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Geek Gifts 2011: Gibson Firebird X

Musician and self-proclaimed geek Gloria Marshall rocked out on the Gibson Firebird X. Find out how this techie guitar fared on and off the stage.
This guest post was written by Gloria E. Marshall.

I’m a true Gibson fan and was honored to review this prodigy guitar. I started out playing the acoustic guitar 18 years ago, and I fell in love with it. That passion quickly grew to embrace the electric guitar as well. Today, my personal collection includes a Gibson Les Paul, among many other instruments. Since I'm also a geek by nature, I thought the Gibson Firebird X, which is loaded with technology, would be a perfect fit.

Specifications

  • Effects faders
  • Tog pots
  • Pickups
  • Output jack
  • Accessory pack - Bluetooth pedal, stereo cable, battery power converter, etc.
  • Software - Ableton Live Lite 8 Gibson Studio Edition and Guitar Rig 4 Pro (Windows 7 and Mac OS X)
  • Price: Retail for $5,570 but on sale at Sweetwater for $4,000

The Gibson Firebird X also boasts 20 revolutionary features, including:

  • GoldTone switching technology
  • Pure analog updateable audio engine
  • Patch morphing
  • Hex output structure
  • Open architecture
  • Blue Lightening compatible footpedals and footswitch unit
  • Effects software
  • Computer interface
  • Direct digital output
  • Robo-tuners

Hands-on with the Gibson Firebird X

When I first got the Firebird X, I had a gig that same night. I plugged it in for sound check and quickly found out that even my “geekness” could not make the magic happen without a learning curve. I couldn’t get the thick, loud, stage sound I needed for the show. I also noticed a difference in the feel of the neck. It didn’t feel sturdy, natural, or hand-crafted to me. The Firebird X had to sit on the sidelines that show. It looked pretty though.

The guitar and the accessories that come along with it are quite impressive. It has Bluetooth technology eliminating cords to your pedals. The most outstanding feature is that the guitar has built-in sound modulation and tuning capabilities. My nickname for it is R2D2 because of the robotic peg winders. There is a central knob that you can choose your tuning, strum the strings, and voilà -- the guitar tunes itself, which is freaky at first!

Beyond that, the switches that look like what would normally just alternate between pickups actually flip and turn to adjust tone, sustain, reverb, distortion, etc. The guitar mimics amps, effects pedals, and other instruments. The technology department of the Firebird X definitely gets five stars for being so advanced.

On the other hand, I would say that this is more of a "stay at home and play" guitar than a professional gigging out instrument. Having to tune it on the fly is quite a production. Yes, it tunes itself, but because you have to perform so many steps to get there, the process seems much slower.

My question to Gibson is: Why can’t I plug a USB cable directly to or from the guitar? Just sayin’. I actually made some recording clips with the Firebird X using my iPad and GarageBand app. It was played through a Fender Blues Jr. tube amp. Everything was nice and tight until I got a mysterious, airy hissing sound. Shortly after that, the guitar decided to turn itself off. My suspicion is that the Lithium Ion battery needed recharging.

Geek bottom line

If I was an IT guru who liked to play guitar -- and I had a bunch of money -- I would love to own a Firebird X. This tech toy would be the ultimate bragging piece. It's beautiful and fun, but it's not for everybody. The learning curve and price tag might be a bit too much for some geeks. However, for a Gibson with so many technology bells and whistles, $4,000 really is a pretty decent price.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ***
  • Overall: ****

For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, and games, download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2011.

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

2 comments
hippiekarl
hippiekarl

The body cut is 'stylized reverse-Firebird', and the 3+3 headstock is....novel. Beautiful finish, though. That guitar, as described, would have made me reluctant to take it out to work right out of the box, too: it's description reminds me of 'concept cars' built for auto trade shows by works design groups that have no intention of consumer production. They tend to sport every known gizmo and would-be innovation (whether useful or just 'because we COULD'), and tend toward being extremely 'high-maintenence'. My impression is that the Firebird X should come with a guitar-tech.... Everyone's pedalboard being a work-in-progress (right?), what are the chances that anyone's 'ideal sound pallette' could be found (let alone effortlessly-chosen-amongst) hardwired to your instrument as a preamp/effects processor?! Multi-effects processors at their best are 'get it in the same ballpark' emulations of familiar, dedicated effects. Nuances such as the 'dwell' of your reverb, flange 'sweep', etc are parametrically standardized; you can allude to an effect with them but the paramater-variables that allow you to craft a tone to your own purpose are not available. The auto-tuning arrangement you described sounds like a recipe for disaster, as well. I'm a firm believer that once you're on stage, K.I.S.S.! Everything you require yourself to look at, tweak, remember, or keep track of, detracts from your presentation (and thus from your audience's 'immersion' in your performance). In the end, they came to see you, not your amazing equipment. That guitar sure has a beautiful finish, though, doesn't it? (I'm not snobbing your new guitar, BTW; I just bought my 'dream guitar' a few months back--after making a number of my own and selling them--and I agree with your review's conclusions: STAGE----nope. LIVING ROOM----sure; why not?) Thanks for the review, buddy!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

As I understand it, all that tech (apart from the tuning stuff, which is apparently sub-optimal) can be "easily" stuck onto a pedal, so why hardwire it in? It just seems odd to pollute the analog end of the process; the analog, physical tool should be as pure as can be, right?