Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Gearhead: Introducing the Gibson Theodore

A lost-in-time electric guitar design makes its debut at last

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
The Gibson Theodore
The Gibson Theodore, from 1957 sketch to 2022 reality

Unless you’re a certified guitar nerd, the name Ted McCarty (1909-2001) probably means nothing to you. But no matter who you are, there’s little doubt that you’re familiar on some level with his work. As president of Gibson from 1950 to 1966, he helped develop a series of electric guitars that have become classics of American instrument design, including the ES-335, the Les Paul, the SG, the Firebird, the Flying V, and the Explorer.

Interestingly, like his fellow innovator and rival Leo Fender, McCarty wasn’t a guitarist himself. He was, however, an inveterate doodler, known for drawing sketches of instruments to keep his mind focused during phone calls and long, boring business meetings. Every once in a while, these spur-of-the-moment sketches turned into something more.

That seems to have been the case with one drawing in the Gibson archives—signed with McCarty’s initials and dated March 18, 1957—of an electric guitar with a body shape reminiscent of a small tulip. Having evolved well past the doodle stage, it contains fairly detailed notes about specs: how long the neck should be, what type of wood to use for the body, instructions on fingerboard inlays and binding. 

When this drawing was made, McCarty was rethinking his company’s entire electric guitar line. Although it had earned some style points with the solid-body, single-cutaway Les Paul, Gibson was still commonly associated with acoustic guitars and hollow or semi-hollow archtop models like the L-5 and the ES-175, which now seemed pretty old-fashioned when put next to Fender’s curvy new Stratocaster. McCarty wanted to push Gibson’s visual sensibilities forward, and he would soon do so with the futuristic Flying V and Explorer, both of which were introduced in 1958. (Another daring design from this period, the Moderne, wasn’t put into production until 1982.)

Advertisement
Advertisement

His drawing of March 18 didn’t have quite as radical a look as those instruments, which may have something to do with why it never went any further, not even reaching the prototype stage. But interesting old ideas have a funny way of getting rediscovered. On March 18, 2022, exactly 65 years after McCarty put pencil to paper, Gibson introduced a real wood-and-strings version of his long-forgotten design, the first entry in its newly launched Gibson Archive Collection. With a nod to McCarty’s full first name, it’s called the Theodore.

The Certificate of Authenticity booklet with a photo of Ted McCarty - The Gibson Theodore
The Certificate of Authenticity booklet with a photo of Ted McCarty

Lightweight and armed with a pair of P-90 pickups, the Theodore has—as specified in the original sketch—an alder body in either natural, cherry, or ebony finish with double Florentine cutaways and a walnut center strip, as well as a “scimitar” headstock similar to that of the Explorer. According to Gibson, only 318 of these guitars have been made (3/18, geddit?). Each Theodore comes with a vintage-style hardshell case, brown on the outside and pink on the inside, along with a leather strap, a print of the McCarty sketch, a 1957-style catalog print, and a Certificate of Authenticity booklet. This unusual piece of alternative history can be yours for $4,999 (MSRP). 

Continue scrolling to learn about more instruments and equipment.

Originally Published
Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.