10 Kings (and Queens) of the Flying V
Few guitars are more distinctive, on several fronts, than Gibson’s Flying V. Introduced in 1958, the Flying V’s futuristic shape, powerful sound and mystical allure immediately captured the hearts of legendary players Albert King and Lonnie Mack. In the years since, legions of blues greats and rock giants have embraced the Flying V as their primary instrument. Below are 10 of the very best.
Dave Davies (The Kinks)
Kinks guitarist Dave Davies picked up his famous 1958 Flying V in 1965, while The Kinks were on their first American tour. Davies was soon seen playing the instrument on popular American musical variety TV shows of the day, such as Shindig! Davies was one of the first rock musicians to stir interest in the Flying V among his peers.
Hendrix is known to have owned at least three Flying Vs – a black 1967 model on which he hand-painted psychedelic flourishes, a 1969 tobacco sunburst edition and a left-hand 1970 model custom-made for him by Gibson. The latter guitar was the instrument he played during his famous Isle of Wight appearance. That guitar – which was the first Flying V to feature an inlaid pearl logo – is now housed in the Hard Rock Café Vault.
Lenny Kravitz has owned four 1967 Flying Vs during his career, all in fully original condition. Among the guitars he uses onstage are two of his signature 1967 historic reissues, a model distinguished by its black and gold flake finish, and its “gold mirror” pick guard and truss rod cover. Speaking to Guitar Center in 2002 about the signature model, Kravitz said, “The neck size is a dimension I [especially] like. The paint, the hardware, the finish, the sound, the pickups and the weight – that’s basically it.”
This pioneering figure in the evolution of blues rock has played a Flying V almost exclusively throughout his career. In 1958, Mack bought the seventh Flying V in the model’s very first production run. In The Guitar Collection, a $1,500 two-book photo-essay publication produced in 2011, Mack’s Flying V was featured as one of the world’s 150 most historically significant guitars.
K.K. Downing (Judas Priest)
Former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing forged his style using two Flying Vs – a 1970 model with a Maestro vibrato bar, and a 1964 Limited Edition (one of just 20 produced) fitted with PAF pickups. The latter guitar was his primary instrument during his formative years, as he incorporated such techniques as pinch harmonics and dive bombs into his solos. Downing retired from Judas Priest in April 2011, leaving behind one of metal guitar’s richest bodies of work.
Tim Wheeler (Ash)
Throughout his two-decade career in Ash, frontman Tim Wheeler’s main guitar for live performances has been a 1982 korina Flying V, fitted with 1958 “zebra coil” PAFs. Wheeler also owns a cherry reissue, a sparkly “V” and a special model modified to shoot flames from the bottom of the wings. “I love the sound of Gibson humbuckers,” Wheeler once said. “I love it so much I try to use it for everything!”
Bluesman Albert King’s association with the Flying V is so profound, his grave marker in Arkansas is inscribed with an image of the instrument. King perfected his aggressive style on a 1958 korina V, affectionately dubbed “Lucy.” Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan are among those who have cited King as a monumental influence.
Michael Schenker (UFO)
Few rock guitarists are more closely associated with the Flying V than Michael Schenker. During his glory years, Schenker typically ran his Flying V through a wah pedal, creating a distinctive tone that was perfectly suited to his searing style. His sound on the UFO track, “Rock Bottom,” was listed among the 50 greatest tones ever achieved, by Guitar Player magazine. It should also be noted that Schenker’s brother and former Scorpions sidekick, Rudolf Schenker, owns more than 70 Flying Vs.
Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash)
Speaking of Rudolf Schenker, Wishbone Ash guitar great Andy Powell was the original owner of two of the Flying Vs in Schenker’s collection. Powell’s love of the Flying V was in part triggered by the influence of Albert King. “I made my name with a 1967 Flying V … which I retrofitted with original 1959 PAF pickups,” Powell told Modern Guitars, in 2005. “I still use that guitar.”
Grace Potter (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals)
Singer-songwriter Grace Potter – one of rock’s most charismatic young performers – becomes positively effusive when asked about the virtues of the Flying V. In addition to citing it as a perfect fit for her rhythm style, she loves the Flying V’s comfort. “The weight distribution is perfect for dancing around during live shows,” she says. “The way it hangs off my neck is very comfortable onstage. It’s also exceptionally beautiful.”