My 1979 Gibson RD-Artist


Wow, is all that I have to say about this baby! It has a rounded like Gibson Explorer or Firebird body that is as heavy as a tank, seriously, come over and lift the thing! It has the wide neck with 22 frets that I love and has a great straight forward sound. It was one of the original guitars that had built in compression in it, oooooooohhh! When I got the balls as a high school kid, I took off the plastic cover that exposed it’s internal workings. It looked to me as the internal workings of a space ship. Opps, better not touch anything in there!

So my parents bought this guitar at Steve’s Music in Toronto. With me in tow, I tried out many guitars after getting over how many axes there was in this place. It was a toss up really between the RD and a Gibson ES-335, which is comparable to to RD if you read the WHOLE article below. I think that the main reason that I bought the RD was because it looked REALLY COOL! It still does.

Now for some boring technical reading, everyone comfortable yet?

Some time ago when the Gibson M-III was introduced to much fanfare, a lot of people could be overheard expressing awe at the possibilities of the switching system. But, as we’ve seen, this is only the latest example of Gibson’s long infatuation with complex switches. While the Les Paul Recording remains my personal favorite, it’s followed quickly by the often insulted RD Artist, occasionally referred to as the “Research & Development” Artist.

The RD line was originally conceived in 1975, officially introduced in 1977 and ultimately discontinued in 1982. The RD series was essentially Gibson’s response to the emerging success of companies like Alembic and B.C. Rich, which specialized in lots of switches with fancy electronic options. It’s curious to note that a Norlin subsidiary, the distributor L.D. Heater, of Portland, OR, handled B.C. Rich as well as Gibson guitars in the early ’70s. Early B.C. Riches used Gibson humbuckers obtained through L.D. Heater until Gibson found out. B.C. Rich switched to Guild and then DiMarzio pickups and took over its own distribution shortly thereafter. Maybe the RD was Gibson’s revenge?…

To execute this design, Gibson employed Robert Moog, of Moog synthesizer fame, and the man behind the last mach of the Gibson Maestro effects of that very same era.

The RD series was, admittedly, a little demented. First of all, its shape is sort of a retread Reverse Firebird, maybe the offspring of mating with a Guild Thunderbird (one which unfortunately didn’t inherit the built-in stand!). The maple body is comfortably contoured, though, and the neck solidly glued on for an overall pretty nice feeling guitar, sort of like an SG. Put a pillowcase over the body and you can get down with this baby.

The RD Artist was the top-of-the-line, with an unbound ebony fingerboard (the catalog said bound ‘board, but most if not all were not bound), block inlays, gold hardware, fancy bound pearl inlaid headstock and more comprehensive active features activated by a second large toggle switch. Pickups were two Gibson Series VI humbuckers with a threeway select, two volume controls, individual treble and bass tone controls, and a built-in preamp circuit with compression/expansion and bright/lead functions.

Unfortunately, Moog and Gibson didn’t just settle for a simple preamp switch like the B.C. Rich. Instead, we get another complex switching system on the Artist models. Here’s the skinny; bear with me.

The threeway pickup select and individual treble and bass tone controls are pretty clear and a very nice feature on any guitar. In the center position, the second threeway toggle switch is in neutral, making the guitar active but without the special circuits. In the forward position, the switch activates a bright/lead function which accentuates the treble frequencies. This works for both pickups.

In the back position, the active switch turns on a compression/expansion circuit. The compression function operates on the neck pickup only and reduces the fundamental attack time and “compresses” each note into a longer sustaining signal. In this mode, the output remains stable no matter how hard you play.

The expansion function (we haven’t moved the second toggle yet) operates on the bridge pickup only and “permits the player to play harder and louder without the note collapsing. Expansion offers a very fast, explosive response with a rapid decay,” says the Gibson literature.

Of course, either function works in the middle pickup selector position, too.

To read the full article go to Vintage Guitar Magazine and, look 1/2 way down the page. I too have just learned something as well!

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Google Plus
  • Google
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS


  1. jrmsher says

    The RD Artist’s volumn knobs are at normal in middle position. If anyone has new volumn knobs on their used RD and wonder why they can’t get a normal sound out of the thing that’s why, your volumns at +5 not 10. Which is confusing, so I guess if you play your RD at 10 you’re actually playing at 15 or something like that. Eat your heart out Spinal Tap.

  2. Ron says

    Nice article! I too own a Gibson RD Artist and can attest to the weight – it’s comparable to my LP mahogany custom! Beautiful sound though.

  3. says

    I just LOVE IT jrmsher!!! I’m not sure everyone who owns one is aware of that one. Very interesting … some might say!

    Thanx for the your post buddy!

    Keep on Jammin’

  4. Pavo says

    I have bought one back in 1979. Played until 1985. During agression on Dubrovnik (Croatia) my house have been burnt as well as my rd artist bass.
    6 months ago band from 70’s asked me to play again. I’ve bought Gibson RD artist bass again because there is no guitar in this world which can give you sound as this “baby”. I love her and I never complaine how heavy she is. I am happy to carry that weight.

  5. says

    That’s honestly really sad to here about your problems in your homeland Pavo. All of us here hope that no one will have to go through what you and your country men and women went through.

    It’s a great story to hear and my I be one of the first to welcome you back into the Gibson RD-artists family!!! Do you have a picture of your new baby? If you have one of your old one and new one handy, then I’ll post it on this post for all to see!

    Keep on Jammin’ Pavo

  6. Gibson Guitars says

    jrmsher beat me to the Spinal Tap reference, but I’m still going to use it anyway. Play your RD @ 6 so you are actually turning it up to 11! Anyway, congrats on the new guitar. The jealousy flows mightily :)

  7. says

    This baby is not that new there Gibson Guitars! I got the thing in 1979!

    And YES. this is a guitar to be jealous about!

    Keep on Jammin’

  8. Pavo says

    Chris, I am so sorry I haven’t noticed your comment until today. Would like to send you photographs of my RD artist bass. E-mail address?
    Greetings from Dubrovnik, Croatia.

  9. Charlene says

    I am still a very proud owner of this beautiful guitar. I bought her brand spankin new in 1979 right out of the glass show case.
    Yes, she is a lil heavy but I can jam on her for hours on end standing up. She is also so very well balanced,which makes her quite comfortable and oh how I love her sound (that’s why I bought her.) She is still an ebony beauty!!!
    Charlene from MI.

  10. says

    Charlene, I’m so happy to her that you are still jammin’ with you musical soul mate after all these years just like I am!

    Vive la RD!!!

  11. Marty says

    My Mom purchased my 1979 RD Artist as a graduation present from high school. I had been borrowing a neighbor’s 1972 Les Paul at the time and was playing in a few garage bands and really wanted a Les Paul but the salesman must have thought my Mom was an easy mark and an opportunity to sell what (at the time) was a somewhat unpopular, albeit misunderstood instrument. The RD has stayed with me and I now own 14 guitars and funny thing is, I NEVER owned a Les Paul! I love the RD. Takes some getting used to and lots of notes in my case over the years diagramming switch positions, amp switches, foot pedal positions, etc. Without a thorough understanding and experimentation as to what sound is going to emanate from this thing, one could be overwhelmed and eventually frustrated. With patience however, and patient band members as well)

  12. says

    Wow, nice comment Marty. I love how you had to do 2 instalments for your comment(s), your the very first to do so my Gibson RD-Artist friend!

    Is it just me Marty or is the RD one heavy S.O.B.!

  13. BJ Brown says

    Hello, I have a 1978 or 80 RD artist…black with gold hardware. Years ago a friend of mine removed the circuit board and wired it as a 4 knob standard les paul…….I am wanting to find a replacement board and get it back to its original state…any help as to where to start this journey for parts would be great….need the circuit boards, 3 toggle switches and that’s it.

  14. Mitchell says

    I use a79 rd artist I bought second hand in nice shape around 1999. What a weird and magical guitar. I knew it was for me from my first strum in the shop with no amp. rings like a bell. Amplified it’s from another planet. took me a couple years to really be at peace with the crazy switching and active tone controls. It’s always tuned to open slack chords as it’s a little tough to play tuned standard. I’ve created many original songs that I’m sure were only possible because of this instrument. I use it so much that it’s had a complete refret and ready for an other. The only guitar i own that I have not modified. Its also time to replace the moog switch and have no idea where to get one. May have to have one fabricated for me or something.