I’ve always had an unabashed love of 12-string guitars, especially the electrics. While many dismiss the electric as a novelty or a pain in the ass (to tune/keep in tune), I’ve always regarded them as the road less traveled, a creative avenue not fully explored. As a fan of Tom Petty, Lead Belly, the Beatles, the Byrds, Leo Kottke and R.E.M. it was clearly demonstrated what could be done with the medium. As a teenager, many a heated debate with bandmates centered on whether the intro, the solo or 12-string parts were the best moments of “Stairway.” In much the same way as some historians contemplate what would have happened had the Confederates won the Civil War, I often ponder the direction of metal and rock had Jimmy Page spent less time on the 6-string portion of his EDS-1275 and instead utilized the guitar’s better half for his riffage and solos.
I came upon this 1966 Firebird XII (or V-12) in the mid 90’s. One of less than 300 produced between 1966-1967. A handful were actually made in 1965 but didn’t ship out from Gibson until 1966. Non-reverse body, dot inlays and a looong six tuner per side, with split diamond inlaid in the headstock. The original mini-humbuckers were replaced at some point by a previous owner. At this point I can’t imagine employing any other means of transporting those vibrating strings to an amp. The neck position has real warmth and roundness, while not mimicking an acoustic in any way it is reminiscent of one in terms of fullness. If left unchecked it can get a little murky. The bladed bridge pick-up (one of these days I’ll look to see what it is) has more bite than jangle with plenty of shimmering highs to cut through a mix.
The body has been refinished. The original color unbeknownst to me, now a nice brownish burgundy that accentuates the grain of the wood. A much bigger sound lurks in this guitar than it’s svelte body implies. The body is light, thin and comfortable. Sitting or standing this guitar does not become tiresome to play. The six and six headstock, the same one used on the ES 12-strings, does add additional weight and a few extra precarious inches to the length. It’s just looking for something to smack into or to dive towards the floor. Much like you would with a new born baby be mindful of your surroundings and always support the weight of the neck! Similar to Ric 12-strings the neck is surprisingly narrow. With some other electric 12-strings I feel like I have to play the part of marksman to ensure fretting the desired strings, usually landing somewhere in between otherwise getting more than I intended. Not the case here, very comfortable.
The open chord strums of any troubadour would be right at home on this instrument but to truly experience what it is capable of, to hear what those hummbuckers can offer, that’s when its time to introduce some dirt to the amp and dig in. Power chords truly wield POWER. Oomph and dimension like nothing else. With its low action and nimble neck it invites riffs and leads. This guitar invites creativity and it wants to be played not merely strummed. While the refinish and replaced pick-ups may dim its value as a collector’s piece. It serves to enhance its already unique charms becoming more playable and versatile as a result.