Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Strange Tale Of an Odd Guitar

In 1958, The Gibson Guitar Company produced two jet-age designs which, though not originally popular, have since become iconic models. The Flying Vee certainly was inspired by the swept-wing, pointy-nosed new jet airplanes which were just beginning to appear in the skies, and the shape of the Explorer looks like a cartoon expression of a hotrod car speeding by.

My beat-up 1985 Vee, which is currently at a friend's house, awaiting a refinishing job...

 Gibson Explorer (photo from Wikipedia). The prototype was called the "Futura".

There was a third design patented by Gibson, at the same time as these two futuristic models, which came to be called the Moderne. The Moderne had a body shape which incorporated elements from both the Flying Vee and the Explorer, along with a strange headstock shape sometimes referred to as the "Gumby head" shape. Patent drawings were produced, and a patent was awarded for the design, but the guitar apparently never went into production.  

Although there were rumors that a few were shipped, this has never been proven. A small number of prototypes were apparently produced, but disappeared. Periodically, a supposed 1958 Moderne will show up, but most have been debunked as fakes. Billy Gibbons, of ZZ Top, has what is purported to be a factory prototype Moderne, with a Les Paul headstock on the neck.

Reverend Billy's "prototype"
 (Photo from the web. I can't find attribution)

In the 1970s, the Japanese guitar company, Ibanez, produced models based on the Vee, Explorer and Moderne.

This Ibanez catalog shot shows their version, which was (apparently) closely based upon the guitar that Billy Gibbons has.

In 1982, Gibson finally produced a version of the Moderne, as a "reissue". Keep in mind, this was a reissue of a guitar which had never been produced...

Later, there was an Epiphone version produced in Korea. Both the Gibson and Epiphone versions were limited editions (as have been later runs, from Gibson) and, along with the Ibanez, considerably outside of my price range.

Since I got my Flying Vee, I have been more and more interested in the other two models, as well. Eventually, I hope to come across a rough Explorer, which I can afford, just as I did with the Vee. I know, however, that I will never find an affordable Moderne. Even a beater will remain outside of my comfort zone, pricewise.

So, I broke my self-imposed prohibition on Gibson copies, and started shopping for a decent copy of the Moderne. Most are still pretty pricy (I don't want a cheap-sounding guitar, so I have my standards). I figured it would take a while to find one, in my price range, and I was right. I've been looking for about 4 months.

Then, out of the blue, a Dillion copy, the Deluxe DMOD-59 V, appeared on eBay. It was brand-new, direct from Dillion, for about half of the advertised list price. So, taking advantage of the 12 months same as cash deal from PayPal, I bought it, on Monday. It arrived, today.

After unpacking it, and tuning it up, I checked the intonation. It was spot-on, right out of the box! So, I adjusted the action to suit me, raised the pickups, a bit, in relation to the strings, and adjusted the individual pole pieces to suit my ears. I had read that the stock Wilkinson humbuckers were decent pickups, and I have to agree. (The guitar is manufactured in Korea, probably in the same factory which builds the Epiphones. But, all of the hardware and electronics are Wilkinson, which is a British aftermarket guitar parts company.

The maple neck is nice and fat, very similar in size and shape to the neck on my circa 1948 Gibson ES-125. I will probably take some 0000 steel wool to the glossy finish, to improve the tactile proerties of the finish. Or, maybe I'll just wear it off, playing the guitar, like I did the maple neck on my Gibson S-1 (which I no longer have)...

The headstock is a close approximation of the Gibson "Gumby" version. Oddly, the two tuners closest to the neck are reversed. I assume that this is to produce a straight run for the strings, without two more string guides. Anyway, I know that they did it on purpose, because all of the photos on the Dillion website show the same configuration.

The body is made of Carolina White Pine, the same tree from which they made the masts of many sailing ships, including the USS Constitution. It has a tone very similar to the poplar body of my Flying Vee. In other words, it has a slightly brighter tone than Cooper (my mahogany slab-bodied Les Paul Special), but still sounds great through my amp. I am well pleased with the playability and sound, even with the factory strings.

I played through a number of Skull Full Of Blues songs, and the guitar works very well for our music. The next thing I'll do is string it up with my usual strings, and use it at our next practice. Come to our next show, and you'll probably see and hear this particular axe. 

So, there you go. I now have a copy of a reissue of a non-production model of a 1958 Gibson guitar. 




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