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Making a Firebird Sound-A-Like

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(@hyperborea)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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I've been thinking about Firebirds since last summer when I took a workshop with Kal David ( http://www.kaldavid.com/ ). He plays a couple of awesome vintage Firebirds. The cheapest might be the one with the neck repair that was refinished at some point in the past but even still it's worth a LOT of money. I would like to try and get that Firebird tone for myself but I don't want to pay that money. Even a new Gibson Firebird is $1700 and from what I read the pickups are not traditional alnico Firebird pickups but are instead ceramic mini-humbuckers so those would need replaced. That would make the cost of new somewhere between $1900 and $2000.

So, I've been thinking about "building" a Firebird sound-a-like. I figure that you need a neck-thru or failing that a set neck guitar that's a mahogany (or mahogany-like) slab body and neck and routed for P-90's. The reason for the P-90s is because the Firebird pickups should then just fit with no woodworking though I will need the right mounts. The pickups could be swapped out for real Firebird pickups like those from Duncan, Lollar, or maybe Kent Armstrong or All-Parts (need to research if those are real Firebird pickups).

Possible ideas for guitars to use are:
Eastwood P-90 Special (a double cut LP style guitar - basswood)
Eastwood Stormbird (basswood non-reverse Firebird)
Agile double or single cut LP slab style guitars
Hamer Special (90's guitar that can be found sometimes for $500 to $600)
Hamer SATP90 / SATFP90 (can be found for ~$300)
Godin LG-P90 (a bolt neck but very well put together with a tight neck joint - maybe $400 used)
Reverend P90 guitars (can find the discontinued Daredevil 290 for $450)

Other possibilities are to get a Firebird clone. Possibilities there are:
Dillion Firebird (not sure if real Firebird style pickups) - http://www.jsdguitarshack.com/dillion_guitars/fb-45/dillion_firebird.html
Burny or Greco Firebird clones of the early 80's (getting kind of rare and pricy - closing in on $1000)

I could probably do this from about $350 (used Agile or Eastwood and Kent Armstrong/AllParts pickups) to maybe as much as $800 (Hamer Special/Reverend/Godin guitar and Lollar pickups). All would be much cheaper than a real Firebird. The question is how close can I get? Any ideas? Any suggestions on guitars or pickups?

Thanks.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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(@trguitar)
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Call me silly ... but what about this?

http://guitars.musiciansfriend.com/product/Epiphone-Firebird-Studio-Guitar?sku=519377
Although it does sound like the mini humbucker is an important factor to you. I used to have a Les Paul with mini humbuckers (ALA Les Paul Deluxe) and they do sound a little different but the body wood and shape as well as the neck are all factors.

Oh ... if you do go the route of making your own, the pickup rings to fit the mini humbuckers into the P90 slots are a little hard to find but I have found them on line before online. I thought about putting minis in my Agle Les Paul instead of the P90's. I think I was just being nostalgic for my old Les Paul. I decided to keep the P90's.

Well ... here is where I found them for cheap anyhow. http://www.allparts.com/Small-Humbucking-Pickup-Rings-Cream-p/pc-0747-028.htm It's amazing how many places sell the mini humbuckers but not the rings for P90 mount. Pick guard mount only I suppose is their motto. :lol: I understand Gibson developed this mini humbucker / P90 system as a result of a certain years Les Pauls being routed for P90's and they decided to go humbucker so some retro fitting was required. They gave the guitars the "Deluxe" moniker and raised the price. :lol:

Oh! Here...... Wikipedia had a little different story from the one I remember reading. Same Idea though.
DeLuxe
The DeLuxe was among the "new" 1968 Les Pauls.[27] This model featured "mini-humbuckers", also known as "New York" humbuckers, and did not initially prove popular. The mini-humbucker pickup fit into the pre-carved P-90 pickup cavity using an adaptor ring developed by Gibson (actually just a cut-out P90 pickup cover) in order to use a supply of Epiphone mini-humbuckers left over from when Gibson moved Epiphone production to Japan. The DeLuxe was introduced in late 1968 and helped to standardize production among Gibson's USA-built Les Pauls. The first incarnation of the DeLuxe featured a one-piece body and three-piece neck in late 1968. The "pancake" body (thin layer of maple on top of two layers of Honduran mahogany) came later in 1969. In late 1969, a small "volute" was added. 1969 DeLuxe's feature the Gibson logo devoid of the dot over the "i" in Gibson. By late 1969/early 1970, the dot over the "i" had returned, plus a "Made In USA" stamp on the back of the headstock. By 1975, the neck construction was changed from mahogany to maple, until the early 1980s, when the construction was returned to mahogany. The body changed back to solid mahogany from the pancake design in late 1976 or early 1977. Interest in this particular Les Paul model was so low that in 1985, Gibson canceled the line. However, in 2005, the "DeLuxe" was reintroduced with more popularity due to its association with Pete Townshend [2] and Thin Lizzy.

In 1978 the Les Paul Pro DeLuxe was introduced. This guitar featured P-90 pickups, instead of the "mini-humbuckers" of the DeLuxe model, an ebony fingerboard, maple neck, mahogany body and chrome hardware. It came in either Ebony, Cherry Sunburst, Tobacco Sunburst or Gold finish. Interestingly it was first launched in Europe, rather than the USA. It was discontinued in 1982.

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


   
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(@hyperborea)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 827
Topic starter  

TR thanks for the reply. A couple of issues with those suggestions though. The Epi you list is a humbucker guitar. Other than looking like a Firebird it won't sound like one. It will almost assuredly sound like any other slab mahogany body humbucker guitar (e.g. LP specials). You couldn't fit a Firebird pickup in there without some serious and probably ugly hacks.

The mini-humbuckers are not the same pickups as the Firebird pickups. The minis are really just scaled down humbuckers - the construction is identical except for the size. A Firebird pickup is different. http://www.300guitars.com/articles/gibson-mini-humbucker-vs-gibson-firebird-pickup/ Apparently some of the supposed "Firebird" pickups on the market are really mini-humbuckers with no visible pole pieces.

So, in my opinion (though I'm willing to be convinced otherwise), the order of importance of the elements in the guitar to the sound of the Firebird are:
1) the pickups
2) basic body woods and size (mahogany or mahogany like)
3) basic neck woods (mahogany or mahogany like)
4) neck joint (neck thru being the closest but solid set necks or really well done bolt necks might be close)
5) bridge hardware
6) everything else (body shape, tuners, etc)

These effects become less important as you go down the list. This is why I've been thinking of using the types of guitars I listed earlier - slab mahogany (or mahogany like) guitars mostly with set necks that could easily take a Firebird pickup.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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(@blue-jay)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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I had an Epiphone Firebird with New York mini humbuckers, and was surprised to see throughout this still-young post, that they aren't around anymore. New Yorkers made the deal sound real.

So if they're gone, they're gone. The guitar that came to mind immediately, which I've seen, and seems most intriguing:

http://www.jayturser.com/jt-55p.php

The quality is nuts, I mean so good it'll drive 'ya crazy. According to the above article, Gibson cobbled their mini HB's into P90 slots and made same-size rings.

A PRS SE Singlecut "Soapbar" is another choice in that range, but be warned, it will have more sustain than attack - that's my educated guess. Looks like the 2-Pup model has gone away already, too. So, I like the Turser or an old Epi Bird, ready to go with no mods except to change the PUPs if you want, but you wouldn't have to - same size New York Mini HB for other Mini HB? The originals seemed okay to me - good enough to make the neighbours either applaud or complain, in some ways those reactions are the same? :lol:

I think with some of your own suggestions and ideas, you might get a guitar that sounds like an LP Deluxe, instead of a thin slab sound.

I had a couple of those and they were sweet but not heavy hitters. The Epi Bird had the capacity to sound heavy and full o' crunch.

Some Gibson and other Tech forums say they had more bite and twang, with some saying that they sound between an SG and a Tele.

FWIW, I saved just one of the original mini-buckers from an early 70's LP Deluxe after it got re-routed and fitted with DiMarzios. :roll:

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.


   
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(@trguitar)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3709
 

OK, so I too did not know that the Firebird pickup and the Les Paul Deluxe mini humbucker with solid cover were not the same pickup. You will still need rings if you retrofit them into a P90 route right? So the pickups seem to be the same dimensions just the construction of the pickup is the difference? I wasn't trying to get you to buy a set of mini humbuckers .... really. :oops: I was just thinking of how you were going to mount the things. I wasn't pushing the Epiphone on you either. I remembered them having the one with the smaller pickups as well. My bad ... good luck!

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


   
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(@slejhamer)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 3221
 

This:
Dillion Firebird (not sure if real Firebird style pickups) - http://www.jsdguitarshack.com/dillion_guitars/fb-45/dillion_firebird.html

It's as close as you'll get in your price range. Worst case is you upgrade the pups.

I've seen decent reviews of their Ric copies, so I'd hope they'd get reasonably close on the Firebird.

My 2 cents. :wink:

"Everybody got to elevate from the norm."


   
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(@blue-jay)
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Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1630
 

This:
Dillion Firebird (not sure if real Firebird style pickups) - http://www.jsdguitarshack.com/dillion_guitars/fb-45/dillion_firebird.html

It's as close as you'll get in your price range. Worst case is you upgrade the pups.

I've seen decent reviews of their Ric copies, so I'd hope they'd get reasonably close on the Firebird.

My 2 cents. :wink:

Wow, I saw 3 old Epi's with Firebird NY trios on Ebay as of now, at that price, looking good from far, but a little worn in the close ups. Too bad the gold plating comes off so easily.

I never thought to go see JSD which is within walking distance, and I drive by twice a day, including hours ago, 'cuz if I go in, I'd end up buying something, and I never said this... but am gassin' for another Gibson SG, since my last one went to a new home, again just lately, and it was still brand new, stickered and tagged too? :shock: I got full price, perhaps a little premium for the discontinued color, Worn Yellow.

But I'll go to jsdguitarshack tomorrow, and I know that this white 'Bird will have correct-style pups, that's how Tokai, then Jay Turser, and now Dillion does it.

Yes the Rockinbetter's are truly wonderful. I got the last real Tokai "Rickenbacker" or Rockinbetter before Tokai stopped knocking off others, and went independent with most of their own designs, to attain uhh, a new era of legitimacy. So, I didn't sell that Tokai because it was so unique, and I like to keep 'em (usually) when they are at the end of the line.

I still have the Tokai's including the old Love Rock, but am cut off from most of my guitars' locations at this time. Anyhow, the Tokai RB beats my son's real Ricky 6-string in every test, especially "sound" or tone. I wrote Rickenbacker's quality manager and he wasn't impressed. I simply asked for their company to give someone else a crack at making aftermarket pickups, such as TV Jones and they said NO. Rickenbacker has a strict policy of not allowing aftermarket parts or pups. We could have them rewound or hop it up with new pots and caps if it really mattered, and it doesn't. :?

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.


   
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(@blue-jay)
Noble Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1630
 

Just FYI, I went into JSD's guitar shack today, and as always, JD wasn't there, nor was the white Firebird. However if his site says it is in stock, then it is up-to-date and maintained, and would be at his home, brand new and ready to go.

[email protected] toll free 1-888-488-5663 - I wouldn't hesitate to support JSD and recommend any of his guitars. He has earned a good reputation for many years.

I am sure that the Dillion Firebird is worth its weight in gold, and is a good value, a wonderful player, if not a future collectible when it gets dicontinued. 8)

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.


   
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(@hyperborea)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 827
Topic starter  

First, TR thanks for the replies. If I sounded brusque or something I'm sorry. You're right that mounting is definitely an issue. As for the pickups being the same size that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. It appears that there are two sizes of minihums/firebirds out there and there are some rings that will fit one but not the other and some that will fit both but look a little sloppy with the other. The best mounting that I've read about in my research on this is to screw a bar to the bottom of the pickup rout. This bar is tapped for machine screws at the right spot for the minis/firebirds and sometimes more to the centre for P-90s too. This was how Gibson did it in the past. These bars are very hard to come by but there are diagrams on the web for making your own (cut some aluminum bar and then drill and tap it at the right spots). You then use the ring that looks like a P-90 to go around the mini/firebird pickup.

As for the Epi LP Deluxe reissue that is something that I hadn't heard of. I knew of the original deluxe but not the Epi reissue. The do seem to be discontinued but it seems that some are out there. Might be a good choice for putting some Firebird pickups into. In fact, as I look now somebody has one for sale in Craigslist near me. Hmmm, red sparkle coloured. I'm not that keen on sparkle paint jobs and I probably already have too many red guitars. Cream or natural or maybe even black.

Second, Blue Jay thank you some much for stopping by on my behalf that was very kind of you. If I'm ever up Thunder Bay way I owe you a Timmy's. Your comments on the Tokai guitars got me doing a little digging and it appears that the Dillion guitars might be the same as the Tokai guitars. All the pictures match up and there is a lot of speculation that this is so. Even the model numbers are very similar: FB45 for Tokai and DFB45 for Dillion.

Tokai Firebird clone - http://www.tokai-guitars.co.uk/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=shop.flypage&product_id=44&category_id=8&manufacturer_id=0&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=31

Interesting thing here is that the Tokai page says it's Alder and Dillion claims that it's Mahogany. Any more info or speculation on this?

I'd have to give that some serious thought though since it is a 3 pickup and I really only want a two pickup. I also hadn't really thought that I'd get a decent Firebird shaped guitar in the range of what I want to spend so that's a consideration that I hadn't thought about. Do I really want a Firebird shaped guitar and the issues they have - large, unwieldy, and the headstock breakage - or do I really only want a Firebird sounding guitar? I'm going to have to go try one out again for a lot longer time.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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