The Gibson Nighthawk Guitars
In 1993 Gibson released the first run of its new Nighthawk guitars, representing a completely unique instrument which combined construction techniques Gibson created with some very Fender ideas in the mix. Production of the instruments ran through 1998, and then the Nighthawk was discontinued due to poor sales. Gibson's flagship electric guitar, the Les Paul, had also been discontinued due to poor sales after its first several years of production. So we know already sometimes Gibson is ahead of its customers and the times.
At first glance the Gibson Nighthawk looks like an experimental or odd version of a Les Paul. It is true the body shape is that of a LP, but the Nighthawk's body is much smaller, and its cutaway is a deeper one. Yes, it is a set neck mahogany neck guitar with a mahogany body and a maple cap. But the Nighthawk has a longer scale length. There are few things which affect a guitar's tone so much as does the length of its scale. The Nighthawk has a Fender guitar's scale length.
Gibson's Nighthawk guitars have never caught on strongly enough for Gibson to keep them in production. They have, however, proved to be such a cult classic Gibson couldn't stop making them entirely. They also never seem to stop tinkering and changing the recipe. The purpose of this article is to provide some basic information about the major versions of Gibson Nighthawk which have been produced so far.
Nighthawk unique pickup configuration 1993-1998
Then there is the matter of the pickups and controls. One can very easily see the pickups and their configuration on the guitar is very different from how Gibson normally goes about things. And not every Nighthawk is a three pickup guitar. One can purchase a Nighthawk without the single coil pickup in the middle.
Whether your Nighthawk was a fancy custom, a terrific standard, or the best bang for the bucks special you had the choice to go either a three pickup model or a two pickup model. The option was whether or not you wanted the single coil middle pickup. No matter what you got the slanted humbucker in the bridge position, and the minibucker in the neck position.
The pickup selector switch is what is known as a knife switch. It is very much like the switches Fender uses on its Strat and Tele guitars. But this is not the extent of the control options for the pickups. With the 3 pickup models the tone control knob is a push/pull coil splitting device.
It is important to know the two pickup versions also have coil splitting, but the coil split is done with the five position knife switch on the two pup models. It is also important to know the slant bridge humbucker is a low gain humbucker for a Gibson, and when its coil is split you will get a very very Fender Strat like tone. The neck position mini-bucker pup when split should have somewhat a Telecaster tone. The Nighthawk is thus an extremely versatile guitar. It is also important to know that everything stated in this section is regarding the 1993-1998 Gibson Nighthawk guitars, and not the newer versions.
Following the initial run of Nighthawk guitars from 93'-98', Gibson would change the styles and configuration of pickups in their Nighthawk guitars several times. They'd also reissue guitars almost identical to the originals. In the future it would be prudent to expect even further experimentation.
The Nighthawk Custom guitars were completely decked out. You can see the distinct crown shape inlay used for the fingerboard positioning markers. But the ornamentation doesn't stop there.
The maple tops on these were all flamed or figured. There is binding everywhere. Binding along the body, neck, and head-stock make these guitars stand out to everyone who sees one. The metal hardware is gold too.
The Gibson Nighthawk Custom guitars from the 1993-1998 period are selling on the used market for between twelve hundred and sixteen hundred dollars. Prices go up the closer the guitar is to mint condition. Gibson re-released these guitars in a 2009 edition.
The Gibson Nighthawk Standard is only slightly less fancy looking than the Custom. Everyone has their own tastes, and mine is I like the double parallelogram positioning marker inlay on the fretboards of these more than the crown inlay in the fancier guitar.
There is also less binding on these guitars. The maple top on the standard guitar is less figured. Figuring on a maple top is for looks only, there's no possibility the highly prized for beauty figured maple tops can sound better or worse.
Again, these Nighthawk Standard guitars can be had with or without the single coil pickup in the center. A Nighthawk without the single coil in the center is no less of a guitar. With all the capabilities for tone the two pickup version offers, having a third pickup could be thought of as overkill, or even redundancy. My personal preference would be for a two pickup model.
These guitars are available in all the usual suspect places. Reverb, ebay, and Guitar Centers will have them when they have them. They are selling for between six hundred and fifty bucks on up to thirteen hundred.
The Nighthawk Special simply has less ornamentation: inlay and binding. Only the body is bound on the Special, and the minimalist dot fretboard positioning markers are used. Again, the Special could come from the factory with either two or three pickups.
These guitars were priced just two hundred dollars less than the Standard back in the 90s. I'm seeing some damn fine specimens online for eight hundred bucks and less these days. The specifications list I'm going to provide is from Reverb, and suggest a run of Specials made with a poplar body instead of mahogany. The maple top or cap is still in effect. The weight documented a just a hair under seven pounds is significant. These fine Gibson Nighthawk guitars weigh little enough for elderly persons, children, and women to be able to stand and play without their shoulders being worn out.
- 6 lbs, 15 oz.
- Maple Top
- Poplar Body
- Slim Profile Maple Neck
- Rosewood Fretboard
- 25.5" Scale Length
- 12" Fretboard Radius
- 22 Frets
- .840" Neck Profile at Nut
- 1.010” Neck Profile at 12th Fret
- Slanted Bridge Humbucker, Mini Neck Humbucker
- Master Volume and Tone Controls
- 5-Way Pickup Selector
- "String through body" Bridge
- Gold Hardware
Gibson Nighthawk Special
The has 2 M-Series Mini-humbuckers instead of the normal M-series mini-humbucker and M-Series Slanted humbucker.The neck is set at the 16th fret, and the heel-less construction and deep cutaway allow easy access to the highest frets. The 25 1/2" scale is the standard Fender length, and the wider fret-spacing makes bending very easy on the highest frets. Gibson Nighthawk Landmark guitar
Width at the nut is 1 & 5/8" , and the neck has a very comfortably slim "V" shape. Tuning machines are enclosed, Kluson Deluxe-style with white, keystone-shaped keys, and the low-profile bridge is similar to a Telecaster's, i.e., with individual saddles and the strings running through the body. All the hardware is gold plated.
None of the Nighthawk guitars will sound like other Gibson solid body electrics. They won't really sound like Fender guitars either, despite the scale length and the pickup configurations. This guitar won't even sound like other Nighthawk guitars too very much.
You want to have a guitar with a different look and a different sound, then any Gibson Nighthawk can sure put you into the distinction. A lot depends on your picking technique, but it is entirely possible the diagonal or slanted bridge humbucker impedes your picking hand attack. And especially with the three pickup model guitars, this can be an issue. Well, this landmark series guitar would solve those important issues by having pickups out of the way of your pick.
The Landmark series commemorates various and sundry national landmarks. We're talking about national parks and monuments. On the back side of the head stocks there should be an engraving and a decal sticker.
The Gibson Hawk guitar is clearly based on the Nighthawk, but also clearly different. This guitar is using Alnico magnet humbucker pickups instead of the M series pickups used in actual Nighthawk guitars. This is also a bare bones guitar in the ornamentation department. To be simple about it, the guitar is a bargain.
Pretty binding, mother of pearl inlay, and gold plate hardware are never going to make you sound better playing a guitar. They will only make your guitar look like a more expensive one, and because if it has all of those style points, it will be. These guitars are going for five hundred bucks on the used market. That, my friends, is a great bargain.
Another thing you should know, and can be gleaned easily from perusal of the photo provided, is these Hawk guitars do not have the fancy bridge of the Nighthawk. These feature a classic old school wraparound bridge and saddle combo.
A rare Gibson Hawk guitar
When it comes to semi hollow body electric guitars, everyone agrees they sound warmer than do solid body electrics. One can simply listen to or, or go play for themselves, an example of a solid body and its closest semi hollow body counterpart. The tonal difference is pretty clear.
Blues and jazz guitarist very often prefer a semi hollow body electric guitar for the warmth of tone they provide. This isn't to say one can't use any guitar to make any style of music. You most certainly can.
So the Gibson Blueshawk is named so for its being a semi hollow body version of the Nightbawk. We have yet another style of pickups here though, and its none other than Gibson's famous P90 pickups. The Gibson P90 single coil pickups have tons of fans, that said, they often polarize others. Seems people either love the P90s or they simply do not.
The Blueshawk is of a thin poplar body and maple top. It's a different enough guitar from the original Nighthawks to be thought of as entirely separate, but the small LP-ish body, light weight, and Fender scale length put it into the same conversation.The Gibson's are only available used, they were made between 1996 and 2006. A brand new , however, is out there calling your name. Other distinguishing features: Epiphone Blueshawk
- Noise reduction circuitry which employs a dummy coil
- A Varitone circuit (similar to that used on the Gibson ES345) - the Varitone circuit is a mid-cut/band-stop filter with a choice of five center frequencies
- The Blueshawk is a light guitar (less than 7lbs) - the body is made from poplar, capped with maple - the body is small and relatively thin and has two cavities - the hardware is minimal.
- The Blueshawk has a contour carved into the back - similar to the Fender Stratocaster.
- Simple control set - master volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector, 6 way rotary Varitone control switch.
- Just above the fingerboard and parallel to it, between the front (neck) pickup and the front strap pin, there is a cursive-writing emblem using paint, saying “Blues Hawk.”
The Gibson Little Lucille was produced, as was the Blueshawk, from 1996 through 2006. The primary difference between the Blueshawk and the Little Lucille is in the way the bridge and saddle were done. The Little Lucille features the Gibson classic tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece. As for myself, I very much prefer the classic Gibson hardware style.
This is a semi hollow body just as is the Blueshawk. The tops of these guitars are not carved, however, they are flat. And B.B. King did endorse the Little Lucille. Gibson would not have been audacious enough to use such a name without King's endorsement. B.B. King loved the Varitone switch, and this guitar absolutely has one. At the time of this writing I am not seeing many of these guitars for sale.
- Single cutaway body
- Maple top; poplar back
- 2 Blues 90 pickups with hum-cancelling dummy coil
- Master volume; master tone with push/pull pot to disable Varitone; three-way switch; 6-position Varitone
- Gold hardware
- Rosewood fingerboard with diamond inlays
- Mahogany neck (narrow with slight V shape)
- Creme binding on body and neck
As time passed the people at Gibson clearly came to favor using a poplar body with a maple cap for the Nighthawk guitars over a mahogany body with a maple cap. Why is anyone's guess. And the 2009 Limited Edition Nighthawk guitar has not just a poplar body, but a chambered one too. These guitars never needed weight relief, so the chambered body would likely be something done to have the guitar's tonality be in a certain place.
But these guitars from 2009 are very very unlike the first 93'-98' guitars. Anyone can see the folks at Gibson opted out on the diagonal or slanted M series bridge pickups, and the M series mini bucker pickup at the neck. Does Gibson make a bad pickup? I doubt anyone can find many persons who'll say they've ever produced a bad pickup.
One thing is for sure, the guitar consuming public, and the people at Gibson seem to all agree the Gibson Burstbucker pickups are wonderful. Gibson uses the Burstbuckers in very fine guitars, and the 2009 Limited Edition Nighthawk is another, as the bridge pickup is a Burstbucker number 3. The neck pickup is an obvious P90.
These tops on these guitars are AAA grade maple. These are the kinds of maple caps Paul Reed Smith would rate as ten tops. All hardware on the Gibson Nighthawk guitar is chrome including Kluson tuners and a fixed Tune-o-matic bridge with a stopbar tailpiece. comes with a special Limited Run Series certificate of authenticity and a black hardshell case with white interior and silkscreened Gibson USA logo.
- Style: Contoured single-cutaway
- Top: AAA Maple
- Body: Bound mahogany
- Neck: Set mahogany
- Scale length: 24-3/4"
- Neck profile: '60s thin
- Fingerboard: Rosewood
- Fingerboard radius: 12"
- No. of frets: 22
- Nut width: 1.69"
- Neck pickup: P-90 single-coil
- Bridge pickup: BurstBucker 3 humbucker
- Controls: Volume, Volume, Tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector
- Hardware: Chrome
- Tuners: Kluson
- Bridge: Tune-O-Matic
- Tailpiece: Stopbar
- Finish: Lacquer
- Case: Hardshell
- Other: Certificate of Authenticity.
In 2010 Gibson again made significant changes to its Nighthawk guitars. The limited run of 2010 guitars would feature the spectacular beauty of quilted maple tops. Some persons surely prefer the visual aesthetic provided by flame maple, or even spalted maple. The entire visual glory of maple is based in its many manner of figuring, myself, I most love the quilted maple.
One can also easily see Gibson saw fit to include the middle blade pickup once again. The bridge pickup is a Burstbucker number 2, and the neck pickup a Burstbucker number 1. There is coil splitting here as well, so with this guitars Fender scale length, two split coil humbuckers and a single coil, you have a total of 9 pickup combinations for tonal diversity.
Gibson luthiers have labored to create an exquisite-looking guitar. A quilted maple top with a light black stain to make the grain pop, poplar body, '60s Slim Taper neck, rosewood fingerboard, and deluxe details such as gold hardware combine to once again make the Nighthawk a true collector' item. And again Gibson went back to the string-through bridge.
- Nighthawk body style
- Poplar body
- Quilted maple top with light black stain
- Set maple neck
- '60s Slim Taper neck profile
- Rosewood fretboard
- 22 frets
- Gibson BurstBucker 2 bridge pickup
- Gibson Blade single-coil middle pickup
- Gibson BurstBucker 1 neck pickup
- 5-way pickup selector
- 1 Volume/1 Tone control
- Green key tuners
- Gold hardware
Gibson Nighthawk Standard 2010 limited edition
In 2011 Gibson make a lot more Nighthawk guitars which were virtually identical to the 2010 versions. And then also in 2011 Gibson produced a Nighthawk Studio guitar which was very much different. The 2011 Nighthawk Studio guitar did not have a poplar body or a maple top, but instead had a body entirely of mahogany.
The pickups were Burstbuckers. The BurstBucker 2 in the bridge position is a humbucking pickup wound in the range of Gibson's '57 Classic for replica sound. It has unpolished magnets and non-potted coils, just like the original. The BurstBucker 2 is slightly hotter than the BurstBucker 1 in the neck position
These pickups are coil split pickups, but here a push-pull pot is used to split coils, and the blade switch is a more typical three way blade switch. The fretboard of these guitars are of baked maple. For all the world the images, every last one I've seen, appear to show a rosewood fingerboard. Gibson's own website, Reverb, Musician's Friend, and others assure me the fingerboard is in fact, baked maple. The baked maple mimics ebony in providing some tonal snap.
- Handcrafted in Nashville, TN USA
- Body:Solid Mahogany (White Binding)
- Neck: Genuine Mahogany
- Fingerboard: Baked Maple (White Binding)
- Hardware: Chrome, Vintage Style Tuners
- Electronics: BurstBucker 1/BurstBucker 2
- One master volume, one master tone push/pull tapped to both pickups
- Case: Gibson Deluxe Gig Bag
Gibson Nighthawk Studio demo
For 2013 Gibson reverted back to the original Nighthawk designs. The Nighthawk has proved itself a sort of cult classic insofar as guitars go. It never has become a top seller, but demand never faded enough for Gibson to stop making new Nighthawks either.
A high-gloss nitrocellulose finish over a gorgeous figured Grade-AAA maple top, deluxe split parallelogram fingerboard inlays, gold-hardware, and a truss-rod cover hot-stamped in gold with ‘Nighthawk 20th Anniversary’ make this the gorgeous reissue guitar for fans who loved the original designs from the 90s.
Gibson 20th Anniversary Nighthawk Standard Guitar Features
- Mahogany body with figured Grade-AAA maple top
- Mahogany neck with comfortable rounded profile
- Rosewood fingerboard with split parallelogram inlays
- Mini-Humbucker in the neck, a NSX Nighthawk Single-Coil in the middle and a Nighthawk Lead Humbucker in the bridge position
- Vintage-style ‘Gibson Deluxe’ tuners with 14:1 ratio
- Case: Hardshell Limited Edition
In 2013 Gibson also produced the Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard. Nancy Wilson, of course, is the fabulous guitar playing sister from the rock and roll band, Heart. This is also a throwback to the original run of Nighthawk guitars, which always were available with or without the center single coil pickup.
The Nancy Wilson guitar does have a custom finish. These guitars go for just over a thousand bucks. Other specifications are as follows.
Gibson Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard Features
- Mahogany body with highly figured Grade-AAA maple top
- Mahogany neck with comfortably rounded profile
- Bound rosewood fingerboard with parallelogram inlays
- Split-coil Nighthawk Mini-Humbucker and Nighthawk Lead Humbucker pickups in the neck and bridge positions
- Gold-plated Nighthawk string-through bridge
- Vintage-style ‘Gibson Deluxe’ tuners with 14:1 tuning ratio
- Case included
Gibson Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard
© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw