Esoterica: Reimagining the ’Bird

February 2013
Harvey Citron
CF1Download File

My unusual take on guitar design has to do with my background. I started playing guitar at age 11, have always tinkered with wood, and have built things since I was a kid. I had technical training in high school (drafting, machine shop, etc.) and went on to graduate college with a degree in architecture. As a result, I am a designer first, a craftsman second. Give me a physical problem, I’ll solve it. I was never into doing what had been done before unless I could improve it in some way.

One of the guitars I’ve always been enamored with is the Gibson Firebird— the cool look, the rich tone. When I picked one up, however, I was no longer completely enchanted. It’s neck-heavy and you have to reach a long way to get to the first fret. I thought I could improve it.

I borrowed a Firebird from a friend, and traced it. I also used tracings of both a Fender Stratocaster (probably one of the most comfortable electric guitars ever invented) and a Fender Telecaster. With one tracing placed over the other so I could see all three of the shapes at the same time, with the fingerboard locations being constant, I could see in an instant what was going on. The strap pin location closest to the neck on the body of the Firebird creates the relationship between the neck and your body when the instrument is on a strap, while the waist on the lower part of the body creates that relationship while the guitar is sitting on your knee. With another piece of tracing paper placed over all three drawings, I started sketching, bringing the neck further and further into the body, making the body a bit smaller until it all seemed right, all the while still paying homage to the shape of the Firebird. I decided to put several twists into the design, including a bolt-on neck, a 25.5″ scale, and a Tele-style bridge. The 25.5″ scale brought the bridge further back on the body, which was a good thing. I built the first guitar out of Honduras mahogany with a qulted maple top. The neck was a three-piece lamination of mahogany/hard rock maple/mahogany (mahogany for warmth; maple for the stiffness, brightness, and punch), and an ebony fretboard. I also decided to make the body 15/8″ thick, which is a bit thin for a bolt-on. In the ’60’s, one of my favorite guitars was a Tele modified to have a humbucker in the neck position, so I decided to use that combination in this design. However, I sometimes use one of my humbuckers in the bridge position.

Initially, I set out to improve the balance, comfort, and playability of an old standard, the Firebird—but I ended up going a little farther, and the resulting Citron CF1 model turned out to be a really cool, comfortable, great sounding guitar that is a hoot to play.

A New Twist On Pickups

Pickups are something I’ve been playing around with since the 1970s. I used to make what I called a staged pickup, which was a humbucker that had taps in several places on each coil. That allowed me to bridge with a micro switch across either two or three points to have each pickup behave as two or three different humbucking pickups. Each stage had more wire on it, which made the volume, bass response, and midrange increase progressively. At one point I tried making a two-stage pickup using two different gauges of wire. Combining the two gauges is kind of like using herbs in a recipe—it changes the flavor. Each wire gauge has its own intrinsic tone for a given number of turns. I decided I liked the sound of the combination the best, so that is what I have been experimenting with at Citron. I call these pickups custom blended. On the CF1, the neck pickup has two gauges of wire, and if I’m using a Tele-style pickup in the bridge, I’ll use three gauges. In order for the pickups to balance the bridge pickup needs to be hotter, because there is so much less string movement in that location.

Harvey Citron has been designing and building guitars since 1974, and has been involved with GP almost since its inception.