The Gibson Flying V is an electric guitar model introduced by Gibson in 1958. The Flying V offered a radical, "futuristic" body design, much like its siblings: the Explorer, which was released the same year and the Moderne, which was designed in 1957 but not released until 1982. The initial run of guitars used a distinctive wood of the Limba tree marketed by Gibson under the trade name "korina"; later models used more conventional woods.
Perhaps too radical for its time, the initial run of Flying V guitars was not successful, and fewer than 100 were manufactured and sold. Some players, such as blues guitarist Albert King, and rock guitarist Dave Davies gravitated towards the unique design and helped popularize the model years after it had left production. After the renewed popularity led to increased demand, Gibson manufactured a small number of Flying V guitars in 1963 from leftover parts from the original run, and the guitar re-entered regular production in 1967 and has been reissued numerous times since then. A number of variant models, including the completely redesigned Flying V2 from 1979-1982, and an unusual Reverse Flying V from 2007-2008, have been released as well.
Gibson president Ted McCarty pushed for a line of modernist guitars in the mid 1950s to compete with the newly designed, and highly successful, Fender Stratocaster. They manufactured prototypes of the guitars in 1957, including a mahogany version that was abandoned because it was extremely heavy. They eventually on wood of the limba tree, which the company marketed as "korina" (a term Gibson invented). The wood is similar to, but lighter in color and weighed less than mahogany, though it presented similar tonal characteristics. This Flying V had two sister models that were developed along side of it, and debuted at the NAMM Show that year, the Futura, and the Moderne. Based on feedback at the NAAM show, only the Flying V and the Futura, now rebranded as the Explorer, went into production, while the initial prototype of the Moderne was never seen again, though several decades later production models were produced. These designs were meant to add a more futuristic aspect to Gibson's image, but they did not sell well. After the initial launch in 1958, the line was discontinued by 1959. Manufacturing records have been lost, but it is believed that less than 100 Flying V guitars were manufactured during its initial 1958-1959 run alongside an even smaller number of Explorers, believed to be less than 50. Some instruments were assembled from leftover parts and shipped in 1963, with nickel- rather than gold-plated hardware. Due to the rarity of the initial run and the later popularity of reissued models, the 1958–59 Korina Flying V is one of the most valuable production-model guitars on the market, ranked at No. 5 on the 2011 Top 25 published by Vintage Guitar magazine, and worth between US$200,000 and US$250,000.
Pioneering blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack and famed blues guitarist Albert King started using the guitar almost immediately. Mack used his 1958 Flying V almost exclusively during his long career. As it was seventh off the inaugural year's assembly line, he named it "Number 7". King used his original 1958 instrument into the mid-70s and later replaced it with various custom Flying Vs. Later, in the mid-late 1960s, such guitarists as Dave Davies, in search of a distinctive looking guitar with a powerful sound, also started using Flying Vs. The renewed interest created a demand for Gibson to reissue the model.
Gibson reissued the guitar in mahogany in 1967, updating its design with a bigger pickguard, and replacing the original bridge, which had the strings inserted through the back, with the stopbar tail piece more commonly associated with Gibson models. Some models were shipped with a short Vibrola Maestro Tremolo. This 1967 model is now the standard for the Flying V although the earlier design is periodically reissued. Like other Gibson guitars the Flying V's headstock is angled at 17 degrees to increase string pressure on the nut to increase the amount of sustain. The design of the V places the pickups near the center of mass of the entire guitar, further enhancing sustain.
Flying Vs later became a popular heavy metal guitar due to their aggressive appearance and were used by guitarists Rudolf Schenker, Andy Powell, Michael Schenker, K. K. Downing, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and Dave Mustaine.