When you think about picking up a guitar, two primary shapes come to mind. If you love an acoustic model, you envision the dreadnought with its resonant sound and comfortable string position.
If you think about an electric or bass guitar for a rock ground, you probably think about the classic Fender and Gibson body shapes.
The third option is the Flying V. It’s arguably one of the music industry’s icons because of the musicians who have picked up this style over the years.
You can look at the Gibson Flying V guitar alone and have a diverse musician list that used the instrument. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Lenny Kravitz has relied on this shape to deliver the attitude, optics, and sound they need for their work.
Flying V Guitar Review: Gibson vs. Jackson vs. Dean vs. ESP
The Flying V guitar design made its debut in 1958. It was an attractive option then, and it continues to serve the modern musician with its versatility. Although Jackson, Dean, and ESP have stepped into Gibson’s shoes to create alternatives, only Gibson can lay claim to the original title.
We tend to describe any V-shaped guitar as a Flying V for convenience. It’s like calling every trimmer you get for your yard a Weed Whacker.
We do that because the Flying V guitar makes such an impact on musicians that it changed the way we all think about music. It’s one of the most iconic designs to ever come from an instrument manufacturer.
That means Epiphone and Gibson are the only two brands that can be authentically described as offering a Flying V guitar.
You can find plenty of similar styles out there if you want an alternative to the original. Some musicians don’t like the Gibson sound, which is why Jackson, Dean, and ESP all offer a few similar choices to consider.
In this guide, you’ll discover the original Flying V and the best alternatives throughout the industry to see if using this design makes sense for your playing style.
1. Traditional Flying V vs. Modern Gibson Flying V
If you have one of the original Gibson Flying V guitars, you have a product made from Korina. Those trees tend to grow very large, causing it to be described as “mahogany deluxe” for the sound it produces.
In addition to the Flying V, Gibson used Korina in their Explorers.
Although musicians love the sound it produces, many luthiers find it a difficult item to use. Large pieces are hard to find, and it tends to crack once the moisture drains from the material. That means it must get sealed before it dips below 30% water content to stabilize the product.
The rest of the drying process requires kiln work to have a successful result.
That’s why the modern Flying V uses mahogany bodies and necks to produce a similar sound. It’s not quite the same as the original, but it’ll take a trained ear to tell the difference. The updated design also uses rosewood fingerboards and a Tune-O-Matic bridge to encourage sustain and stability.
If you want to walk the line between vintage and modern, the current Gibson Flying V guitar delivers an impressive result. You can also work with the B-2 version, which features a black satin finish, all-black appointments, and open-coil humbuckers.
Should you need something a little cheaper, the Epiphone 1958 Flying V electric guitar is a suitable alternative.
When only the best V-shaped guitar will do, you’ll want to grab a Gibson.
2. Jackson King V Electric Guitar
When you play primarily heavy metal, hard rock, or similar genres, a Jackson guitar delivers an impressive result. The instrument produces a wonderful growl while filling the lower register with dynamic harmonics.
Whether you’re carrying the melody or pushing out massive power chords, the quality you’ll find with the King V is about as close as you’ll get to a Gibson.
The Jackson King V isn’t the original guitar of this style from Jackson to hit the market. You’d need to look at the Rhoads model for that inspiration, which featured one short and a second long point with the design. If you’re familiar with Star Trek, it looks a lot like the logo.
In the later years, the King V tapered back to the modern guitar that you can find today. It’s a sharp, sleek instrument with excellent symmetry. The Signature Corey Beaulieu within this series incorporates lightning bolt cuts into the shape for added character.
You can also find more color combinations with the King V than the Gibson original.
If you need something more affordable, the JS series is an excellent alternative to help you maintain the overall style and sound.
3. LTD Arrow 401
ESP is responsible for the LTD brand of guitars. It would be fair to compare that relationship to Gibson and Epiphone or Fender and Squier.
That’s why it is unusual for the LTD Arrow 401 to be one of the best V-shaped guitars that you can find out there right now. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to play, anything in the 400 series from this brand is worth considering.
The sound you can get from this guitar is as aggressive as the optics it provides. What stands out from the setup are the Grover tuners, delivering a high-quality, stable result for any musical genre. It also uses the fantastic combination of EMG 81/85 active pickups.
It uses a mahogany body like the Gibson Flying V, although the three-piece maple neck is a little different. The tonewoods work together without disruption, although you’ll hear a difference with this guitar compared to the others of this shape.
The LTD Arrow 401 is not the heaviest guitar you’ll find, but it does weigh nine pounds. It works well for practice and recording sessions, although you might want to take a break every so often with how it comes around the shoulder with its strap buttons.
When you compare this model to the ESP USA V-II FR (MSRP $3,999 and Up), you’ll see how much you can save. Although the LTD model won’t have the same rounded tone or lengthy sustain, it’ll still give you the results you want.
4. Dean Dave Mustaine Signature V Guitar
Dean Guitars has been part of the Flying V conversation since the 1970s. Some of the best instruments in this series come from the Dave Mustaine signature line. If you are involved with thrash metal or anything that requires pounding power chords, you’ll want to consider this option for your home collection.
If you’re familiar with the sounds that came from early Metallica or Megadeath, you know what the Dean V-style guitar can produce.
Some people aren’t big fans of signature guitars because it feels like the branding causes the instrument price to rise considerably. Part of the reason why that outcome occurs is because the artist or musician has a lot of influence over the setup and design.
If you don’t like the price of the Mustaine VMNT from Dean Guitars, the V Select is a superior choice that rivals the original Gibson design. It features a mahogany neck and body with a 22-fret ebony fingerboard. The pearl inlays are quite attractive, and the manufacturer’s trademark headstock creates a “reverse V” that stands out for its design.
You’ll also get audio taper pots that produce a smooth roll while playing without destroying all your tone. A single-ply neck binding adds another touch of class to an instrument that already stands out for its sustain and sound.
When you need some extra variety, a seven-string design is also available from Dean Guitars to deliver the exact profile you want.
You should consider the Mustaine VMNT because it uses Korina wood like the older Gibson guitars, including the body, top, and neck.
How V-Shaped Guitars Shaped Rock Music
The original Gibson Flying V guitar shifted how all of us think about rock music. Before its release, the flavor of what you could hear on the radio was closer to country or bubble gum than it was to today’s rhythms.
When only the best guitar will do for your musical needs, the Gibson Flying V is the only instrument you’ll want to add to your collection. The only problem is that the original 1958 model can sell for upwards of $425,000 on the secondary market.
Why is the Gibson Flying V such a coveted instrument?
For starters, it used PAF humbuckers to deliver a dynamic sound. The notes and chords are clear and responsible.
It also uses more of a rounded end for the points instead of creating a sharp edge like the modern V-shaped guitars tend to prefer.
There are also the weight dynamics on the guitar to consider. It is only 6.6 pounds, which means you can strap it up to play all day with its design.
The original Gibson Flying V also used an arrow point-style top as part of the design while incorporating a V-shaped attachment point for the strings to offer complimentary optics throughout the entire instrument.
Once you start playing this guitar, you’ll never want to return to the knockoffs that are out there today.
Origins of the V-Shaped Guitar for Gibson
Ted McCarty was the president of Gibson guitars in the 1950s. He made a strong push in the middle of the decade to create a modernist line that could compete with the Fender Stratocaster.
After developing several prototypes in 1957, including a mahogany version that seemed quite heavy, they would eventually settle on Korina.
It’s important to point out that “Korina” is a term that Gibson invented for the Flying V guitar. It’s the wood of the limba tree, which is native to western Africa’s tropical areas. It can grow up to 60m tall, but its diameter isn’t as wide as other choices.
About 100 Flying V guitars were produced in 1958, which is why the original run is so expensive. Only 50 Explorers were created that year as well, although the manufacturing records were lost so that none of the information is verifiable.
Albert King started using the Gibson Flying V almost as soon as it was released. Lonnie Mack was also an early adopter, and he’d use that 1958 throughout his entire career.
In 1967, Gibson reissued the Flying V in mahogany, updated the pickguard so that it was bigger, and replaced the original bridge.
Although the guitar has been a staple in Gibson’s catalog for over 60 years, it isn’t always manufactured. In 2016, the Flying V Pro reached the market with a smaller body and a cream binding. Since then, each model year offers something different or updated, allowing you to know when the instrument was produced.
The modern Gibson Flying V guitars typically retail for around $2,000.
■ The Introduction of the Reverse Flying V
One of the most unique guitars that Gibson has ever produced was called the Reverse Flying V. It was part of the Guitar of the Week promotion the brand used in 2007. A limited run of 400 instruments was produced during the first year.
After its initial success, Gibson offered another limited run of 900 guitars with the same design. Three colors were offered, with 300 of each hue produced. The specifications for each instrument year were virtually the same.
The Reverse Flying V guitar from Gibson offers a mahogany body and neck, hand-wound ’57 Classic pickups, a rosewood fretboard, and a volume knob. Its headstock looks like something from Dean Guitars, although it comes from the Futura/Explorer patent that the company filed in 1958.
Another variation on the Flying V guitar came in 1981 when Gibson produced 375 bass guitars with a four-string design. Most of them were issued in black, although silver burst, alpine white, and blue models were offered. A re-release occurred in 2011 for another production year, but it is currently sitting in discontinued status.
Is the V-Shaped Guitar the Right Style for Me?
The primary reason to consider a V-shaped guitar is that you love the options and playing style it offers. Some musicians find that the shape works better with their hands or body style, enabling them to reach the highest frets without having movement or stretching issues with their hands.
When you play Gibson’s Flying V or one of the alternatives out there today, you’ll notice that the sounds are the same as most other guitars. The one difference is the growl within the bass register, delivering deeper harmonics and rounder notes with added warmth for some genres.
What I don’t like about the V-shaped guitar is that it’s almost impossible to play the instrument from a seated position. That slope on its edge causes everything to slide right off the leg. That means you need to hook the notch into your leg to keep it stable, play seated with a strap, or adopt the classical position for some acoustics.
The V-shaped guitar requires its own case and stand, which adds another cost element to manage if you pursue this instrument.
Some of the guitars, especially the signature Mustaine ones, have weak points that sometimes break or chip away if you mishandle the instrument.
If you look at this instrument as an investment, you’ll discover the market is surprisingly limited. Although I appreciate its dynamics and enjoy playing my LTD Arrow 401 a lot, the style isn’t appropriate for some genres. Can you imagine showing up to a bluegrass or jazz gig with this guitar?
The Gibson Flying V is an iconic guitar that deserves plenty of love. Whether you choose it or one of its alternatives for your collection, you’ll find that the tone delivers an impressive result while offering optical advantages and lots of character.