When you consider their status as a last-gasp instrument made by Gibson in its waning days as a property of Norlin Industries, the ironically dubbed “Victory” series of guitars and basses had a lot going for them.
The revered brand was in trouble in large part because under Norlin, the quality of its instruments had markedly deteriorated, and most of the models introduced in the ’70s had failed in terms of market acceptance. The Victory instruments, introduced in 1981, were Norlin’s final attempt to market a line in a rapidly evolving industry. They had asymmetrical bodies made of maple and, in an aesthetic nod to the times, their cutaways were offset dramatically, with slightly-curved horns that ended in a point. The body profile made them nicely balanced and extremely comfortable to play, their headstocks had a Firebird/Thunderbird-cross silhouette, and the factory literature (and owner’s manual) noted the connection.
The guitar models were the two-pickup MV-II and the three-pickup MV-X, which had set necks and coil-tap capabilities on their humbucking pickups. The MV-II had a bound rosewood fretboard while the MV-X sported a bound ebony fretboard. Dot fretboard markers were offset toward the bass side of the neck. Scale on both was Gibson’s standard 243/4″.
It seemed apparent that Gibson very much wanted the Victory to be a viable market alternative to Fender basses, as the early ’80s models were stylistically the closest thingto a Fender that Gibson had produced up to that time. Subtle allusions included a bolt-on maple neck, a headstock with with four-on-a-side tuners, and the aforementioned cutaway horns (though the Victory’s were much more offset than those on a Fender Precision or Jazz Bass, and their inside edges were sculpted, as well).
While the body silhouette made the Victory extremely balanced, its solid maple makeup meant it was very heavy, which is a bit perplexing when you consider the failure of Gibson’s maple-bodied RD basses introduced just a few years earlier (“The Bass Space,” July ’05). It was offered in three versions, two of which – the passive single-pickup Standard and the active two-pickup Artist – were manufactured in large quantities. The passive two-pickup Custom was limited to no more than 250 instruments made from 1982 to ’84. All had a wide rosewood fretboard with 22 “complete” frets and an angled end with a partial 23rd fret that allowed access to all but the low E string, and a partial 24th fret that allowed the D and G strings to be played in a double-octave manner. Fretboards also had offset dot markers, but no neck binding. Another nod to the times was the brass nut.
The solitary angled humbucker pickup on the Standard was mounted centrally compared to its closer-to-the-neck location on the Artist and Custom models. The second humbucker on the latter two was installed at a right angle to the strings, in the bridge position.
Pickguards were standard black/white five-ply laminates with a silhouette that varied on the single-pickup model versus the two-pickup. Standard body colors included Candy Apple Red, Silver, and Antique Fireburst. The pickup selector on the Artist and Custom was a mini-toggle. Controls include Volume knobs for each pickup, and a Tone knob. An embossed, intonatable Schaller bridge/tailpiece was also standard.
Print promotion for the models included a “Thrill of Victory” ad showing a player awash in lights, brandishing a silver Artist, and endorsers included Dave Kiswiney (then of the Ted Nugent Band), along with Dave Pegg (Jethro Tull), Ralphe Armstrong (Jean Luc-Ponty), and others. When the group Asia (with guitarist Steve Howe) rose to prominence at the same time the Victory was being produced, bassist John Wetton counted on an Artist; it was the first active-electronics bass the accomplished veteran had played, and he now plays actives almost exclusively.
For all of its merits, the Victory Bass suffered the same ignominious fate as other Gibson models of the ’70s and early ’80s. Records indicate the Artist was out of the lineup by ’85, the Standard was discontinued in ’86, and the Custom was last made in ’87… which may mean the last 250 or so Customs were assembled simply to use the remaining parts. Moreover, a look through Gibson’s ’88 catalog hints that leftover Victory bodies (and other parts) figured into the creation of mid/late ’80s instruments such as the Q-80 and others.
Considering the fortunes of the Gibson company in the previous decade, it’s interesting to speculate to what extent the fate of the Victory was sealed by the time it was introduced.
This article originally appeared in VG’s December 2007 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.