The Gibson RD series solid body electric guitars were launched in 1977. Distinguished by its active electronics (RD is the abbreviation for "research and development"), they were designed to appeal to those interested in synthesizers as well as guitars. An "unhappy marriage of traditional and modern design", the series was unsuccessful, though the concept of the RD was continued for a while in the Les Paul Artist series.
The RD series (guitar and bass) was the result of Gibson's desire to tap into the developing synthesizer market, which was thought to have taken customers away from guitars. The series had a longer scale (25½" as opposed to the more usual 24¾"; the bass guitar in the series had a 34½" scale), a maple body shaped somewhat like Gibson's Firebird and Explorer, and state-of-the-art pre-amplified (active) electronics. At the time Gibson was owned by Norlin, which also owned Moog Music. The active electronics were designed by Bob Moog, shortly before he left his own company, and included a compression and expansion circuit. Five models were made: the Standard and Standard Bass lacked the active electronics available on the Artist, Custom Artist, and Artist Bass.
- RD Artist 1977-82
The best known and top of the line RD, the Artist featured active circuitry with switchable bright mode, treble and bass boost, compression and expansion. No passive mode. The electronics consisted of a 9v battery powering a circuit board the length of the body, accessible from the back cover. Also available as a bass. The neck scale was shortened in 1979 to 24¾", a return to the standard Gibson scale used on other solid bodied guitars. The post '79 instruments are less desirable today than the original '77 Artist, which has become something of a modern classic. In recent years, RD Artists have become quite collectible among collectors and players alike.
- RD Custom 1977-79
The Custom featured active circuitry with a switchable bright mode. The electronics consisted of a 9v battery powering a circuit board smaller than the artists, but still of significant size, accessible from the back cover. No passive mode.
- RD Standard 1977-79
The Standard was passive only, with none of the circuitry of the other two models. Also available as a bass.
- RD Standard Reissues 2007/2009-11
The Standard was reissued in Silverburst only, in a limited edition of just 400 guitars, as Gibson's 48th "Guitar of the Week" series of 2007. In 2009, the Standard was reissued as a "limited run" model in Japan, available with an Ebony or Trans Amber finish. This reissue became available in the United States, as the RD Standard Exclusive, in 2011. Considerable modern changes were made to the reissued versions which made them quite different from the 1970s models; among the most notable being a mahogany body, rosewood fretboard, 24¾" neck scale, lack of the Moog electronics, and no contour on the front face of the main body wing. The 2007 model featured two Dirty Fingers pickups, whereas the 2009-11 models featured two Burstbucker Pro pickups.
- Krist Novoselic Signature RD Bass 2011-2012
The RD Standard Bass was reissued in the form of a Krist Novoselic signature model, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind album. Available with a maple body and neck in an Ebony finish, obeche fingerboard, with Seymour Duncan Bass Lines STK-J2n and STK-J2b Hot Stack pickups.
The active circuitry was not appreciated greatly; guitar players deemed the sound too harsh. Gibson, however, thought that the RD's styling was to blame for its lack of success, and applied the concept (active electronics) to the more conventional Les Paul and ES models.
The transplant of the circuitry to the regular models was started in 1979; serious redesigning to the circuitry had to be done, and more wood had to be routed from the Les Paul body, since the active electronics took up so much space. The Les Paul Artist, as it came to be known, was not a success either, and was "quietly dropped" in 1981.
- Achard, Ken (1996). The History and Development of the American Guitar. Bold Strummer. p. 130. ISBN 9780933224186.
- Bacon, Tony (2012). The Ultimate Guitar Sourcebook. Race Point. p. 127. ISBN 9781937994044.
- Bacon, Tony (2002). 50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul: Half a Century of the Greatest Electric Guitars. Hal Leonard. p. 77. ISBN 9780879307110.