The Anatomy of Gibson’s Non-Reverse Firebirds
If you’ve been keeping up with our blogs, you may have read our previous post, “The Anatomy of Gibson’s Reverse Firebirds.” This post is a companion and continuation of this topic, so check it out for all your Reverse authentication needs!
Though Gibson originally had high hopes for the new solid body model, their debut of the Reverse Firebird was sadly a commercial flop. While its cutting-edge design showcased premier features, ornate hardware, and eye-catching colors, the initial popularity of the instrument didn’t quite compete in the solid body market that Fender and others led.
Unfortunately, the Firebird’s original construction was challenging for their factories to maintain. On top of that, Gibson received negative feedback from customers regarding the odd balance of the model and the headstock’s breakability in transit. By late 1964, it was clear that the Reverse Firebirds would not be sustainable for continued production. However, instead of scrapping the model altogether, Gibson redesigned the Firebird, and the “Non-Reverse” body style was born! They unveiled their new design at the June 1965 NAMM show.
The “Non-Reverse” style Firebird features a flat, solid body with a belly contour oriented in the opposite direction of the original, hence the nickname. The neck is separate from the body and glued in; it is no longer a one-piece laminated neck and center block. The updated design eliminated banjo-style tuners, opting instead for six inline tuners with pegheads on the bass side. The non-reverse models also featured unbeveled headstocks, with the top of the curve pointed to the treble side rather than the bass. These changes helped with the model’s balance issues and the breakage-prone headstock. Additionally, the second iteration was cheaper to produce than its predecessor, making it more affordable to the end user.
Due to the subtle changes between each number and the quick transition from the “Reverse” to “Non-Reverse” style, these guitars can be difficult to differentiate by model. So, we’ve broken it down here in an easy-to-access guide to improve your vintage guitar-buying experience!
As our previous “Reverse” Firebirds Blog Post mentioned, Gibson offered varying features with these models, numbered I, III, V, or VII. The appointments grow increasingly embellished with each number, a system that Gibson also used in their thinline ES series (330, 335, 345, or 355). All of these guitars were available in Sunburst as well as ten unique Custom Colors (Frost Blue, Ember Red, Kerry Green, Cardinal Red, Polaris White, Golden Mist Poly, Silver Mist Poly, Heather Poly, Inverness Green Poly, Pelham Blue Poly).
I: The Non-Reverse Firebird I showcases two single-coil, soap bar P-90 pickups, a stairstep bridge, and a short maestro vibrola. It also features dot inlays on an unbound rosewood fretboard, a black sliding selector switch (all Firebird examples from mid-66 on have a 3-way toggle switch), and volume and tone controls for each pickup. The hardware on the Firebird I is chrome-plated at this time. The NR Firebird I was offered at $189.50 new, making it the least expensive option in Gibson’s solid-body lineup upon its release. The Reverse I was the same price new.
The pickups are the main difference to look for when identifying Reverse and Non-Reverse Firebird I’s (obviously other than body style). The Reverse has one mini-humbucker, and the Non-Reverse has dual P-90s.
III: The Non-Reverse Firebird III features three soap bar, single-coil P-90 pickups. It also has a short maestro vibrola, a stairstep bridge, and an unbound rosewood board with dot inlays. Each pickup has its own volume and tone controls with a black sliding selector switch, and you’ll notice that the hardware on this model is also chrome-plated. Purchased new, Gibson priced the Firebird III at just $239.50, just $10 cheaper than the Reverse III.
As with the I, the main difference between the Reverse and Non-Reverse Firebird III is with the pickups. Reverse: two mini-humbuckers, Non-Reverse: three P-90s.
V: The Non-Reverse Firebird V only has two pickups, although they are now mini humbuckers instead of the P-90s seen on the I and III. The black sliding selector switch remains. You’ll see an unbound rosewood board with dot inlays once again. We can see a slight increase in appointment “flare” with the chrome deluxe lyre maestro vibrola and tune-o-matic bridge. The difference in price here from Reverse to Non-Reverse is about $70 ($360→ $289.50).
The most noticeable spec difference between the Reverse and Non-Reverse Firebird V (obviously other than the body style) is that the Reverse features a bound fretboard with trapezoid inlays, while the Non-Reverse is unbound rosewood with dots.
VII: The Non-Reverse Firebird VII has three mini-humbucking pickups, offering the most extensive range of sound in the lineup. The rosewood fretboard remains unbound with dot inlays. The hardware is all gold-plated, including the deluxe lyre maestro vibrola and tune-o-matic bridge. The design of the Non-Reverse VII is simpler than the Reverse VII. This allowed for cheaper production, as this model rang at $379.50, whereas its predecessor was a whopping $500.
The fretboard is the main difference between the Reverse and Non-Reverse Firebird VII. The Reverse featured a bound ebony board with block inlays, while the Non-Reverse is still unbound rosewood with dots.
The Non-Reverse Firebirds, unfortunately, faced the same fate as their Reverse counterparts. Both designs were not commercially popular when they were first manufactured but have since gained a cult following of Firebird Fans. Gibson only produced Non-Reverse birds from 1965 to 1969, shipping them in relatively low quantities. It makes these quite rare…particularly in any custom finish!