A Pointy Guitar (page 1, page 2, page 3)
By, William Stephens

It was maybe back in 1965 that I saw Brian Jones using a flying V guitar on Shindig or Hullabaloo. In reality it was the teardrop Vox Mark VI but that didn't matter, the sickness had already set in, I had to have a pointy guitar. Back then us up and coming musicians would fantasize paging through Gibson, Gretsch and Fender brochures as to what our ideal Guitar would be. mmmmm.... White Falcon. For me it was the elusive "not in production" Gibson Flying V.

Nobody had any anything like that for sale anywhere around Chicago at the time so I suffered in silence using regular shaped guitars in the mean time. Fast forward to the fall of 1971, one day I got a call from John of John's Just Music (the old Douglas Music, later to be bought out by Guitar Center). He knew of me and he knew I wanted a pointy guitar but at the time he didn't say much except for me to come down to the store because he had something to show me.

Once I arrived he ushered me down to the basement (stock room) and laid out on a long table was 10 brand new Gibson Limited Edition Flying V's... numbers 100 through 109. The ones referred to as "Medallion Series" these days. He told me he had just got back from the big music trade show at McCormick Place downtown and bought as many of them as Gibson was willing to sell to an individual dealer. It appears that number was 10.

Anyway, he gave me first pick! I checked each one, trying it out and comparing because every one is slightly different and some of the differences make a difference... you know! I settled on number 108 and said, "I want this one". John said, "why didn't you pick number 100?" and I replied that I was not buying a collectors item, I need the best pointy guitar you have and that one is number 108.

Rehearsing for a show the week I first got the V back in 71. Notice the excellent 64 reverse Firebird my band mate Al is wielding. BTW: it was 10 below zero just the other side of those uninsulated garage doors.
Really... number 100 had a funny feel around the nut and the neck in general felt fatter than number 108. After all this, John said, "ya know Bill, that's going to be $325.00, do you have something to trade?". I went back to my car and got my current guitar out of the trunk. It was a semi-nice black Rickenbacker 330, with an additional 3rd pickup and an excellent case. I actually pieced it together from junk and parts. Played nice but squealed like a pig on stage, It had terrible feedback and resonance problems. Amazingly, he traded me 1:1 for that deal, now I was a Flying V guy!
At first I played it "out of the box" and was initially happy with it's mellow growl. It was weaker on high lead work where as, the Firebird my buddy Al used seemed to cut through much cleaner. I heard from someone that removing the pickup covers fixed this problem, so out with the soldering iron and off with the pickup covers. Fortunately I always had the habit of never throwing out stuff like the pickup covers, a habit which will come in real handy over the years.

First gig with the V at Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills, Illinois. January 1972. You can see Al's reverse Firebird better in this shot.
Removing the covers did indeed brighten the sound but this presented another problem. The bare pickup innards were now vulnerable to being whacked by the pick and the delicate look of those tiny solders and wires needed protection somehow. The answer for that was, stabilizers, like the ones on a Les Paul. Mounting those marked the first non reversible modification to this guitar. I now had 8 additional screw holes in the pick guard... oh well! It sure made it sound better.
Back then we were working several times a week and life was good in the rock and roll business. I still felt that the sound of the V was a bit less bighting than I would like. In looking around I noticed the Gibson ES-345 stereo with a thing called "Varitone", a rotary tone switch with 6 positions on it. Fortunately by this time I got the job of service manager for John's Just Music, the place I bought the V. I was by day an electronics nerd and by night a rock star!!

The ES-345's varitone was like a capacitor decade box of sorts where each switch position swapped a different value capacitor in the tone circuit. The real circuit also had some inductors and resistors which completed the variable notch filter. I found this out because one day one of those stereo guitars came into the shop for some re-wiring and a new pickup. I quickly had distilled the essence of the circuit and designed my own simplified circuit using 2 DPDT lever switches. Additionally, I threw in a kill/override pushbutton and decided that this enhancement was what my V needed.

Click here to see the enhancement schematic diagram

Off with the pickguard and out with the drill, seems that my pickguard is going to get a few more holes. After installing the Varitone type thingy, I tried my guitar and magically, I had the tonal range I wanted... ain't life nice? I felt bad about modifying the guitar, but at the time this mod was necessary in light of the primitive state of waveshaping technology. At least all the mods were Gibson based.

Over the next few years my V and me appeared all over the midwest from concert venues to cheesy bars. Miraculously, the V got little or no battle damage. While the other guys instruments barely had a sharp edge on them that did not have a chip out somewhere, and we won't even get into the scratches and gouges.

Al's reverse Firebird's pickguard got so bad that he replaced it with a piece of floor tile (don't laugh) which while some muddy shade of green with a pebble texture, it looked surprisingly at home on the Firebird. I will only briefly mention that one night he had laid the Firebird down on it's back and immediately tripped over a cord, fell on top of it and snapped off the entire head... fortunately I knew an old time luthier who fixed it with a precision and detail not seen on this planet... undetectable except maybe by x-ray!

Some gig around 1975, rockin out... notice the skid strip along the bottom of the V. I may have been playing the song from the following audio clip in this shot. The time is about right and my finger positions are plausible.
Nice shot of the V at rehearsal sometime around 1975. Look closely at the goofy smile and my eyes... am I stoned or what! This is as bad as the Beatles Yesterday and Today album cover.
One last thing, I slapped a vibrato tailpiece on the guitar which put the only lasting damage to the V, 3 screw holes right through the finish and mahogany of the front on the guitar. I made other little harmless cosmetic changes like an anti-skid strip along the lower side of the body.

Over the years I would have the pickup covers on and then off again. This was made easy because I had carefully unsoldered and cleaned the covers and pickup base plates leaving no solder adhered. All I had to do was loosen the strings and slip them on or off, occasionally giving them a gentle squeeze to make sure they hugged the pickup baseplate.

Good old number 108 played a thousand gigs and visited the studio more than a dozen times by 1977 and still had a lot more to do and give.

Click here to download an audio clip of the V from a recording session back in 1975. (964Kb MP3)
This recording was made at Pumpkin Studios in Hickory Hills, Il. Gary Loizzo was the engineer and was the guitarist/singer for the band "American Breed" who wrote and performed the 60's pop hit "Bend Me Shape Me". At the time his primary use for the studio was putting soundtracks to Saturday morning cartoons... he was also an electronics nut just like me so we got along great.

---> The story continues, Click here.