In 1957 Gibson’s then president, Ted McCarty, grew tired of the company being slagged off as ”boring old farts” by some of its competitors. Especially the fresh touch brought to guitar-making (and marketing) by young upstarts Fender, made McCarty determined that something had to be done to put the ”stuffy” image behind them.
They held a series of brain-storming sessions with a view to coming up with the most outrageous designs imaginable. Ted McCarty himself came up with this:
When the first prototype was built somebody said (laughing, no doubt): ”Hey, this thing looks like a flying Vee!”, and the name stuck.
When the Flying V was first shown at the Winter NAMM show in 1958 – along with its sister model the Explorer – it sure was the show-stopper McCarty had hoped for, with its radical shape, korina neck and body and gold parts.
The problem was the model was way ahead of its time, and didn’t really sell well in its original form. Less than 100 Flying V’s were shipped to dealers during 1958-9, with some ending up as shop signs (!) to draw in customers.
In the mid-60s times had changed, though, and heavier music was becoming en vogue, so Gibson decided to reissue the Flying V, albeit with a standard stop-tailpiece, a different control layout and the company’s customary mahogany used for the body and neck.
It was this version that Jimi Hendrix used whenever he needed a fatter sound than his Stratocaster could provide him with.
But it was really only with the advent of Hard Rock and Metal in the 1970s that the Vee really took off as a fashionable guitar, as it offered both cool looks and fat Gibson-tone in the right proportions.
Since then the Flying V has never really left us; right now, for example, Gibson are offering an EMG-equipped, active 7-string version for ultra-brutal riffing.
And brand-new is a budget version of the Vee, called the Flying V Melody Maker, which gives you the essence of what the Vee’s about in a nutshell: a mahogany neck glued to a maple body, one powerful humbucker, a single volume control and a simple wraparound bridge topping it all off – that’s it.
The Flying V only has one single drawback – you can’t play the model sitting down. But then again, headbanging doesn’t really work sitting down…