Top: mid sixties Byrdland, with Florentine cutaway. Below: 1970 Byrdland with Venetian cutaway
The Byrdland is a particularly fine Gibson jazz archtop guitar, designed by, and taking its name from, Billy Byrd and Hank Garland - two influential jazz guitarists of the 1950s, and produced at Gibson's famous Kalamazoo plant. As the 1972 Gibson Showcase brochure states, "craftsmanship, playability and tonal performance have been the 'key elements' in the design" of the Byrdland. It debuted in 1955 and has been on Gibson price lists ever since.
It was one of the earliest 'thin' electric acoustic guitars, based on the L-5CES. Initially four prototypes were produced in April 1955 (two natural, two sunburst); one each for Byrd (natural) and Garland (sunburst), and two for Gibson's promotional purposes, and indeed these were labelled as 'special thin models' of the L-5CES. These were, of course, conceived in the days before the advent of the Gibson ES thinline series. As described in early advertising (see the 1957 advertisement featuring messrs Garland and Byrd, below left): "it's thin body... it's narrow, short scale length... gives it unusually fast and brilliant tonal response, combining the characteristics of the solid body and conventional guitars."
The first examples completed in June 1955, and although first demonstrated at the July 1955 NAMM show, it was not actually available to buyers until 1956. See the Gibson Byrdland shipping stats here. Initially it had a rounded Venetian cutaway; the same body shape and size as the L-5 CES, ES-5 Switchmaster and ES-350, although it, and the ES-350 were shorter scale than the L-5CES and ES-5 (23 1/2" compared to 25 1/2") - specifically for easy jazz chording and soloing.
|Pickups||Two single coil P90s (1955-59) changing to humbuckers from 1959/60|
|Body||Carved spruce top, curly maple rims and back. Two body styles available with Venetian (1955-early 1961, 1968-1985) or Florentine (1961-1968) cutaway. Currently both cutaway styles are available from the Gibson Custom shop.|
|Neck||Three piece (changing to five-piece in around 1965) curly maple short scale neck. Ebony fingerboard, pearl block inlays. Joins body at the 14th fret|
|Hardware||2 volume, 2 tone, gold hardware throughout|
|Finishes||Natural, Sunburst, Wine Red (1977-79), Ebony (1977-79), Vintage Cherry Sunburst (1983-85)
The first print advertisement for the Gibson Byrdland, from March 1957
|Jazz strings suitable for this guitar|
The Gibson New for '61 flyer heralds the change to a "deeper Florentine cutaway body... for easier, more comfortable playing in the upper register, and to permit the playing of many chords and intervals previously beyond reach"
From 1962 the Byrdland was advertised in price lists as custom order only.
The following description is taken from the 1970 Gibson catalogue:
A supreme achievement in a thin electric acoustic, the Byrdland is designed for the artist who demands perfection in appearance and performance. The extra narrow, short scale neck makes difficult chord positions easy to reach.
FEATURES: Carved spruce top with select curly maple rims and back. Extra narrow five-piece curly maple short scale neck joins body at the 14th fret. Adjustable truss rod. Ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays. Adjustable Tune-O-Matic bridge. Powerful twin Humbucking pickups with separate tone and volume controls. Three position toggle switch to activate either or both pickups. 17" wide, 21" long, 2 ¼" thin; 23 ½" scale, 22 frets.
Byrdland - Sunburst finish
Byrdland N - Natural finish
603 - Faultless plush-lined case
ZC-3 - Deluxe zipper case cover
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