When Gibson launched the Hummingbird acoustic guitar during the folk revival in the early ‘60s it was aimed squarely at singer-songwriters. “Gibson’s Sensational New Flat Top Guitar… For those interested in owning one of the finest guitars ever made for voice accompaniment” reads the firm’s New ’61 Gibson Guitars & Amplifiers brochure.
By this stage, Gibson were a leading brand in the world of large-bodied flat-top acoustics. Competing with Martin’s Dreadnought design developed earlier in 1916 they had gone from strength to strength ever since their debut round-shouldered ‘dreadnought’ Jumbo appeared in 1934. “This greater body size produces a heavy, booming tone so popular today with many players,” reads Gibson’s 1934 catalog.
Developed in 1960, the Hummingbird was Gibson’s first square-shouldered dreadnought (although their Kalamazoo factory had been manufacturing the square-shouldered maple-bodied Epiphone Frontier dreadnought since 1958.)
While some rare 'Hummingdove' examples were made with maple backs and sides Gibson Hummingbirds are normally constructed using mahogany (neck/back/sides) and spruce (top). They are perhaps one of the more easily identifiable Gibson flat-tops on account of their L-7/ES-175/Southern Jumbo-style double-parallelogram fingerboard inlays and unique engraved pickguard depicting a hovering hummingbird.
Along with a striking cherry sunburst and gold hardware the Hummingbird was one of the fanciest flat-tops in the Gibson catalog – a guitar fit for rock royalty, no less. And in this clip from Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil filmed in 1968 at Olympic Studios, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger can both be seen playing this iconic guitar while they write the equally iconic Rolling Stones song.
Gibson currently offer the Hummingbird Standard in Vintage Sunburst as part of their Modern Acoustic range. Priced $3,849.00 this guitar is constructed with the traditional specifications of mahogany back & sides, spruce top, and mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, while an LR Baggs VTC pickup & preamp bring the design up to date.
The 4K restoration of Sympathy for the Devil is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital services here.
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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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