back.

The electronics consist of a five position blade style pickup selector switch, a single volume control and a single tone control, which has a push-pull feature enabling split-coil capability for the humbuckers.

Unlike the CST3, the hardware on this guitar is nickel plated. It is a beautiful and versatile instrument.

The bound glued-in maple neck is topped with a rosewood fretboard that has mini-diamond inlaid position markers. The scale is 251/2” and the radius is 12”.

The 2015 Epiphone Blueshawk Deluxe guitar appears to have two P-90 pickups, but actually has three pickups. One hum-cancelling dummy coil is hidden beneath the body. The neck pickup is an Epiphone P-90R PRO single coil, while the bridge pickup is an Epiphone P-90T PRO single coil.

The electronics feature a Gibson style volume control and a Gibson style tone control that is connected to a Varitone true bypass controller that offers 6 differing capacitors for shaping your tone. The body and neck are bound. The headstock features a double diamond inlay topped with Epiphone Deluxe tuners with Gibson style plastic knobs.

The bridge/saddle is once again the Nighthawk style with through the body stringing.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


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Anonymous said...

I've had three Blueshawks, First was a Southern Comfort House of Blues model in black that had a Nighthawks neck, Not V shaped, The 2nd Blueshawk was blue & had a black neck & also had the Nighthawks rounded profile neck shape, The 3rd Blueshawk was also blue but had the V shaped neck shape..
Then we ordered a NIB Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard that plays like a dream..
We also picked up The Hawk that was a Fruit of the Loom promotional guitar, it came with 490R/490T pickups that we later installed a SD P-rail with triple shot mounting ring & just put "A Little Thunder" in the neck position & installed dual output jacks to run the bass signal to a bass amp = Quite COOL!
My Son & I both like the feel shape & sounds of the "Hawk" line of guitars, The Nighthawk Std. stays original but "The Hawk" is a testbed for pickups..
My Son wants to sand the hawk bare = To remove the FOTL logo on the body & headstock which is under the clear coat.. I'll also note that "The Hawk" has chrome Kluson tuners that have press in bushings were the Blueshawks & Nighthawks use the threaded style of Kluson/Gibson tuners.
ROCK ON!! Gary/Headknocker

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Anonymous said...

On the original three pickup model, the mini hum is the neck pup, and the slanted hum is full size

Jaye Muller said...

There was also a Gibson Nighthawk Studio. It has 2 BurstBuckers. I have the 2011 model.
You didn't mention that.