For the last few generations, the Gibson Flying V guitar has been inextricably linked to hard rock and heavy metal. Its radical and aggressive form, which evokes more a weapon or a projectile than an instrument, served as an ideal aesthetic expression for strong and non-conformist music. When we think of the Flying V, bands like Scorpions come to mind, whose guitarist Rudolf Schenker is a passionate collector of this model, or the early Metallica sparking their strings. But in reality, the Flying V comes much farther back, from a time when heavy metal was unimaginable and rock was still in its infancy.
On January 6, 1958, Gibson launched a series of electric guitars called Flying V.
This Gibson model represented a significant deviation from the norms in the field of guitar design and shape. Until then, electric guitar designers were mainly inspired by the shapes of existing acoustic, classical guitars, and string instruments, so there were not many significant variations and electric guitars mostly had unobtrusive, fluid and symmetrical lines.
The Gibson wanted to assert itself as a groundbreaking firm after archrival Fender launched the then-avant-garde Strat. The gamble went further than anyone would have expected: they commissioned various designs and ended up choosing the Flying V and the Explorer, which broke with the eternal and cheesy cliché of the guitar shaped like a woman's body, inherited from their acoustic ancestors.
The Flying V was met with amazement and was a far cry from success. The magazine 'Guitar Aficionado' has reviewed the sales figures of that decade: in 1958 eighty-one units were billed, while in 1959, only nineteen. That same year production was discontinued, with the exception of twenty more instruments that were assembled in the early 1960s to take advantage of leftover pieces that had been left in warehouses.
Flying V in Blues?
The earliest models of Flying V guitars were adopted by blues guitarists Albert King and Lonnie Mack. Lonnie Mack called his 'Seven' because it was the seventh to be manufactured, while Albert King christened his first Flying V as 'Lucy'. King was left-handed and played with a right-handed guitar turned upside down, without even rearranging the strings. According to some scholars, the Flying V captivated him with its symmetry, as the twist did not affect its shape. Others argue that he simply chose it for its shocking appearance, which brought an extra dimension to the show.
Kinks to the Rescue?
Interest in Gibson's V guitar was rekindled in the second half of the 1960s, due in large part to chance. The Kinks traveled to the United States in 1965, and an airline lost Dave Davies' guitar. The musician had to go to an instrument store in California, where he tried two guitars that did not convince him. The clerk then took out a dusty case and offered him a '58 Flying V, with which he began to riff on 'All Day And All Of The Night'. Davies, satisfied at last, decided to buy that strange guitar (for 60 bucks) and gave it unprecedented visibility since he appeared with it in several television performances and even on the cover of the 'Greatest Hits! ' of the Kinks.
Gibson redesigned the model and made it again in 1966, but on that occasion as well, it fell short of sales, even though Hendrix himself had three, including one that he 'customized' with psychedelic motifs. Keith Richards played one as well in ‘At the Stones’ concert in Hyde Park, but strangely, that was not enough, and the Flying V was withdrawn from circulation again in 1970.
With the development of more difficult directions of rock music such as hard rock and heavy metal, in the early and mid-seventies, the popularity of Flying V guitars grew. During that period, the most famous users were the brothers Rudolf and Michael Schenker, the guitarists of the German band Scorpions, and Judas Priest guitarists, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton.
In the eighties, American thrash metal bands entered the scene, so Flying V guitars can be seen in the hands of Kirk Hammett and James Hatfield from Metallica, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Kerry King from Slayer. Bands like Mountain, Uriah Heep, UFO, Van Halen, and Kiss are also part of the Flying V history, along with performers out of this musical genre such as Marc Bolan, Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), and Steve Jones (Sex Pistols).
By launching the Flying V on the market, Gibson has inspired numerous designers and new guitar companies to follow suit and continue to experiment and perfect shapes in an even more radical direction. This guitar is truly iconic and still can be seen today. Some of the current guitarists who use Flying V guitars are Dave Grohl from the band Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Rob Flynn from the band Machine Head, as well as Brent Hinds, the guitarist of the band Mastodon.