Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Gibson Byrdland - A Most Unique Guitar

1955 Gibson Byrdland
The Byrdland is a stunning looking electric guitar that is made by Gibson. Its name derives from the names of guitarists Billy Byrd and Hank Garland for whom Gibson originally custom built the guitar.

At the time Gibson's president, Ted McCarty, sought opinions and ideas about new products. So in 1955, in collaboration with two of the best Nashville guitars on the scene, Billy Byrd and Hank Garland, Gibson developed the Byrdland guitar.

The Byrdland was the first of Gibson's Thinline series. Many guitarists did not desire the bulk of a traditional archtop guitar such as Gibson's L-5 CES, one of Gibson’s top models. The Byrdland was built with its overall depth of 2¼ inches which,was over one inch shallower the Gibson's L-5 CES model.

It was later during the design process, Byrd and Garland specified a shorter scale neck.which would help facilitate intricate single-note patterns and unusual stretched chord voicings.

Billy Byrd
Only three were produced in 1955.. Billy got number one and Hank got number two and then he ordered and purchased a third that had a custom cherry finish. At this time the two prototypes both had natural finishes and Venetian cutaways.

The original instruments were to come with twin Gibson P90 single coil pickups. Although Hank ordered his with a single P90 and a Charlie Christian pickup in the neck position.

1957 Byrdland
This guitar was designed with jazz players in mind. It featured the same 17” wide, 21” long spruce top and body as was on the single cutaway L-5 CES, but the body was shallow. In comparison, the Byrdlands body was only 2 1/4” deep as opposed to the full 3 3/8” body of an L-5.

1957 Byrdland Gary's Guitars
The headstock was also similar, but narrower to correspond with this guitars short scale neck. The Byrdlands neck was a two full inches shorter than the L-5 CES, based on the Byrdlands scale of 23 1/2 inches.

The production models were equipped with Alnico V pickups. One interesting feature of this guitar is the fact that the two pickups are spaced closer together, because of the shorter scale and the 22 fret neck.

This gives the the Byrdland it’s distinctive sound. In later years the Alnicos were replaced with humbucking pickups.

The headstock and the neck were both bound. The ebony fretboard came with block mother-of-pearl position markers which started at the first fret. The headstock featured the traditional Gibson flower pot inlay.

The Byrdland came with a fancy gold-plated trapeze tail piece that was engraved with Byrdland and the rosewood bridge with topped with a Gibson tune-o-matic saddle. The body was bound as were the guitars F holes.

Hank's #2
Hank Garland’s number two and number three Byrdlands both had fancy three loop trapeze tailpieces that were gold plated. Number two had the Charile Christian pickup with a white top plate, which matched the guitars while pearloid pickguard, while number 3 had a black top plate on the pickup. In the following year,

By 1956, Gibson sold 60 units, which was more than the combined sales of L-5’s and Super 400’s. Electric guitarists seemed to appreciate the feel of the narrow body.

The number 3 Byrdland was the guitar that Hank played at the famous Elvis concert in Tuepelo Mississippi in 1957. This was during a period when Scotty Moore and Bill Black had quit the band.

Hank's number 3
Hanks number three was given back to Gibson in 1957 and was supposed to be archived, however someone mistakenly sold it to a music store in Chattanooga Tennessee. A music teacher there purchased it and had it autographed by Hank Garland.

1956 Gibson ES-350T
The Byrdland then became a regular production instrument. Later Gibson developed the ES-350T from the Byrdland using less-costly hardware and detailing, and offered it as a less expensive model.

From 1955 to 1960, Gibson made the Byrdland with a Venetian, or rounded, cutaway.

1961 Byrdland
From 1961 to 1968, it used the sharp, pointed, Florentine cutaway.

It returned to the Venetian in 1969. The model was in production from 1955 through 1969.

1978 Byrdland
Gibson reintroduced it as a limited run in 1977, 1978 and 1992.

In the late 1960s, guitarist Ted Nugent began using a Byrdland, which was unusual considering Nugent's style of music.However, in an interview Nugent states that he first saw Detroit guitarist Jimmy McCarty playing a Byrdland back in the early 1960's.

Nugent was amazed at McCarty's ability as a player. At the time Nugent was in a rock band and was the opening act for McCarty's band. McCarty was playing a Byrdland through a Fender Twin amp. Nugent finally saw a Byrdland for sale at a local music store he frequented and was able to trade his Epiphone Casino and a few hundred bucks for that guitar. He has been collecting and playing Byrdlands ever since then.

Nugent's Great White Buffalo Model
The hollow-bodied nature of the guitar created feedback issues at higher levels of gain and volume, making it impractical for hard rock and similar styles. Nugent incorporated the controlled feedback of the Byrdland into his playing and continues to use it today. Nugent gives his Byrdlands, and other Gibsons, a custom touch by removing the stock selector switch knobs, and installing Gretsch strap-lock knobs.

2015 Gibson Custom Byrdland
The guitar is currently available as part of Gibson's Custom series and is made with the Florentine cutaway. In 1976 only, Gibson offered a twelve-string version, but made fewer than 20.

When the instrument was first introduced in the Gibson Guitar catalog, the famous jazz club, Birdland, filed a lawsuit against Gibson over the name. The court dismissed the suit when Gibson showed that the name was made up from the names of two people.


Anonymous said...

1961/62- 1969 One piece laminated back replaced two piece carved back.

Anonymous said...

Mid 1962: Three piece maple neck replaced the two piece maple neck.

marcus ohara said...

Thanks for the updates as always Anonymous.

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