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Gibson Limited Run Nighthawk 2009


Summary: After a 10 year hiatus, Gibson returns the Nighthawk to market, with a slightly different look and electronics. Make no bones about it; this guitar is SWEET!

Pros:Looking for a super-light but versatile guitar? Look no further. The Nighthawk has it all, and can do it all from swampy blues to all out RAWK! Its thinline body makes it absolutely comfortable to play, and the neck is perfect!

Cons:None.

Features:

  • 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.

Price: $1400-$1700 street

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Talk about love at first strum! The Nighthawk is like a cross between an SG and a Les Paul, and I can’t say enough about how great this guitar plays and sounds!

When I have enough time to go to my favorite shop near work, like any gear freak, I’m like a kid in a candy store; especially this little place in Redwood City, CA called Gelb Music. I’ve known the guys there for a number of years, and they’ve always steered me in the right direction. Unfortunately for me, they also know that I have a HUGE weak spot for non-mainstream gear. Such was the case when I walked into the shop today to ogle some Les Pauls. They’ve known that I’ve been jonesing for one for awhile, but they must have a sense about what appeals to me, because one of ’em will say, “Dude, those Pauls are nice, but you gotta check out this…” And in “checking it out,” I’ve since ended up with a MIM Strat, a Roland Cube 60, a Squire Classic Vibe Tele, an Ibanez GSR200 Bass and numerous pedals.

So here I was, minding my own business, admiring the Les Pauls hanging from the ceiling, when Tommy did the “dude you gotta check this out,” I told him, “Tommy, don’t do this to me. You know what happens when you do that.”

“I know, man,” he replied, “And I know you’ve been looking at the Pauls, but you gotta check this out [pulling down this gorgeous honey-colored Gibby from the hanger]. It’s the most playable f-in guitar in the shop, and dude! The tone this thing produces is incredible. Here. Check out the neck!” Handing me the guitar in the process.

I was immediately overtaken by the light weight of the guitar. If that axe weighed 6 lbs, I’d be surprised (a look at the Gibson Nighthawk site lists the average weight at 4.6 lbs). Then as I moved the guitar into a playing position, I noticed how absolutely perfect the neck is. I love that 60’s thin neck! It’s a shallow “C” with a slightly wider profile. It’s faster than all get-out, and oh so comfortable to play! But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

Fit and Finish

This is one beautiful guitar! The bookmatched figured maple top is absolutely stunning, and the transparent amber lacquer brings out the three-dimensionality of the wood grain. The high gloss of the lacquer further enhances the effect – it’s like liquid sunshine. To provide definition both body and neck are bound with a white binding.

Speaking of wood, the light mahogany is flawless and all the joints and seams are perfect.

The Nighthawk 2009 is quite a bit different from the original that came out in 1993, even though it retains the same body shape. The original seemed to be Gibson’s answer to the HSS Strat, and had a 5-way pickup selector. With this version, Gibson has gone with a BFG setup with a P-90 in the neck and an awesome BurstBucker 3 in the bridge. The pickup selector switch is now a 3-way toggle and has been moved to the upper bout like a Les Paul (which I love). The neck sports a solid mahogany base with a rosewood fretboard and medium-jumbo frets with a scale length of 24 3/4 inches – just like a Les Paul.

The hardware provides an added touch of vintage feel to the look of the guitar, from the Kluson tuners and chrome Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tail piece, to the gold top hat volume and tone knobs. Even though the Nighthawk 2009 is a limited run guitar, it’s clear that Gibson didn’t just want this to be novelty guitar where they could get away with using cheap materials. Everything about this guitar screams high-quality down to the little details. I’m impressed!

In fact, at a distance, you might easily mistake this guitar for a different Les Paul model. I certainly did when I saw Billy Joel in concert. His guitarist was slinging this gorgeous Gibson that looked like a Les Paul. But it kind of confused me with its body shape and three knob setup. I kept on wondering, “Did Gibson create a new model Les Paul?” I’ve since been corrected.

Playability

There’s one word that comes to mind when I play this guitar: Comfortable. My favorite guitars have always been those that sound, play, and feel comfortable, and the Nighthawk is all about comfort. The 60’s thinline neck with wide profile is so easy to play. I found myself not worrying at all about where my fingers were and just playing. The action is low and fretting notes is so easy. But with the medium-jumbo frets, wiggling your fingers creates some very nice vibrato without even bending the strings! The pickups are in the perfect place for where I strum, which is right between them, so no chance of banging my finger on a pickup in a hard strum as well.

To me, this is a player’s guitar. I know that some people have complained that it doesn’t faithfully reproduce the original. But I believe that the original was just too quirky and didn’t really have player ergonomics in mind. For instance, the pickup selector switch. I dig that it’s in the classic Gibson position. It is so much more accessible – I don’t even have to look to switch pickups.

The Les Paul scale length on the Nighthawk makes bending – even the slightly brittle shop strings which I will replace today – a breeze. The setup is perfect and there’s nary a string that frets out or dulls. Like I said, this is a player’s guitar.

How It Sounds

Gibson states, “Today‚Äôs version is still all about a guitarist keeping his options open. With two volume controls, a master tone knob and two heavy-duty pickups, guitarists can experiment with endless sounds.” In other words, the Nighthawk is all about tonal diversity, capable of producing super-smooth and sexy cleans to all out snarling dog drive. I’ve played the guitar a little less than a couple of hours, and I’m absolutely blown away by the tones this guitar produces.

The big surprise is the P-90 in the neck. I was expecting it to be bright, but it’s thick and ballsy, with a real emphasis on the lower mids. It might get lost in the mix when played dirty, but the cleans is where this pickup really stands out. The voicing is creamy smooth, and very acoustic sounding.

The treble pickup is classic Les Paul, but just a tad darker which I absolutely love! The Burstbucker 3 produces a rich tone that’s full of harmonics and overtones, without being overly bright.

But the real magic comes in mixing the two pickups in the middle position. Holy crap!!! Talk about tonal complexity! The guys at the shop said that the middle position was their favorite, and I now see why. I immediately fell in love using this setting.

As far as volume balance is concerned, both pickups put out about the same volume, so there’s not this big gain boost when you switch to the treble pickup like you’d get from a Les Paul. I’m thinking Gibson did this to emphasize using the middle position, and blending the pickups together. Nice.

In any case, I got ambitious and put some sound clips together:

Neck Pickup

Clean

Dirty Lead

Rock Rhythm

Both Pickups

Clean

Dirty Lead

Rock Rhythm

Treble Pickup

Clean

Dirty Lead

Rock Rhythm

All clips were played with the Nighthawk (with both volume knobs set at about 7 and tone at 10) plugged straight into my Aracom VRX22 which then ran into my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator then out to a 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N. I used a Sennheiser e609 instrument mic, and recorded directly into GarageBand with no volume leveling.

Overall Impressions

I’m still getting acquainted with this axe, but with all the tones that it can produce, I can easily see it becoming my go-to axe, and it isn’t just initial infatuation speaking. This guitar – at least to me – is so sexy from its looks to its sounds! If you get a chance to play one, you’ll see what I mean.

As a limited run, there are not many out there. In fact, some online stores no longer carry them. But you can still find some at online retailers, and if you’re lucky, your local shop will have one. Give it a try!

For more information, please check out the Nighthawk site!

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