The Gibson Hummingbird guitar is one of those outstanding instruments that makes a striking and lasting first impression. My first encounter was with the one belonging to my high school chum Roy. I remember being fascinated by the pickguard that showed a hummingbird feeding on a trumpet vine. Our senior year he played it at just about every school assembly or production requiring guitar accompaniment. The other day I called Roy to ask him about his Hummingbird and he reminded me it was stolen from his room at college. He immediately reeled off the serial number burned into his memory—109095. Recalling his ’bird, he told me, “That was my pride and joy; I dearly wish I still had it. It was a gorgeous guitar, but my Hummingbird’s looks were secondary to sound quality—I just loved its deep, rich tone.”
Musicians who lust after great Hummingbird playability and sound but are feeling a little squeezed by the economy should consider the Hummingbird Artist, created by Gibson Montana. Cosmetically, there are only two differences between the Hummingbird Artist and the other Hummingbird Models. The Artist has a washed heritage cherry finish instead of sunburst. To produce a sunburst finish, additional layers of nitrocellulose lacquer must be applied and then sanded, adding more time and cost to the production process. The Artist model has a modern sculpted pickguard without the painted hummingbird motif. Eliminating this labor-intensive decoration results in cost savings, making this a more affordable variation on a classic with no impact on its sound.
To be sure, in the looks department, the Artist makes its own lasting impression with its sublime washed heritage cherry finish that, to me, suggests dusk on a warm, lonely prairie. Like the Modern Classic, it also is adorned with six-ply top binding; four-ply back body binding; single-ply neck binding; and mother-of-pearl inlays, crown headstock, and bridge dot inlays.
The Hummingbird Artist is handcrafted by Gibson artisans in Bozeman, Montana, with a solid premium Sitka spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. Most of the Hummingbird’s volume is produced by the top. The mahogany back and sides emphasize the upper mids and trebles to produce a wide-open, airy sound. The mahogany neck is secured to the body with a hand-set dovetail neck joint to ensure maximum string vibration is transferred to the spruce top.
A key component to the Hummingbird Artist sound is its upper bout, which is slightly narrower than standard Hummingbird models. It provides a crisper, slightly brighter response. The hand-scalloped bracing pattern used on the Artist is the same as that on the Gibson Advanced Jumbo. It has a wider X pattern, like that used in the guitars of the late ’30s. This wider X creates more top movement to enhance the guitar’s projection. The bracing also moves the crossing point of the X pattern closer to the soundhole for a more powerful sound, which is why old-timers used to call the Advanced Jumbo the “Bone Crusher.” Now that power has been harnessed in the Hummingbird Artist.
Given that dreadnoughts are great for strumming and designed for vocal accompaniment, I put my Hummingbird Artist sample through a vigorous workout on Pete Townshend’s solo version of “Drowned” that called for the speedy quadruple-timed chording that Pete is famous for. The Artist had nice low action for easy open chords at the fifth-fret capo and produced crisp barre chords at the 10th fret. The tone was rich and vibrant with well-balanced mids and chimey highs that blended well with my throaty tenor.
The 1.725" nut width gave me all the fretboard real estate I needed to produce a snappy finger-picking rendition of “Buck Dancer’s Choice” that I learned from Acoustic Guitar magazine. The round neck profile fit comfortably in my left hand as I tried out flatpicker whiz Tony Rice’s arrangement of “Shady Grove.” The notes joyously poured out from the soundhole like children being let out of school for summer vacation.
To convey the Hummingbird’s voice in a live setting, the Artist uses an L.R. Baggs Element undersaddle transducer with a preamp and volume control that are cleverly mounted in the soundhole to preserve the Hummingbird Artist's beautiful mahogany exterior.
Whether you’re strumming a folksy singalong on the front porch or sitting in with the hot pickers at the local pub, the Hummingbird Artist produces sweet, full-bodied tones that will make any string-slinger go for an extra chorus.