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.
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
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
From the 1960 Gibson full line catalog
At the top among guitars! Designed by famed guitarists Billy Byrd and Hank Garland
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
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
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
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 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
The 1978 Gibson catalog was the first to show the Byrdland in the Wine Red finish available from 1977
1981 Rosetti catalog. Only Natural and Antique Sunburst finishes are offered in this 1981 catalog for the UK market
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
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