1981 Gibson RD Artist

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Highly unusual and unique instrument, on board electronics, all original, condition, OHSC

Thumbs down: Complex active electronics won’t suit everyone, body shape, maple neck

Decree: A massively versatile, innovative and distinctive curiosity from an experimental period for Gibson

Model Description:

Gibson was well ahead of its time when it developed the solid body RD series guitars in 1975. RD stands for ‘Research & Development’, which hints at its special features. The original RD/77 range was launched to the public in 1977 and comprised 3 guitars; the Standard, Custom and Artist, available in natural, black or antique sunburst finishes. The range also included 2 bass guitars. The body shape is reminiscent of a more rounded, humbucker‑equipped, reverse‑bodied Firebird. When introduced, the guitar had an atypical, for Gibson, 25½” scale. The top‑of‑the‑range RD Artist was a premium instrument priced just below the Les Paul Custom and well above a Les Paul Standard. The RD Artist was the first production Gibson to feature extensive on‑board active electronics, as evidenced by a large printed circuit board (PCB) and battery compartment under the rear cover plates. Gibson’s parent company, Norlin, also owned MOOG synthesizers at the time and, seeing an opportunity, appointed respected inventor Dr Robert Moog to design practical innovations for the humble electric guitar. As a result, the RD was different from any preceding, or indeed subsequent, Gibson. The electronics focus not on synthesised sounds but on providing a wider range of accessible guitar sounds, including compression and expansion. Many traditionalists didn’t take to the RD, citing the untried technology and the unusual new shape. Many buyers (unwisely in hindsight) removed and discarded the Artist’s innards, meaning that there are relatively few remaining versions complete with the original Moog circuit in working order. The last year of production resulted in a limited run of about 100 flashy RD CMT (Curly Maple Top) Artists. Ultimately, after sustained poor sales, the RD model was discontinued in c.1981. The RD and in particular the Artist, is beginning to gain greater respect and credibility on the vintage market. Gibson has re‑introduced the RD guitar for the 21st Century, albeit in simpler and more mainstream form.

Guitar Description:

Here is another divisive and unique guitar for your consideration, being hatched during Gibson’s experimental period from the late 1970s to early 1980s. This gorgeous 1981 Gibson RD Artist is another very cool and rare guitar, which I sought out specifically for its unique merits. Personally, I love the rounded shape. Not having owned an RD Artist back in the day, I wasn’t sure what affect the (then) ground‑breaking Moog‑designed on‑bard active electronics would have. Firstly, it can sound like an ordinary guitar but, let’s face it, if that’s all you want, don’t buy one of these. Neither does the Moog connection make the guitar sound like a synthesiser! Moog cleverly supplemented, rather than substituted, what was there anyway. What I wasn’t expecting was the vast range of responsive tones available right at my fingertips. The variety of sounds, from subtle to pronounced, is very impressive and it challenges the way that one plays. The active electronics give volume a significant volume boost if you want it, useful to push a good valve pre‑amp into overdrive. The bass and treble EQ (a.k.a. tone) controls provide either a cut or boost in those registers. This 2nd generation RD/79 model sports 2 mini toggle switches to operate the effects separately. The bright function works on both pickups and allows an instantaneous tonal shift if needed for rhythm/solo playing. Compression works on the neck pickup while expansion (effectively the opposite of compression) works on the bridge pickup, selected using the normal 3‑way pickup selector. This approach means you can have any combination of boost, EQ, neutral, compression, expansion and/or bright mode, thereby providing a very wide range of versatility. The flexibility is fantastic, especially if you are a bit bored with the ‘normal’ Gibson dual humbucker approach. This particular 1981 Gibson RD Artist was to‑of‑the‑range at the time and is still in superb condition – it is all‑original, including the unique and irreplaceable Moog electronics. The natural finish is enhanced by shiny gold hardware, which contrasts beautifully with the bound and inlaid ebony fingerboard. The fancy bound headstock carries a unique but rather inappropriately nicknamed ‘flying f‑hole’ mother‑of‑pearl inlay. Being made of solid maple, the guitar is a bit heavy, especially in its original hard shell case. There are a few very minor nicks and bumps to add character but nothing at all in the way of damage or modification. One for the true artist.


  • Made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A. in February 1981
  • Natural nitrocellulose finish
  • Solid maple contoured body
  • Maple 3‑piece set neck
  • Bound ebony fingerboard with 22 frets and pearl block markers
  • Original Gibson branded Schaller tuners
  • Bound veneered headstock with pearl ‘Gibson’ logo and ‘flying f‑hole’ inlays
  • Original ‘RD Artist’ engraved truss rod cover
  • Nut width 111/16” (42mm)
  • Scale length 24¾” (629mm)
  • Original gold plated hardware
  • Original 5‑ply plastic scratchplate
  • Original Series VI Gibson humbucking pickups
  • Complete, original and fully working Moog on‑board active electronics (still with paper/masking tape in place over the printed circuit board) – requires a 9V battery
  • Original body‑mounted switches (x3), knobs, strap buttons and jack socket
  • Original tune‑o‑matic bridge and TP‑6 fine tuning tailpiece
  • Weight: 9lb (4kg)
  • Original Gibson hard shell case


  • Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)
  • Steve Howe (Yes)
  • Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
  • ‘Nameless Ghoul’ (Ghost)
  • Krist Novoselic (Nirvana – NB. RD bass)
  • Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

Detail Gallery:

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