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The Sunday Papers

A Flock in Formation: V-Style Guitars From Gibson, to Jackson, to Chapman

By Andy Perrin | December 08, 2017

Riff City Sunday Papers Vol.1 No.18

1958 was a big year for Gibson. And arguably, an experimental one. In short order, the company released what became their most iconic and classic model, the 1958 Les Paul, the ES-335 as well as the attention grabbing designs of the Explorer, Moderne, and Flying-V.

This last trio of designs were revealed at the NAMM show in 1957. Of these eye-catching axes, the Moderne had a fabled existence, never making it past the prototype and patent applied for stage. The Explorer was reasonably received in its initial production run and has cropped up in re-issues ever since. Somewhere in between the failure to launch of the Moderne and the limited initial success of the Explorer, was the futuristic Flying V. This member of the Ted McCarty’s forward-looking Korina body, angular designs had an initial run of only a year. By 1959, it was retired after a production of around 200 builds. Stats like these would seemingly make it a good candidate for becoming a forgotten relic of the bold yet unsuccessful guitar designs of years past. It seemed to become history before it met the future.

While the Flying V was out of production and out of the catalogue, it wasn’t long before Gibson revisited the design. At least part of this decision seems to have been motivated by some prominent players confidently wielding Gibson’s edgy axe in the mid-1960s. The times had at last caught up to the design. On the blues side of things, Albert King adopted the Flying V as his own. On the rock side of the equation, Dave Davies of the Kinks fell into an unexpected Flying V acquisition in a pawn shop in Los Angeles after an airline lost his gear on an incoming flight.

By 1967, the Flying V was back in the catalogue, with some minor tweaks. In the decades that followed, the Flying V had an on-again-off-again type relationship with Gibson, marked with intermittent eras of productions, retirement, reissue, and repeat. In this history, however, the unmistakable design has inspired a flock of designs taking Gibson’s pointy design as their point of departure.

Of the many v-type stories that could be told, few are as far-reaching as the Jackson Concorde. In the late 1970s, a young Randy Rhoades contacted the green start-up of Jackson-built Charvel guitars out of California. After connecting with Rhoades to discuss the vision for his design, the futuristic and offset v-shape Concorde guitar was built as the very first guitar to proudly bear the name “Jackson” on its headstock. Decades later, that original design has seemingly spanned a v-type army with Jackson’s release of numerous spin-offs and signatures adopting the shape. In many ways, the backbone of Jackson’s empire that started in the 1980s is the v-style body.

While many other builders have ventured into v-territory over the decades—Dean, ESP, and Reverend—arguably the most recent one to put their spin on it is Chapman guitars. With a stealthy design and deep maple wings, the Chapman MLV Pro Modern proves that sixty years after the inception of the v-style body, even today the shape remains at once modern and timeless.