1966 Gibson Firebird III

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Great P90 pickup tones, looks with plenty of genuine mojo, factory vibrato, originality, OHSC

Thumbs down: General wear and tear, neck shape, standard sunburst finish, sliding pickup selector switch

Decree: She looks a bit battered around the edges but not mistreated, a great mid‑1960s ‘non‑reverse’ Firebird with plenty of character

Model Description:

Gibson had a few hits and misses during their so‑called ‘golden era’. While the ES‑series proved successful, the modernistic Explorer and Flying V from 1958 had failed commercially. Even though hugely popular now, the single cutaway Les Paul had been discontinued in 1961, also due to poor sales and its replacement, the SG, didn’t catch on immediately. In 1962, Gibson President Ted McCarty persuaded legendary Chrysler automotive designer Ray Dietrich to come out of retirement and use his experience to develop a ground‑breaking new guitar, the ‘reverse’ Gibson Firebird, introduced in mid‑1963. Initial sales weren’t high and Fender complained about design infringements. In addition, the Firebird was a difficult and expensive guitar to manufacture and in 1965, Gibson replaced the original design with a more traditional ‘non‑reverse’ body. The new slab body was a single piece of mahogany and had a normal set neck rather than the through‑body neck with body ‘wings’ of the ‘reverse’ model. The new neck had a standard headstock and normal tuners rather than the earlier inverted headstock and ‘banjo‑style’ tuners. The V and VII models retained mini‑humbucking pickups while the I and III models now featured regular P90 single coil pickups (2 or 3 respectively). There was even a 12‑string Firebird released in 1966, along with custom colour finishes as factory options. Sales did not improve significantly and the ‘non‑reverse’ Firebird was discontinued in 1969. Both Gibson and its subsidiary Epiphone have re‑issued the Firebird since the 1990s and the line‑up has included both ‘reverse’ and ‘non‑reverse’ models. Vintage Gibson Firebirds, particularly the early ‘reverse’ body shape have become highly collectable and expensive. Of the ‘non‑reverse’ models, the mini‑humbucker‑equipped guitars in custom colours are the most highly sought after.

Guitar Description:

Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, here is a really cool and reasonably rare ‘non‑reverse’ 1966 Gibson Firebird III in standard sunburst finish. This one is all original apart from having had replacement tuners at one point – the originals are now back in place. Unlike the somewhat bulky original ‘reverse’ Firebirds, this example is nicely svelte, being relatively light and very well balanced. The three P90 ‘soap bar’ pickups have plenty of that meaty single coil growl to keep you entertained. The Firebird was, and still is, a great guitar for blues, rock, indie and alternative music. The factory Gibson Maestro Vibrola adds a touch of fluttery flexibility if needed. The neck is full and fills the hand to give it a real bold feel. The original etched Firebird logo is still just about visible on the scratchplate but the colour from the indents has long since worn away. This Firebird is all‑original but is not in pristine condition. It exhibits some extensive finish crazing and quite a few scuffs, scrapes, nicks and bumps acquired along the way. However, it is certainly not in poor abused condition either and there are no structural issues to be concerned about. Good guitars get played and this one certainly wears its heart on its sleeve. Overall, the well‑lived‑in look gives it enormous character and one wonders what stories it could tell about its many years of music making. What you see is more than half a century’s genuine play wear and not the result of some modern day ‘relic’ job. This lovely non‑reverse Gibson Firebird from the height of the ‘swinging sixties’ nails the period look, feel and sound perfectly. The original case with its groovy tartan interior adds a bit of 1960s funky flair. All‑in‑all, this Firebird III is a rare bird and a genuine example of its breed, exemplified (and amplified!) with plenty of vintage mojo.


  • Made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A. in 1966
  • ‘Non-reverse’ single piece mahogany body with rib cage body contour on the rear
  • Standard sunburst nitrocellulose finish
  • Mahogany set neck
  • Unbound rosewood fingerboard with 22 frets and dot markers
  • Scale length 24¾” (629mm)
  • Chrome hardware
  • Original Kluson tuners (has had alternatives at some point)
  • Original scratchplate with faded Firebird logo
  • Original 3x single-coil P90 pickups
  • Original slide switch, pots and knobs, strap buttons, and jack socket
  • Original bridge and Maestro Vibrola vibrato tailpiece
  • Weight: 7lb 14oz (3.57kg)
  • Original black oblong hard shell case with red/black tartan interior


  • Gem Archer (Oasis)
  • Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown


The Gibson Firebird may well have been named after a series of futuristic turbine‑powered concept cars made by General Motors during the 1950s, also called the Firebird, with a Phoenix logo and distinguished by Roman numerals. It certainly wasn’t named after the more famous Pontiac Firebird muscle car, also made by General Motors, which was introduced in 1967 and also carried a distinctive, bold phoenix logo.

Detail Gallery:

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