The hummingbird, one of nature’s truly miraculous creatures, sustains itself on nectar. The Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar, a marvel of the luthier’s art, produces sounds just as sweet and satisfying as that avian ambrosia.
 
Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, John McLaughlin, Sheryl Crow and myriad of other players have all soaked in the model’s creative powers since its inception 50 years ago — an event celebrated this month by the unveiling of the Gibson 50th Anniversary 1960 Hummingbird.


 
The lore of the Hummingbird began, of course, on the workbench, during a time generally understood to be the first golden era of Gibson’s electric guitar building. Nonetheless, the model was quite innovative among Gibson’s line of acoustic instruments, even compared to the archtop beauties developed for the company by the legendary instrument designer Lloyd Loar in the 1920s and ’30s.
 
The flattop Hummingbird was created to compete directly with pricier Martin dreadnought guitars. The square-shouldered dreadnought body type debuted in 1916 and took its name from the estimable British battleship the HMS Dreadnought. By the 1950s, the shape had become popular with bluegrass and country musicians, thanks to the even tones and projection of its big-bodied design.  
 
When the Gibson Hummingbird was unveiled, it was the company’s second most costly acoustic guitar, right behind the classic mustache-bridge Gibson J-200. Two years later, the introduction of the Gibson Dove made the Hummingbird the third most costly, but didn’t diminish its popularity. Hummingbirds are distinguished by their etched pickguards with a hummingbird design and their stately body style, as well as a mahogany back and sides, a series of split-parallelogram mother of pearl inlays on the neck and fretboards, a spruce top and a rosewood bridge. The model celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2000 by winning Acoustic Guitar magazine’s “Players’ Choice Award” in the dreadnought category. The editors cited the Hummingbird’s “very wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud to sweet to soft” and proclaimed the guitar superb for all styles of playing, whether requiring chords or intricate solos.
 
Hummingbirds from the pre-Dove era of 1960 to ’62 are rare birds, indeed, and, when they can be found, sell for up to $5,000 if they’re in good condition. Over the years, a series of Hummingbird types have been produced. These include the Hummingbird Modern Classic, which is an electro-acoustic guitar; the True Vintage model, which drew on the blueprints of the original, like the brand new 50th Anniversary Hummingbird does; the Artist and Pro variations, which were Guitar Center exclusives; the Icon ’60s edition, which sported a natural finish, block inlays and an adjustable bridge; the Hummingbird KOA, which employs KOA wood in its construction, and the recent Sheryl Crow model, which is natural finish kin to the Modern Classic.
 
The Hummingbird’s legend as a popular instrument may well begin with Jimmy Page, nearly 10 years into its existence. Page played Gibson J-200s and Hummingbirds on such indelible tracks as “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Ramble On” on 1969’s Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II, respectively, and “Gallows Pole” on the next year’s Led Zeppelin III. Although alt-country and Americana fans would argue that it was the late Gram Parsons who first notably wielded a Hummingbird in The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and as a solo artist. On the ground floor of glam pop, Marc Bolan of T. Rex often used Hummingbirds, including Epiphone models, to lay a bedrock rhythm under his electric guitar licks. “Life’s a Gas,” from the classic 1971 album Electric Warrior, is an excellent example of this approach. And Page fans would debate this, but arguably the most blazing guitarist to ever employ a Hummingbird is fusion pioneer John McLaughlin, leader of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Although he’s best known for blasting out grizzly power licks at near-lightspeed velocity through Marshall stacks with Mahavishnu, his acoustic playing packs the same frightening intensity. And it is often surprising. For example, McLaughlin’s trailblazing and plain loud pre-Mahavishnu performances on the first Tony Williams Lifetime album in 1971 were on a Hummingbird with a pick-up installed.
 
Or, depending on your taste in guitar heroes, the foundation of the Hummingbird mystique may have been laid by Keith Richards. He has preferred the ’Bird as his acoustic guitar of choice since 1964, and the model has fueled such famous Rolling Stones cuts as “Street Fighting Man,” “Not Fade Away,” “Brown Sugar,” “Angie,” “Wild Horses” and “Jumping Jack Flash.” Add Sheryl Crow — who always carries her signature model on stage — to that mix, and the diversity of those players becomes an accurate vision of the Gibson Hummingbird’s versatility.
 
Made at Gibson Guitar’s acoustic guitar building operation in Bozeman, Montana, the new Gibson 50th Anniversary 1960 Hummingbird, is in all respects but age, a classic guitar. These Hummingbirds are made to the period-correct specs of the True Vintage in a gorgeous Dark Heritage Cherry 1960 sunburst finish, vintage body back bracings, gold keystone kluson tuning machines, a custom mother-of-pearl “50” inlay on the headstock, a gold painted 50th Anniversary pickguard, gloss finish and a “50th Anniversary” engraved truss-rod cover. Only 200 are being produced.
 
That foundation model is kicked up a notch for high-end collectors with Custom Shop Limited Edition Hummingbird 50th Anniversary Models in production runs of only 50 guitars each. The 50th Anniversary Hummingbird Custom Exotic Rosewood model is made with back and sides of highly figured exotic virgin rosewood hand selected by Master Luthier Ren Ferguson, with hide-glued top bracing and an 18k gold headstock inlay, while the 50th Anniversary Hummingbird Custom “AAA” Koa model has back and sides made from Hawaiian Koa wood with a special honeyburst finish to blend with KOA, hide-glued top bracing, and an 18k gold headstock. The headstocks insure that these Hummingbirds will be the most valuable models ever produced and follow a new trend of using gold in high-end guitar and amplifier construction.
 
One more tribute to the Hummingbird’s durability is its popularity, typically scoring the fifth-highest sales in Gibson’s acoustic guitar line, and the variety of ’Birds still in the Gibson Company catalog. These include the basic Hummingbird, the True Vintage, the Custom KOA, the Pro and an Epiphone Hummingbird. All of these instruments reflect the enduring standards set down five decades ago.