Five Guitarists Who Prove That Flying V Is Not (Just) a Metal Guitar
The Gibson Flying V, often nicknamed the "V", is a guitar model that most music fans associate with hardcore musical styles encompassed under the generic name of heavy metal. And to some extent rightly so, it has been played by many metal stars such as James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett from Metallica, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, Kiss' Paul Stanley and Zakk Wylde. But it's not that simple. Gibson started making this bizarrely shaped guitar in 1958 when nobody knew anything about metal, and it was introduced to the general public by musicians from completely different musical backgrounds. We're going to talk about five of them.
1. Albert King (1923–1992)
One of the most important electric blues guitarists of all time enjoyed his greatest period of fame in the 1960s when he became one of the stars of the Memphis Stax label. He brilliantly incorporated tantalising elements of soul and funk into a classic foundation. The left-handed giant was rarely seen with a guitar other than "V". He had a few of them, and he called them all Lucy.
The first was the 1959 Gibson Flying V, and you can hear it on almost all of his most famous 1960s recordings. This was followed by the 1966 model. After that, King owned mostly copies, which were custom-built by first-class luthiers (Dan Erlewine, Bradley Prokopow, John Bolin and Tom Holmes). We can disagree, we can argue about it, but that's about all we can do about it: Albert King is, once and for all, the greatest personality behind the Flying V guitar.
2. Lonnie Mack (1941–2016)
If anyone can occasionally tread on Albert King's toes, it's Lonnie Mack, a bit of a "secret saint" among (not only) blues guitarists. From the first half of the sixties onwards he was one of the most inventive and, in his time, most progressive solo guitarists. Many commercially much more successful players built their own careers on his musical achievements.
Mack was also inseparable from the "V". At the age of seventeen, he bought an instrument with serial number seven (hence the nickname of his guitar Number 7). Legend has it that as part Native American, Mack was captivated by the guitar's arrow-like shape. He was also the first to mount a Bigsby tremolo on a Flying V.
3. Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)
While we primarily associate the great Jimi with the Stratocaster, the "V" was his second most used guitar, which he played from 1967 to 1969. Interestingly, there isn't much video footage of him playing his Flying V, which he painted psychedelically with nail polish, but his use of the guitar in concert is documented in photographs. Either way, he played it during live recordings on BBC Radio 1 (released in 1988) and during the recording of the double album Electric Ladyland. For example, the solo in "All Along The Watchtower" was played on the "V".
4. Dave Davies (*1947)
Although we've questioned the idea that the "V" is a strictly heavy metal guitar, we have to admit that the model has quite a bit to do with the roots of this style of music, as both Jimi Hendrix and Dave Davies, guitarist of the British band The Kinks, are rightly considered some of the main sources of the heavy metal approach.
Davies played many other types of guitars during his career, but his early Kinks era is largely linked to the "V" (he had a 1958 vintage which he bought in 1965). This is mainly because he liked to take this very unusual and rough-looking guitar to prominent concerts and especially TV shows – how much it had to do with its musical qualities and how much it was about looking cool, we cannot tell.
5. Marc Bolan (1947–1977)
The still incredibly influential British guitarist and songwriter, best known as the protagonist of T. Rex, also liked switching guitar types. He was most often seen with Les Paul, but the Flying V grew on him as well. There is no doubt that as a glam rock star he appreciated the original look of the guitar, in addition to the musical quality, that matched his distinctive image.
Of course, he owned several of them over time and had Vibrola tremolos mounted on some of them. Bolan's collection even included a curious instrument with a walnut body, one of only thirty-five pieces. Another one belonged to his above-mentioned colleague Hendrix.
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