Rebel Without A Cause: The Gibson M-III Superstrat

The early 1990s were an unusual time of rapid change for guitar design. In the 1980s, the classic shapes of the 60s and 70s had fallen by the wayside, replaced by sleek shredder’s axes. Where once guitar players demanded elegant carved maple tops and fixed bridges, the typical guitarist of the 80s wanted high-output humbuckers, Floyd Rose tremolos, 24 frets, and flash. Lots of flash. Slash helped turn things around with his low-slung Gibson Les Pauls after Appetite For Destruction hit, but for the most part, day-glo finishes and pointy curves were where it was at. 

In the early 90s, that all changed. Suddenly, by the end of 1992 shredding was out. And 80s-style hard rock was really out. And the guitars that made that music were really, really out. Players were instead seeking vintage – or at least retro-styled – guitars in keeping with the alternative aesthetic. Nobody wanted thin necks, hot pickups, whammy bars or reverse headstocks. As a result, a lot of innovative guitars never quite got their shot. Once such instrument was the Gibson M-III. 

After a decade of trial and error, guitarists and guitar companies alike were really starting to get the hang of hard rock-oriented guitar design by the early 90s. The Gibson M-III, introduced in 1991, was a sleek, double-cutaway instrument which was surprisingly un-Gibson-like, with the exception of its Les Paul-style volume and tone knobs and reverse Explorer-type headstock. The Standard and Deluxe models sported Schaller-made Floyd Rose tremolos and a H-S-H (humbucker/single coil/humbucker) pickup layout married to a five-way blade switch and a two-way toggle, making the guitar capable of both humbucker and single coil sounds. The pickups were a 496R in the neck position, a 500T in the bridge and an NSX single coil in the middle position. Flip the two-way switch one way and it focused on humbucker sounds: flip it the other for single coil voicings. A total of nine separate sounds were possible, including an enhanced neck pickup tone and a stand-by mode for muting or kill switch effects. Great care was taken to make the pickup layout seem intuitive, presumably to ease the learning curve for an admittedly un-Gibson-like Gibson. One particularly interesting touch was the ‘zebra’ pickup color scheme: the white coils of each humbucker, combined with the white single coil, provided a visual reminder that the guitar was capable of traditional 3-pickup single coil sounds as well as twin-humbucker ones.

An advertisement from 1991 touted the M-III’s slim-taper neck, “shaped to your hand, not some alien’s.” That 1-14/32-inch wide neck (which was set in, compared to the bolt-on necks one might expect on such an instrument) featured 24 jumbo frets, offset arrowhead-shaped offset inlays and a maple fretboard. The neck joined the body at the 22nd fret for superb upper-fret access, and to this day, if one digs deep enough, internet message boards are peppered with players reporting how pleasant the M-III’s neck is to play. In February 1992 Guitar World’s Chris Butler reviewed the M-III Standard and remarked that the instrument’s only drawback was that it was so addictive to play that he found himself noodling instead of focusing on the recording session at hand.

The M-III Standard and Deluxe each had a uniquely-shaped tortiseshell pickguard with an almost tigerstripe effect, which followed the crescent-like arc created by the treble and bass side cutaways. (Actually, if you squint hard enough, the pickguard almost looks like an upside-down and backwards Explorer body). The pickguard was echoed by a tortiseshell truss rod cover and toggle switch surround. The guitar was available in ebony, white and candy apple red (Standard) or a clear finish which showed off the quality of the mahogany body (Deluxe).

Other variants included some which were rear-routed (ie: no pickguard); different pickup layouts (a pair of humbuckers with no single coil); different tremolos (Steinberger); and different woods and construction methods (neck-thru models were produced, and there are unconfirmed anecdotal reports of a handful of bolt-on models out there in the wild). The innovative switching system and pickup layout were also incorporated into a few Les Paul models, while Epiphone made a version called the EM-2 Rebel (1991-1998), and offered basses inspired by the M-III body shape all the way into 1999. The M-III, meanwhile, remained in the Gibson catalog in one form or another until 1996, and today the body shape lives on in two guitars from Epiphone’s prophecy series, the EM-2 EX and EM-2 FX (the EM-1 was discontinued in 2010).

An early adopter was Sid Fletcher of the band Roxy Blue, who used the guitar in the video for the band’s single “Rob The Cradle” and appeared in a print advertisement campaign for Gibson in 1992. But for the most part, the M-III was bought and loved by regular players who required a high-performance instrument with Swiss Army Knife-like tonal flexibility.

Gibson brought the M-III back for a while in the early 2010s but in a stripped-down format without a lot of the stuff that made the original M-III cool, like the mini-toggle and the pickguard. They’re fun guitars if you ever get to try one, but it’s just not the same.

So here’s to the original M-III and its quirky weirdness!

New Gibson Neon Les Pauls Are The First Good Thing To Come Out Of 2017

If you know me, you probably know that I love both vintage and modern guitar designs pretty much equally. Some days I love nothing more than playing my 50s-style Les Paul Traditional or my ’62 Reissue Strat. Other days I’m all about my headless Kiesel Vader or my Roadflare Red Ibanez RG550. Well Gibson have gone and combined two of my loves in the one guitar: a Les Paul Axcess with Floyd Rose and – gasp! – neon finishes! It’s available in Neon Green, Neon Yellow, Neon Blue, Neon Orange and Neon Pink. Personally my pick of the bunch is the Neon Green. Look at that thing. 

The bodies are Mahogany with a 2-piece Maple top, with a Mahogany neck and Richlite fingerboard. The neck is a Slim C-Shape, and the pickups are a 496R neck humbucker and a 498T in the bridge position, with push-pull pots for coil splitting. 

Pics below, more info here.

INTERVIEW: Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor

Photo by Travis Shinn

Photo by Travis Shinn

If you look in the current issue of Mixdown Magazine you’ll find my interview with Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor about the band’s new album, Hydrograd (released today). We had a great chat about the band’s incredible new album Hydrograd. But we talked about a lot more than could be fit into that article, so I thought you’d like to see some other highlights from the interview.

I Heart Guitar: One moment in the single Fabuless really made me laugh: the ‘motherfucker’ in the chorus. I have a running joke where I insert unnecessary motherfuckers in songs that really don’t deserve it. Steely Dan or the Beach Boys or something. 

Corey Taylor: [Laughs] Thats funny because I do that all the time when I’m in my car, singing. I’m always adding an unnecessary motherfucker to what I’m singing along to, where it just needs a little more, y’know? I mean I’m sure they would have gotten to the motherfucker eventually but they were too busy with the notes, so people like you and me provide the motherfucker for them.

That song is so eclectic. How did it come together? 

That song came together from Tooch (guitarist Christian Martucci) and Roy (Magora, drums) jamming together. It was one of those songs where when we heard the demo we were like ‘Holy shit.’ It took a little arranging because it was all in different spots – it originally had a totally different feel to it – but the riffs themselves all had a great vibe. I took it and did my magic on it and worked it in with the lyrics that were going on in my head and different melodies and stuff, and it came together really quickly. It was a matter of arranging the puzzle so that the song fuckin’ figured itself out.

The first few times you listen to it you don’t quite know what could happen next. 

Exactly. And that’s the cool thing. I feel like a lot of music doesn’t have that feeling any more, and you can anticipate what the next part is. With a lot of bands you can almost write the fuckin’ next riff in your head before you’ve even heard the song all of the way through for the first time. With this song it keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.

HydrogradSo this is the first record written with Christian Martucci and Johnny Chow. 

Working with those two, honestly, was so effortless. The great thing is it all starts with us just getting along. Really getting along. We all hang out, we all love hanging out and talking shit and joking, and we’re all such dorks that it doesn’t really matter. So writing together is the same thing. We just love what we do so much that we get excited when we hear what we’re doing with the music.

How’s the spine coming along after your operation? Has it affected your range? I was thinking about how when Frank Zappa got pushed off the stage and broke his neck, and after he got rebuilt his voice got lower.

Yeah, that didn’t happen to me. It’s really only a physical thing for me. I’m slowly but surely starting to get my mobility back, and that’s even after a year. It’s been pretty crazy. But luckily I didn’t lose any of my range – actually I got some back because I quit smoking over a year ago, and I’m starting to get my range back because of that. God, if I’d know that would happen I’d have quit ten fuckin’ years ago. But I’m still in the process of rehabbing all that shit, and I’m slowing but surely getting my body back. It’s a fucking pain in the ass but I’m getting there.

I don’t think people realise how physical singing is – how much of your whole body goes into it. 

Oh yeah. You can lose your chops really easily. And not only lose your chops but you can let your talent go to fuckin’ shit, and it can take you years to get that shit back. About six years ago I started to really try to keep myself in shape as much as possible, and as long as it’s worth it you just keep trying, keep going for it.

What guitars are you using at the moment? 

On the road I have three guitars that I’m using, really. I have a 2008 Gibson Firebird that has a couple of Seymour Duncan pickups in it. It has a nice chunky edge to it and a really killer clean tone. Those guitars have a great clean tone. I also have a 1987 Gibson SG out with me that smells like the dude who owned it chain-smoked around it for about 45 years! It’s got the colour, but unfortunately it’s also got the smell, so I named it Keith. So I’ve got that out with me and I’ll probably bring that down with me to Australia when we get down there. And I’ve also got a Framus and I’m thinking about working some magic with those guys. I actually have a Stevie Salas Idolmaker model that I’m using right now and they’re fuckin’ pretty dope, dude. I wanna have them use that base and make a custom for me but give it more of a hollowbody vibe, and put a couple of humbuckers in it and see what happens. I think that could be really fuckin’ cool, because it plays amazingly. It’s got such fuckin’ chunk to it. It’s really great. So those three I’m kinda rotating through, just feeling them out every night.

Lollar Staple P-90

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PRESS RELEASE: “It was the mid-80s,” Jason Lollar recalled. “Someone loaned me an original late-‘50s Les Paul® Custom for a gig. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with the sound of the original P-90 staple pickup. We modified the design of the original Gibson P-90 staple pickup so it fits most soapbar routes with no modification to the guitar. Though the design is updated, I voiced it to sound just like the legendary Les Paul Staple pickup that was loaned to me.” Read More …

Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher Switches To ESP

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Whoa, didn’t see this one coming. Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher’s Gibson signature models have been some of the coolest guitars Gibson has released in years, but now Bill has switched to ESP with two new sigs, the ESP Bill Kelliher and the LTD BK-600. ESP writes; “We’re proud to announce that Bill Kelliher of world-renowned American metal band Mastodon has joined our family of endorsed artists. But equally big news is that we’re also announcing the introduction of two new Signature Series models: the ESP Bill Kelliher and the LTD BK-600. Visitors to our booth at the Summer NAMM Show in Nashville later this month will be able to check out Bill’s new signature guitars in person. They will be available at ESP dealers later this year.” Read More …

Gibson Makes The Two Best Flying Vs Ever

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Okay, that headline might be a bit hyperbolic but what the hell, I’m gonna own it: these are the two coolest Flying Vs ever. Just look at them. Look at them! The Flying V Standard and Flying V Custom take cues from the Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom respectively (duh) and they both look fantastic. Or as Gibson says:

Flying V Standard

Gibson Custom’s Flying V Standard takes its design cues from the the late-’50s “futuristic” design that took the guitar world by surprise. From that starting point, we’ve complemented the now iconic Flying V design with Les Paul-inspired aesthetics including a two-piece, figured-maple top, single-bound body and neck, as well as a lightweight, solid mahogany back tastefully finished in cherry red. The Flying V Standard’s undeniably Gibson tone comes from a matched set of Custom Bucker pickups.CSFVSITNH1_MAIN_HERO_01

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Flying V Custom

Gibson Custom’s Flying V Custom reflects the kind of “what if” thinking that is the luxury of being the world’s most recognized guitar brand. At its heart, the Flying V Custom is the “futuristic” design of the late ’50s, when it was first released to a world obsessed with space, science and forward thinking. From there, we’ve taken liberties and additional design cues from the stately aesthetics of the original “Black Beauty” Les Paul Custom. What results is a wonderfully balanced guitar with real vintage V tone, dressed to its best for a look that exudes style and distinction.
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The World’s First 24-Fret 7-String Shred Machine?

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I was just scanning some recent guitar auctions, as I am wont to do, and I saw something super cool at a Guernsey’s auction from February 27: Tony Mottola’s 1952 7-string, 24-fret Gibson Custom Super 400CES. Mottola was a legendary session musician who played with Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also played in the Doc Severinson Orchestra on The Tonight Show. This guitar has a carved spruce top with maple back and sides, and custom P90 pickups with seven pole pieces. It was offered for auction with its original hard case and a copy of the production ledger for March 1992. The serial number is A 9934. What an amazing piece of history. Following are some more guitars – including instruments belonging to Eddie Van Halen and Richie Sambora – but first here are some more pics of the 7-string: Read More …

My Five Favourite Semi-Hollowbody F-Hole Guitars

fholesWhen I was a kid I was obsessed with semi-hollowbody guitars. I blame The Beatles, The Cure and Ratcat. Basically if it had F-Holes or similarly-shaped soundholes, I wanted it. These days I tend to either play Les Pauls, Strats or Superstrats but I’ve always had a fondness for big boxy guitars with F-holes and Bigsby vibratos. I still don’t own one but if I did it’d be one of these… Read More …