It got weird at the headstock, a kind of flipped-Fender shape. The low E string fed the furthest tuner, the opposite of how a Fender head worked.
The six Klusons were banjo-style tuners, with string-anchors on the treble side of the head and buttons protruding from the rear, hidden from a front view. You had to reach around in an unfamiliar way to tune the thing. Fender was having some success with its optional Custom Colors, so Gibson followed suit with the Firebirds.
Standard finish was Sunburst, but Dietrich and Gibson borrowed the Fender idea, even issuing a special colour chart, just like Fender. “The showmanshipofcustomcoloristhat finished, professional touch,” said the chart, “the extra drama and flair that sells a combo! There are 10 beautiful Gibson custom colours – one that suits you and your personality perfectly.”
The colours (Poly denoted a metallic finish) were Cardinal Red, Ember Red, Frost Blue, Golden Mist Poly, Heather Poly, Inverness Green Poly, Kerry Green, Pelham Blue Poly, Polaris White and Silver Mist Poly.
Gibson’s colours were similar (at least) to existing Fender colours, with Golden Mist Poly being identical to Fender’s Shoreline Gold Metallic. Pelham Blue and Cardinal Red were the two most requested Firebird colours, some way behind the much more popular regular Sunburst. A custom colour added just $15 on top of a regular Sunburst list price in 1963.
By the start of 1965, Gibson’s managers knew they had a problem. The Firebird was a difficult and expensive guitar to make, and the disadvantages of employing an outside designer who did not understand guitar production were becoming clear.
In the factory, if a neck were to develop a fault, then the through-neck design meant that a good portion of the body, too, was lost. The intricacies of the laminate through-neck, the carving, the tricky wiring – all added to production time and costs.
Out in the real world, Firebirds were prone to breakages at the fragile head/neck junction. Some of the breaks even happened while the guitar was still in its case, where the crucial intersection was unsupported.