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Elliot Easton and Gibson Guitars

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Elliot Easton on stage with his signature Gibson SG.

Elliot Easton on stage with his signature Gibson SG.

The Cars - Merging Punk and Pop

I'm a 1974 model human, and I was born into a family where music was always either being played by someone with an instrument, or was being listened to from the radio. Then there were the old school vinyl records, eight tracks, and later on, cassette tapes. I remember very clearly the stuff FM radio was playing in heavy rotation in the late 1970s, and all throughout the 1980s.

The past is something I often recall fondly. I'm an extreme lover of nostalgia, especially in music. There isn't much denying, how, for a time The Cars were pretty dominant on both FM radio, and in the brand new music video format. The guitarist for that top selling pop rock act was Elliot Easton.

At the forefront of merging guitar rock of the 70s with synthesizer pop of the 80s, The Cars also incorporated punk rock's minimalism. Last year in 2018, The Cars were introduced into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They've sold over twenty three million records in the United States alone.

Looking back at it all we can see there were two clear and divergent paths rock bands were making around the time The Cars came into prominence. One path involved the rising cacophony of sound from fretboard taping, whammy bar dive bombing, massive distortion, and incipient shredding. That would be the path of the Van Halen and hair metal glam bands, and then there was the much more sedate, refined, and especially well chosen guitar sounds, of persons like Elliot Easton, and The Cars.

Elliot Easton on stage with his signature Gibson 'Tikibird' Firebird.

Elliot Easton on stage with his signature Gibson 'Tikibird' Firebird.

Gibson Guitars and Elliot Easton

Elliot Steinberg, professionally known as Elliot Easton, was born in Brooklyn, in the year 1953. His melodic guitar solos were always a focal point of every hit song by The Cars, but these were the types of solos one could just about sing along with. He was not interested at all in pyrotechnic displays of fretboard fury.

Elliot is a learned musician. He's a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, in Boston. After the end of The Cars, Easton showed his diverse guitar skills by playing in the roots rock band, Credence Clearwater Revisited. Later on he'd play in the spin off of The Cars, the New Cars.

There's little doubt, however, that Mr. Easton's most memorable and profitable work came with The Cars. Oh the bubblegum pop, teen dream, magazine era must have been wonderful for him. I've got nothing but fond memories of the music, and with six million of the debut albums sold, I'm sure Mr. Easton feels quite tight about it too.

Like a huge lot of other major guitarists of the past fifty or so years, and up to the current day, Mr. Easton uses both Gibson and Fender style guitars, and often. Our purposes for this page, however, are to take a look at the two different Gibson Elliot Easton guitars.

Gibson Custom Elliot Easton SG shown in Pelham Blue, and left handed variety.

Gibson Custom Elliot Easton SG shown in Pelham Blue, and left handed variety.

The Gibson Elliot Easton SG

Now the Gibson Elliot Easton SG guitars come in two colors, there is the white one with gold color hardware, and the Pelham blue version with nickle hardware. I chose to display the blue one simple because I prefer that color. The guitars are the same except for the color of the body's finish, and the color of the hardware.

You should also notice I'm showing here a left handed Pelham blue Elliot Easton SG. Mr. Easton is absolutely a left handed guitarist, and as is usual, some of the guitars are produced in left handed orientation. The majority of the Easton guitars are right handed, as the majority of guitar players are right handed. This is exactly as things should be.

These guitars are Gibson SG Custom guitars, and furthermore, they are produced by Gibson Custom Shop. So there is an issue here with nomenclature I'd wish to dispense with. I do not wish to refer to these as Gibson Custom Elliot Easton SG Custom guitars, although that would be the most proper title. I'm going to only refer to them as Gibson Elliot Easton SGs.

Elliot talks about these guitars as being great in and of themselves. He didn't want attention drawn to him, personally, with their construction. That's the kind of admiration for instruments I have as well. I certainly admire the artist, but it's the guitars themselves I really love.

Structural integrity is another thing Easton talks about. Not having a middle pickup on an SG truly makes the guitar more structurally sound, and more wood, for less having been routed out, allows the guitar to produce more sound as well. Easton's signature is found on the truss rod cover of these instruments.

The pickups on these are the terrific Gibson 57' Classics. What was significant about 1957 and Gibson pickups? 1957 was the year Seth Lover created the PAF humbuckers, and the entire world of music lovers has heard and loved, at some point, or every single day, been driven to joy by the sounds those pickups produce.

These Alnico II magnet pups are as good as it gets. The amount of expression you can get from these passive humbuckers is near to endless. It's possible that today's Gibson 57' Classics are superior to the originals, as in 1957 Gibson used the same pickup in the neck and the bridge positions. Today they're designed specifically to be in either the neck or the bridge position.

There is a Gibson Deluxe Vibrola with a tiki man engraved on the cover. Easton says he doesn't even use the thing, but felt it needed to be on the guitar simply because it was period correct.

Gibson Custom Shop Elliot Easton SG Custom features

Gibson Custom Shop Elliot Easton SG Custom features:

  • Solid Mahogany neck and body for that classic Gibson hard rock sound
  • .880" Neck profile at the nut, flattening out to 940" at the 12th fret
  • Ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays
  • 24.75" Scale Length with 22 frets.
  • ’57 Classic Humbucker Pickups
  • 2 Volume and 2 tone controls, and 3 way pickup selector switch
  • ABR-1 Bridge with Tiki Maestro Tailpiece
  • Kluson Tuners
  • Black Top Hat Knobs with Silver Inserts
  • Nickel Hardware
Gibson Elliot Easton "Tikibird" Firebird

Gibson Elliot Easton "Tikibird" Firebird

Gibson Elliot Easton "Tikibird" Firebird

The Gibson Firebird is a very very different guitar from a Gibson SG, or a Gibson Les Paul. The Firebird always has a different sort of tonal character, but much more than that, the Firebird just feels differently from other classic Gibson solid body electric guitars. When you hold one you easily feel the different nature.

The head-stock of these guitars is very atypical for Gibson, and you either love it or you just don't. The long head-stock will in and of itself cause you to feel as though the Firebird is especially long in length, especially if you're used to playing just about any other Gibson, with the classic Gibson head-stock.

This long head-stock on the Gibson Firebird could cause some persons to believe they were holding a longer scale length guitar in their hands. Maybe the thing has a Fender length of scale? No, this is not the case at all, the Gibson Firebird has that classic Gibson 24.75" length of scale, which is one of the hallmarks of the brand.

Like the Gibson SG, this Firebird is all mahogany. The body of this Firebird is specifically a reverse Firebird body, of the 1963 vintage persuasion. The head-stock and the body are the first things you notice when looking at a Firebird, but were you to pick one up and hold it, the thing you would notice the most is the neck joint.

There is no neck joint. The Firebird is a neck-through design. What does this mean? What we're talking about is the neck is of the same piece of wood as the center of the body, so there is no neck joint. The top and the bottom of the body are mahogany 'wings,' if you will, which are glued to the center piece, which is also the neck.

I'm hoping that was understandable. The neck-through design and the general body design of the Firebird are such that one can feel very much at ease playing all the way up the neck, and with access to all 22 frets.

Like the Elliot Easton SG, the Tikibird Firebird also sports two Gibson 57' Classic humbuckers, but the Tikibird has more advanced controls than does the SG, as the bird is equipped with coil splitting, and phase reversal via Gibson's True Bypass switching.

Per Easton's request, a genuine Bigsby vibrato is modified with a Vibramate Spoiler string loader to save you from the hassle of restringing this beloved whammy bar. Its TonePros tune-o-matic locks down tight for enhanced resonance and sustain, with nylon saddles to avoid string hitches during Bigsby use. Super-efficient Steinberger gearless tuners give you the smoothest tune-up without spoiling the radical lines of its headstock. The traditional Firebird truss rod cover has a gold Gibson logo hot-stamped on it, while the custom multi-ply white plastic pickguard features a hot-stamped Tiki graphic.

Gibson Elliot Easton "Tikibird" Firebird features

Gibson Elliot Easton 'Tikibird' Firebird features:

  • Solid mahogany body with gold mist poly finish
  • Multi piece mahogany neck with slim and fast Firebird profile
  • HH pickup configuration with '57 Classic humbuckers
  • Tone Pros tune-o-matic bridge and Bigsby vibrato with Vibramate Spoiler string loader
  • Steinberger gearless tuners with 40:1 tuning ratio
  • Elliot Easton signature on back of the head-stock
  • Gibson USA hardshell case
The Cars in 1978- Left to right: Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, Ric Ocasek, David Robinson, and Benjamin Orr.

The Cars in 1978- Left to right: Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, Ric Ocasek, David Robinson, and Benjamin Orr.

Elliot Easton, Focused and Melodic Guitarist

Elliot Easton has been playing the guitar so long he doesn't remember not being a guitar player. He says he recalls his earliest toys, as a 3 year old, being toy guitars, even. It seems clear this is a guy who was born to play, and Elliot reports liking guitar music from just about any genre you can name, from singing cowboys to jazz.

A highly melodic guitarist, Easton's the kind of person musicians with refined tastes appreciate, and over on Twitter, legends like Steve Lukather will talk at length about how fantastic Easton's work is, and how his soloing has the sort of quality that one could just almost sing his guitar solos, were the notes words.

Elliot Easton's guitar playing is very very focused. Before there was a band known as The Cars, Easton had been in a band with some of the same persons, and they were told by a producer how very out of focus they were. They tried to be a blues rock band at times, they tried to be a jam band at times, and sometimes they tried to be a pop rock band. They were told they needed to be more focused. Well, they certainly focused on being hit makers, and Easton's playing never has a note which doesn't say something powerful.

He must have been under some real peer pressure to play some Van Halen type fancy stuff. The Cars, however, sold 23 million records, and Elliot Easton is worth an estimated 20 million dollars. That's much more than all but a very few of the shredders ever got in measurable success. Easton never once wasted a note.

Have a listen to The Cars Greatest Hits, and there's a massive lesson for you in focused guitar playing. The kind of playing meant to serve the song, and even persons who would never be able to tune a guitar are often familiar with the solos. They can feel them in their fond memories of the 1980s. Those great songs and great memories just wouldn't exist without Elliot Easton. Thanks for reading.

© 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 02, 2019:

Thanks Liz. I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I felt like it was pretty decent. I'll watch it again sometime.

I noticed when reading about record sales for The Cars, that the term 'worldwide' wasn't used, and only domestic sales were discussed. I kinda inferred they were mostly an 'over here' sort of hit band.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 02, 2019:

The days of vinyl and cassettes seem a while ago now. Though vinyl is making a little of a nostalgic comeback. I was thrown back recently to the 80s and earlier by watching the "Bohemian Rhapsody" film about Freddy Mercury. Being from the other side of the pond, I don't have clear memories of the Cars. Having read your detailed and interesting article, I need to look into them further.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 01, 2019:

Thanks Kaili! - I LOVE your name, by the way.

The joke was that even though The Cars had a lot of hits on the later albums, they could have just named their first album 'Greatest Hits.'

Kaili Bisson from Canada on April 01, 2019:

Really informative hub and I learned much I didn't know about Elliot. The Cars were a great band, their sound was so unique at the time. There were enough "shredders" around. Loved these guys and listened to their first LP endlessly.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 01, 2019:

Hey thanks, James. Also, just thanks for spending more time on Hubpages. I've always thought you were one of the best content creators on the entire website, and this place absolutely needs that talent, but more than that, the conservative and Christian influence.

I see you got a look at some of the horror-show in the forums. I simply get too angry to participate there much.

I was listening to some of the White Summer Band the other day when I read about the passing of your guitarist friend. And Yes Sir, he certainly did sound terrific.

I don't have anything remotely like those kinds of ears. No matter what I do, when I try to tune a guitar by ear, it winds up at least a half to whole step flat. So I'll tune it, and then I'll go, 'no, now tune it up a half step' - so I'll do that, but also by ear.

When I check it with a tuner, it's always still about a half to whole step flat. LOL.

James A Watkins from Chicago on March 31, 2019:

Excellent Hub. When my band made our first record it was recorded in Kalamazoo right next door to Gibson at Uncle Dirty's Sound Machine. And who wandered into the control booth and listened to me and the boys play for about an hour? Les Paul!

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