Gibson’s iconic Hummingbird model debuted in 1960 but it doesn’t trace its roots from other Gibson guitars. Do I have your attention? Let’s dive into some sacrilege: the Gibson Hummingbird has more roots with Martin and Epiphone than it does with Gibson. Ok, let me back that up.
The CF Martin & Co guitar company has an incredible history of making world class flat-top acoustic guitars but that’s not all they’re known for. Martin’s ukuleles are also known for being some of the finest ever made. They’re wildly collectible and some are very valuable as well. Some of the most interesting examples were actually made for a distributer called Oliver Ditson. The Ditson company worked with Martin to develop a new body shape for their ukuleles in 1916 they ended up calling Dreadnought – a slightly larger body with wider, more squared off shoulders.
Martin’s guitar development charged ahead into bracing guitars for use with steel strings in the 1920s. Players wanted louder guitars that would cut through a band and be heard over other players. Body widths increased until finally the “D” size body was introduced in 1931 at a whopping 16″ wide. Martin chose the Dreadnought (formally ukulele) shape for this model. It was wildly popular and has been in production ever since!
Gibson had actually been making a 16″ acoustic guitar since 1929 but it was intended for Hawaiian style playing. The HG-22 and HG-24 had strange inner walls and small F style holes cut in the top. The shape of the body became known as Gibson’s Round Should Jumbo body style. The “Jumbo” model was introduced in 1934 with the round shoulder body shape at 16″. This time it was intended for Spanish style (what we would think of as a standard acoustic guitar) playing. The model progressed into the J-35, then the J-45 in 1942.
Gibson hired a precocious new president of the company in 1948: Ted McCarty. McCarty’s skill, intellect, and drive turned the whole company around and made it into the icon it is today. He introduced new ideas and models to the world like the Les Paul Model, ES-335 model, the Flying V, the Humbucking pickup, and many more. He kept eyeing a rival company that appeared to be interested in selling their brand in the mid 1950s: Epiphone. McCarty eyed their upright bass design and reputation. The Epiphone family ended up selling the company to Gibson under McCarty for a sum total of only $20,000 in October of 1957.
Gibson’s intention for the Epiphone brand was to manufacture both Gibson branded guitars and Epiphone branded guitars on the same line in Kalamazoo, MI. Pre-Gibson Epiphone’s flat-top guitars weren’t largely commercially successful in the 1950s but they did have some appeal. One of the most popular models was called the FT-110 which was a 16″ wide flat-top with Maple back and sides. Gibson updated the model after the buyout with an entirely new body style: the square shoulder dreadnought. Gibson also added a name to the number designation of the model they called the Frontier. The FT-110 Frontier, first produced in 1958, was the first Gibson made model to feature a decidedly Martin looking square shoulder acoustic guitar body shape.
Gibson began updating the Gibson brand’s acoustic guitar line in 1960 with a brand new model: the Hummingbird. It featured the new square shoulder body style with a beautifully engraved hummingbird motif on the pickguard and fancy inlays. The model debuted in the price list in 1962 but we can find examples of the Hummingbird with production features and serial numbers indicating as early as 1960. Gibson made Epiphone Frontier model guitars can be found with production features and serial numbers indicating as early as 1958! So the Frontier appears to have predated the Hummingbird by about two years.
I’m always looking for clean examples of the Gibson Hummingbird and the Epiphone FT110 Frontier. Are you searching for where to sell your vintage Gibson guitar? You can reach out to me here at my sell my vintage Gibson page to send pictures and information about your guitar. Or, you can leave a comment below if you like. I’m looking forward to checking it out!