The Gibson Firebird X is the first digital guitar that even the most fervent analogue luddite won’t write off as a gadgetar. Lots of guitar technology claims to offer you infinite sounds and disappoints. This is what infinity feels like.
Like most guitar players, I’m not so much afraid of technology as suspicious of it. I want a Gibson Firebird X in spite of my aversions. The guitar is basically a Gibson Firebird with on-board digital processing that allows you to dial-in a huge number of tones. I heard it deliver everything from a grinding metal crunch to beautiful, bubbly blues tones, and resonant clean sounds.
At first the guitar can be a little intimidating to use because of the unfamiliar dials and switches on the guitar’s body. It’s not as easy to use as an electric with standard electronics. But once I was shown the basics, I could flip seamlessly between different sounds. You switch between nine banks of presets using the colourful “Gear Shift” knob and switch between individual sounds using what is usually a pickup selector switch.
The guitar’s built-in presets sounded gorgeous through headphones. Better than anything of its kind that I’ve played before. But to really get the most out of the guitar, you’re going to want to spend time tweaking the presets or creating your own using the Gibson software that comes with the Firebird X. If you switch the guitar to edit mode, you can change these up on the fly using controls for distortion, compression, EQ, and time-based effects like delay, but this will complicate playing so much that you’re better off programming the guitar before it’s time to play.
The guitar also has the latest iteration of Gibson’s robot tuners. Set the guitar to tuning mode, strum the strings and the guitar’s tuning pegs fly into motion, perfectly adjusting each string in an instant.
The Gibson Firebird X is an incredible step forward for guitar technology, but it’s not for everyone, and not just because it costs $US5570. Part of the reason the guitar is so good is that it’s actually pretty complicated to play. You can learn how to navigate the guitars settings and learn how to create new ones in a day, but it will require lots of devoted attention to master this guitar. For some people that might be an exciting challenge that opens the door to new areas of sonic perfection, but for a lot of us who have trouble finding good chunks of time to plug in and turn up, it might not be worth it.