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1977 Gibson RD Artist
Jimmy Page, Misty Mountain Hop
Stevenage, England, August 11, 1979
General Specs
Body: Maple
Finish: Natural
Neck: Laminated maple
Fingerboard: Ebony with pearl inlays
Frets: 22
Bridge: ABR-1 Tune-o-matic Bridge
Headstock: Blackface with 'Gibson' logo pearl inlay
Tuners: Schaller
Hardware: Gold-plated
Pickguard: Black acrylic
Pickups: Gold-plated series VI humbuckers
Controls: (2) Volume, (2) Tone (w/ push-pull pots), 3-way pickup selector, 3-way mode switch (Compression/Neutral/Bright)
Years in use: 1977
Website: http://www.gibson.com/
Some time ago when the Gibson M-III was introduced to much fanfare, a lot of people could be overheard expressing awe at the possibilities of the switching system. But, as we’ve seen, this is only the latest example of Gibson’s long infatuation with complex switches. While the Les Paul Recording remains my personal favorite, it’s followed quickly by the often insulted RD Artist, occasionally referred to as the “Research & Development” Artist.

The RD line was originally conceived in 1975, officially introduced in 1977 and ultimately discontinued in 1982. The RD series was essentially Gibson’s response to the emerging success of companies like Alembic and B.C. Rich, which specialized in lots of switches with fancy electronic options. It’s curious to note that a Norlin subsidiary, the distributor L.D. Heater, of Portland, OR, handled B.C. Rich as well as Gibson guitars in the early ’70s. Early B.C. Riches used Gibson humbuckers obtained through L.D. Heater until Gibson found out. B.C. Rich switched to Guild and then DiMarzio pickups and took over its own distribution shortly thereafter. Maybe the RD was Gibson’s revenge?…

To execute this design, Gibson employed Robert Moog, of Moog synthesizer fame, and the man behind the last mach of the Gibson Maestro effects of that very same era.

The RD series was, admittedly, a little demented. First of all, its shape is sort of a retread Reverse Firebird, maybe the offspring of mating with a Guild Thunderbird (one which unfortunately didn’t inherit the built-in stand!). The maple body is comfortably contoured, though, and the neck solidly glued on for an overall pretty nice feeling guitar, sort of like an SG. Put a pillowcase over the body and you can get down with this baby.

The RD Artist was the top-of-the-line, with an unbound ebony fingerboard (the catalog said bound ‘board, but most if not all were not bound), block inlays, gold hardware, fancy bound pearl inlaid headstock and more comprehensive active features activated by a second large toggle switch. Pickups were two Gibson Series VI humbuckers with a threeway select, two volume controls, individual treble and bass tone controls, and a built-in preamp circuit with compression/expansion and bright/lead functions.

Unfortunately, Moog and Gibson didn’t just settle for a simple preamp switch like the B.C. Rich. Instead, we get another complex switching system on the Artist models. Here’s the skinny; bear with me.

The threeway pickup select and individual treble and bass tone controls are pretty clear and a very nice feature on any guitar. In the center position, the second threeway toggle switch is in neutral, making the guitar active but without the special circuits. In the forward position, the switch activates a bright/lead function which accentuates the treble frequencies. This works for both pickups.

In the back position, the active switch turns on a compression/expansion circuit. The compression function operates on the neck pickup only and reduces the fundamental attack time and “compresses” each note into a longer sustaining signal. In this mode, the output remains stable no matter how hard you play.

The expansion function (we haven’t moved the second toggle yet) operates on the bridge pickup only and “permits the player to play harder and louder without the note collapsing. Expansion offers a very fast, explosive response with a rapid decay,” says the Gibson literature.

Of course, either function works in the middle pickup selector position, too.
The only known appearance of the 1977 Gibson RD Artist was at the second Knebworth Festival show on August 11, 1979 for Misty Mountain Hop.
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