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Flying High Again: Five-ish Guys That Made the Flying V Famous

My ultra-classy Gibson guitar refrigerator magnets including the V (second from right).
My ultra-classy Gibson guitar refrigerator magnets including the V (second from right).
Photo by Jeff Balke

There are few instruments more distinctive than the Flying V. It's odd that a guitar this funky looking has been commonly used by a wide range of guitar players from country and blues to rock, but it has. Over the years, particularly in the '80s when "the weirder the shape the better" and "splotched with dayglo paint" was a prerequisite for instruments, it has been copied by other manufacturers, but as has been the case with the Les Paul, the Explorer, the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, Gibson's original has stood the test of time, and it turns 54 today.

In fact, the 1958-59 korina Flying V is one of the most expensive guitars on the vintage market valued between $200,000 and $250,000. That's like $100k per triangle!

Despite the odd shape, there were quite a number of guitarists who used the V from Dave Davies (The Kinks) to Marc Bolan (T.Rex) to Kirk Hammett (Metallica) to Lenny Kravitz. There are even some lesser known guys like Andy Powell (Wishbone Ash) who made the V their signature instrument. But, these five plus guys, when they strapped on the V, made an impact.

Honorable Mention: Randy Rhoads

Flying High Again: Five-ish Guys That Made the Flying V Famous

The Ozzy guitarist, whose life was cut short in a plane crash, is one of the most influential players from that era and his now-famous polka-dot V was a staple in his arsenal. However, his V was not made by Gibson. It was a much pointier (and more terrifying looking) version made by Jackson Guitars. I played in high school with a guy who had one of these and the points looked like they could easily impale you. But the fact that the hero to legions of metal guitarists played a Flying V knock-off influenced a ton of shredders.

5. Jimi Hendrix & Eddie Van Halen

Flying High Again: Five-ish Guys That Made the Flying V Famous

I put these two guys together because they are both known best for their use of the Fender Stratocaster, or in the case of Van Halen, a bastardized version (though he has used and endorsed numerous guitars over the years). But, when both of these guys posed with the Flying V (in Eddie's case, one of those $200k vintage models we mentioned earlier), guitar players took notice. These are two of the most iconic guitar players of all time after all.

4. Michael & Rudolf Schenker

Michael (left), Rudolf (right)
Michael (left), Rudolf (right)

These guys aren't paired only because they are brothers but also because they started out in the same band: the Scorpions. Michael eventually moved on to the powerhouse late '70s outfit UFO, which Rudolf has continued going strong with the Scorps. Both are well known for their use of the V over the years and Michael was a huge influence on many of the hair metal guitarists. Michael now favors a version made by Dean Guitars, but Rudolf is still on the Gibson.

 

3. Billy Gibbons

Flying High Again: Five-ish Guys That Made the Flying V Famous

Our hometown guitar hero has played a lot of different guitars over the years. In the '80s, the videos that propelled "That Little 'Ol Band from Texas" to superstardom featured oddly shaped instruments like a Gibson Explorer covered in fur. But, Gibbons was no stranger to weird guitars having played a V for many years prior to being a "Sharp Dressed Man." Of course, Gibbons can make pretty much anything sound sweet.

2. Lonnie Mack

Flying High Again: Five-ish Guys That Made the Flying V Famous

He may not be a household name, but Mack basically invented the instrumental blues rock/country guitar scene in the 1960s that fostered players like Albert Lee and Mark Knopfler. The tremolo bar on certain guitars allegedly got its nickname from Mack's instrumental song "Wham!" because of the prolific use of it. In guitar circles, Mack is synonymous with the V. He even named a live album Attack of the Killer V.

1. Albert King

Flying High Again: Five-ish Guys That Made the Flying V Famous

Though the legendary blues guitarist is not well known outside of the blues, Albert King is perhaps the most influential guitarist of his generation. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons and numerous other icons of the instrument were devotees of King. King's primary guitar of choice throughout his career was a left-handed V -- no doubt where Hendrix got the inspiration.


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