Gibson Byrdland

Gibson's first thinline semi-acoustic guitar

Gibson Byrdland
Gibson Byrdland
Top: mid sixties Byrdland, with Florentine cutaway. Below: 1970 Byrdland with Venetian cutaway

Byrdland Specifications

Model: Gibson Byrdland
Available: 1955-date
Pickups: Two single coil P90s (1955-59) changing to humbuckers from 1959/60
Scale: 23 1/2"
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
Frets: 22
Hardware: 2 volume, 2 tone, gold hardware throughout
Finishes: Natural, Sunburst, Wine Red (1977-79), Ebony (1977-79), Vintage Cherry Sunburst (1983-85)

The Byrdland is one of the company's best known jazz archtops having been in continual production for over six decades. It is a particularly fine 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 the earliest 'thin' electric acoustic guitar, and was based on the very fine 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.

1957 advertisement for the Gibson ByrdlandThe first print advertisement for the Gibson Byrdland, from March 1957

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.

Three versions of the Gibson Byrdland from 1955, 1968 and 1974. Note the changes in pickups and body cutaway style over these years Images Heritage auctions

Gibson Byrdland catalog appearances

1958 Gibson electric guitar and bass catalog

From the 1958 Gibson electrics catalog
This cutaway electric Spanish guitar, with its thin body and extra-narrow, short-scale neck, is easier and less tiring to hold and permits playing chords previously beyond reach

1960 Gibson full line catalog

From the 1960 Gibson full line catalog
At the top among guitars! Designed by famed guitarists Billy Byrd and Hank Garland

1962 Gibson full line catalog

From the 1962 Gibson electric guitar catalog
The first catalogue to show the Byrdland with it's new Florentine cutaway; prior to this it had a more rounded Venetian style

1964 Gibson electric guitar and bass catalog

From the 1963 Gibson electric guitar and bass catalog
The Byrdland is outstanding tor performance and beauty—the result of premium materials and superb Gibson craftsmanship. Tone and response are stunning

Gibson 1966 Full Line catalog

From the 1966 Gibson full line catalog
...the Gibson Byrdland continues to be the choice of artists who demand outstanding performance in a guitar with slim comfort, feather touch action and exceptional tonal response

1970 Gibson thinline catalog

From the 1970 Gibson thinline catalog
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

1972 Byrdland Showcase

1972 guitar of the month showcase,
...the playing artistry of Billy Byrd and Hank Garland brought about a guitar that has been admired for years by thousands of discriminating guitarists

1978 Gibson catalog

The 1978 Gibson catalog was the first to show the Byrdland in the Wine Red finish available from 1977

1981 Rosetti catalog

1981 Rosetti catalog. Only Natural and Antique Sunburst finishes are offered in this 1981 catalog for the UK market

1983 Gibson catalog

From the 1983 Gibson cat.
The Byrdland stands alone amongst modern archtops. Owing to the particular vision of Nashville pickers Hank Garland and Billy Byrd. Thinner than most Gibson custom carved instruments, the Byrdland is a joy to play - even more of a joy to hear

..and how the Gibson Byrdland was described in 1970

The following description is taken from the 1970 'thin-electric acoustics' catalog:

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 1/4" thin; 23 1/2" 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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Nick Comment left 15th April 2012 21:09:50 reply
Trying to determine the value of 1963 Gibson Byrdland Custom in mint condition. Could you possibly help me out ? Thank you



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