It’s fair to say that V-style guitars are like marmite – players either love or hate them. When the earliest iteration of the Flying V was released by Gibson in the ’50s, most members of the guitar community scoffed at its radical design, believing that the concept pushed the envelope just a little too far.
But over time, more players started to embrace the bold aesthetics of the V guitar. When Jimi Hendrix occasionally played his psychedelic hand-painted ’67 Gibson Flying V, the reception to the instrument warmed. Michael Schenker also helped in popularising the Flying V, through his work with UFO in the ’70s.
The explosion of metal in the following decade, though, dramatically increased the demand for these distinctive guitars. With James Hetfield (Metallica) and K. K. Downing (Judas Priest) using them, it was actually Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist Randy Rhoads that had the greatest impact of all; pioneering a unique design that modernised the typical Flying V.
Commissioning a V alternative from respected luthier Grover Jackson, the final prototype that he created later became the eponymous Rhoads model that many know today. Arguably putting Jackson Guitars on the map, this instrument remains an integral part of their lineup.
In this article, we compare the features of the classic Gibson Flying V with the Jackson Rhoads. While one represents a traditional look by today’s standards, the other is a much more contemporary beast. Let’s begin with the guitar that started it all…
Gibson Flying V
Gibson were responsible for innovating the Flying V. Released alongside the similarly audacious Explorer in 1958, Gibson didn’t receive the positive response that they may have anticipated at the time. Considered too futuristic, both instruments were a commercial flop and production ceased the following year.
However, there were some initial fans. Blues maestro Albert King was among them, as well as Dave Davies of The Kinks, who sought an instrument with a potent sound and a unique character. This subsequently generated some buzz around the model, which lead to Gibson resuming production in 1967. Over half a century later, the Flying V is still going strong.
Gibson Flying V Features
In typical Gibson fashion, most Flying Vs are constructed from Mahogany. Although original ’50s models were made from Korina, Gibson later switched to its favoured choice of tonewood for production reasons. However, for those that adore the early models, the 2019 Flying V hearkens back to the vibe of the old-school ’58.
Gibson Flying Vs also feature a ‘set neck’ construction, whereby the neck is glued to the body via a dovetail joint. The set neck design is another feature often associated with Gibson, and is known for giving their instruments greater sustain than, say, Fender‘s bolt-on guitars.
Humbuckers have also been a mainstay in Gibson’s guitar models. The Flying is not exempt from that, and their powerful sound can be attributed to the V’s popularity among hard rock and metal guitarists.
The ‘tune-o-matic’ bridge is another key ingredient of the Gibson formula. A two-piece bridge system, this design allows for easy setup adjustments and has an appealing old-school vibe. The Flying V models in Gibson’s 2019 lineup sport this bridge, although vintage Vs have been fitted with alternatives, like the Vibrola Maestro tremolo.
Pros of the Gibson Flying V
First and foremost, the Gibson Flying V is considered by many as a classic guitar design. Although it still has its critics, the Flying V is more accepted in the guitar world of today as it has existed for over 60 years. And even though V-shaped guitars are synonymous with heavier genres, the Flying V doesn’t look out of place in most musical contexts nowadays. The same cannot be said for modern V guitars like the Jackson Rhoads. This is because most of them are designed exclusively for metal players.
With metalheads in mind, it’s worth mentioning that Gibson tend to avoid putting high-output humbuckers in their guitars. This isn’t always the case, as the 2019 Flying V Tribute actually features their super-hot ‘Dirty Fingers’ humbuckers. However, Gibson often prefer to stick with medium-output pickups, like their Burstbuckers, for the sake of versatility. Again, this makes their standard Flying V guitars suitable for a variety of genres – not solely metal.
Another design feature that most Gibsons adhere to is the 24.75″ scale length, including the Flying V. This refers to the distance between the nut and the bridge, and affects the tension of the strings when tuned to pitch. Although other companies use the same dimensions, 25.5″ is generally considered as the industry standard. It’s all down to preference after all, but many players enjoy the slightly shorter scale of Gibson guitars as it allows them to bend the strings more easily.
Cons of the Gibson Flying V
Although the shorter scale may suit some, it can be problematic if you’re intending to use drop tunings. As the tension is fairly low, much thicker strings will need to be used in order to compensate. The feel of thicker strings is not something that most guitarists enjoy, and the shorter scale length can also lead to poorer intonation across the fretboard. This is why baritone scale lengths, such as 27″, are used on 7 and 8-string guitars for example.
The majority of Gibson’s instruments exceed the £1,000 mark as they are all made in the USA. This includes both the Flying V Standard and Tribute models; the latter the more affordable of the two. While this may not trouble some, for most people that is a fairly big investment. Jackson Rhoads guitars, on the other hand, can be purchased for under £1,000 as they are manufactured in the Far East.
The Jackson Rhoads guitar was built and developed by Grover Jackson, with design input from Randy Rhoads. Although the Ozzy Osbourne axeman famously used a Gibson Les Paul Custom, he later sought an instrument that possessed a more unique and modern look. Ultimately, he requested a guitar based on the Flying V.
The first prototype was affectionately labelled the ‘Concorde’, from its white finish and elegant body shape. Rhoads wasn’t captivated by the instrument though, as he didn’t view it as much of a departure from the standard Flying V design.
The next prototype was much closer to the guitar that we’re familiar with today. The extension of the upper horn was the biggest change, so that it could resemble a shark’s fin. Two more prototypes were commissioned with minor tweaks, but Rhoads’ tragic death in a 1982 aeroplane crash occurred before their completion. As a tribute and symbol of respect, the models that Jackson Guitars produce bare Rhoads’ name.
Jackson Rhoads Features
Many of the elements from the original prototypes dripped down into future models, most notably the ‘neck-through’ construction. This was quite pioneering at the time, and therefore it can be argued that the Rhoads model set the precedent for neck-through guitars, as hundreds of instruments are now made this way.
With the neck made from Maple and the wings formed from Mahogany, the Rhoads guitar combines the favoured tonewood choices of Fender and Gibson. While the Mahogany body ensures a deep and rich sound, Maple is considered a brighter material that gives notes more top-end bite and definition.
Like their Gibson counterparts, Jackson Rhoads models often sport pairs of humbuckers. Instead of installing their guitars with pickups wired in-house, Jackson prefers to use those that are made by aftermarket brands. Favouring Seymour Duncan and EMG specifically, their high-output pickups make Jackson’s guitars more appealing to metal players in particular.
Jackson Rhoads guitars also feature ‘tune-o-matic’-style bridges, for a more traditional look and feel. Some also combine this with the string-through-body design, whereby the strings are threaded through the back of the body to increase resonance and sustain. However, many Rhoads models come fitted with Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo systems too. This is another component that contemporary guitarists will generally prefer, allowing for wild whammy bar antics.
Pros of the Jackson Rhoads
It’s clear that the Jackson Rhoads is a modern metal machine. As many of its features indicate, the instrument is built for players seeking unhindered performance. It is also designed for those that are looking to make a serious statement, with its stealthy, weapon-like aesthetics.
As we mentioned, Jackson tends to use aftermarket pickups in its guitar models. For example, the Jackson Rhoads Pro models use powerful Seymour Duncan passive humbuckers, such as the potent SH-6 Distortions. Jackson’s more affordable X Series Rhoads comes with active Seymour Duncan Blackouts, which are also known for their aggressive sound. Although these pickups are not as versatile as Gibson’s designs, for high-gain tones they simply can’t be matched. They are made for one thing – and they do that one thing very well.
Besides their pickups, shredders will also appreciate Jackson’s notoriously thin neck shapes. Although modern Flying Vs use Gibson’s ‘Slim Taper’ profile, most Jacksons feature a skinnier neck carve to suit faster players. The neck’s material is also more beneficial for metalheads, as the snappier sound of Maple gives notes a much tighter response and more cut in a frantic mix.
Jackson is renowned for shaping its fingerboards to a ‘compound radius’. Rounded at the lower end of the neck to make chords easier to fret, a compound radius fingerboard flattens out in the higher register to allow for more efficient playing. This also helps to prevent notes from fretting out when performing string bends, making it a very ergonomic design.
Although there are many debates surrounding this topic, a guitar’s construction can affect its sound. The neck-through concept is thought of highly, as the pickups and bridge are directly mounted to the piece of wood that also forms the neck. This type of design typically yields piano-like sustain, while allowing the heel of the neck to be sculpted into the body, which provides greater access to the higher frets.
Cons of the Jackson Rhoads
While the Gibson Flying V is accepted as a classic guitar that can suit multiple styles, the Jackson Rhoads is quite one-dimensional. Some may refer to it as a “modern classic”, but the problem with the Rhoads V is that it looks almost “too metal” for its own good.
Can you imagine playing anything other than heavy riffs or sweep-picked arpeggios on one of these? Not really. Of course, Jackson has identified its target demographic and they build these guitars purely for players that enjoy heavy music. But just keep in mind that if you buy a Rhoads during a brief metal phase, you’ll need a more versatile guitar if you suddenly turn to jazz!
The fact that the Jackson Rhoads is a signature model of sorts may put off some consumers. Randy Rhoads super-fans will obviously adore the guitar because of the association, and indeed many players like to emulate their heroes by buying signature instruments. However, a lot of guitarists are keen to form their own style, and thus prefer to distance themselves from instruments that bare someone else’s name. On the other hand, loads of people play Les Pauls!
To reduce costs, Jackson Rhoads guitars are produced in the Far East. While this ensures that their guitars remain affordable, this is another thing that can put off potential buyers. The quality of a US-made Gibson will probably be superior to the fit and finish of a Far Eastern-manufactured Jackson. Of course, this isn’t always the case. But there are a lot of players that turn up their noses at mass-produced instruments. Jackson does offer US-made Rhoads models, but these can exceed £2,000.
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