The Firebirds were the first Gibson solidbodies with through-neck construction. All Gibsons until now had a glued-in set neck, and Fender used a screwed-on neck joint. Some guitar makers felt that through-necks gave better sustain and tone.
For the Firebirds, Dietrich had a central multi-laminate mahogany-and- walnut section running the length of the guitar, providing the 22-fret neck and the mid portion of the body in a single unit. Two slightly thinner mahogany ‘wings’ were glued on, completing the body, so the mid portion of the body was stepped a touch higher than the wings, forming a sort of central shelf, four inches wide, on which sat the pickups, bridge and tailpiece. The back of the body had a gentle contour at the top, a feature better known on Fenders and designed for player comfort.
The elongated body – something like an Explorer with curves – had a horn- less upper section that made the lower horn appear to stick out further than it really did. It made for an almost- unbalanced but quite pleasing look, which is why we call these original models the ‘reverse body’ or simply ‘reverse’ Firebirds. A thoughtful touch was the inclusion of three strap buttons, providing a choice between neck heel or top horn.
There were rosewood fingerboards for the I (1963 list price $189.50), III ($249.50) and V ($325), while the VII ($445) had ebony, with binding on the III, V and VII, and dot markers (I, III), trapezoid (V) or blocks (VII). There was a single mini-humbucker at the bridge on the I, two on the III and V, and three on the VII.
The I had a simple wraparound bridge-tailpiece; the III had a stud-style bridge and simple Gibson/Maestro Vibrola unit; and the V and VII came with a Tune-O-Matic bridge and a Deluxe Gibson/Maestro Vibrola, with a decorated cover. The metalwork was nickel-plated on the I, III and V, and gold-plated on the VII. The VII was Gibson’s most expensive single-neck solidbody electric, listing $20 higher than a Les Paul Custom. The least expensive Firebird I sat a touch below the $210 SG Special.