The Firebird Zero is either awesome or awful, depending on your criterion.

I spent a little time yesterday with the Firebird Zero, played through a 40 watt Marshall tube amp combo (DSL40C.)  The DSL series gets a lot of internet hate, but I think it’s a great sounding versatile amp.

The first thing I noticed about the Firebird Zero is that the Gibson logo is not part of the headstock – it’s printed on the truss rod cover.  In my opinion this was a massive mistake on Gibson’s part, if the goal is to sell this guitar.  Some people will be massively turned off by the lack of headstock logo.

The second thing I noticed is that the guitar weighs almost nothing.  The body is super small and super lightweight.  Unfortunately, so is the sound.  More about that in a minute.

The neck is the best part of the guitar.  The fretwork was great and the action was good.  The nitro finish on the back of the neck felt great – a nice relief from the typical poly plastic feel or most guitars in the $499 price range.  No fret spouting on the model I played – fret spout is where the wood condenses and the fret ends stick out a little bit.  But regardless, the neck felt good.

Plugged into the Marshall, I went through the pickup combinations.  The Zero has two humbuckers that Gibson made specifically for this guitar (meaning cheap.)  The Zero has a snarly type of sound that lacked low end.  I boosted the bass on the amp to compensate.  I thought the guitar sounded good…

…until I grabbed a Gibson Les Paul Studio with BurstBucker pickups and ran it through the same amp.  Immediately the low end was crazy huge and I had to readjust the bass.  That wasn’t all – the Studio sounded waaaay way better.  It’s always a good idea to compare the guitar you want to buy against another good guitar.  That’s how I bought my acoustic guitar, a Larrivee – I played it against the Martin and the Taylor at the same price point.  The Larrivee had a more even tone compared to the Martin, which seemed boomy, and the Taylor, which seemed super bright.

And since we’re in sidenote land, I grabbed three Gibson Les Paul Studios and a Gibson Les Paul Tribute off the shelf and every singe one of them had fret spout.  What the hell, Gibson?  They didn’t ship that way.  Gibson has an obvious problem with this issue.  It’s easy to fix by someone with a fret file and some knowledge, but it’s a huge, huge turnoff to buyers in the store.

OK, so what is the Zero?  Is it a good quality Gibson guitar made in the USA and sold for only $499?  Or is it a cut rate cheapie that any other company would sell for $200?  Well… maybe it’s both.  This is a real guitar – the intonation, action, and neck were all good.  It’s certainly better than the first guitar I had.  If you want a Gibson that’s on the snarly side, or a guitar that is super, super light, this will do the job.  The fretwork was fantastic, something you wouldn’t likely find on a $200 cheapie.  BUT if you have $500, can you find a better guitar?  Almost definitely.  If you look hard enough, you can probably find a used Gibson Les Paul Tribute for not much more than that, and it’s a far, far, FAR better guitar.

I give Gibson a lot of credit to try to make a good inexpensive American guitar.  The $499 price point is great.  Honestly, I think if they put a more substantial body on this guitar and put the logo on the actual headstock, it’d probably change the tone to the point where it’d sound great, and they’d have a winner.  I think this is a good first attempt, and I hope Gibson learns from this and makes another bigger bodied version of this in the future.