The Byrdland is the first of Gibson's Thinline series. Many guitarists did not desire the bulk of a traditional archtop guitar such as Gibson's L-5, one of Gibson's top models. The Byrdland, with its overall depth of 2¼-in, is thinner than the L-5's 3⅜" depth. Gibson's president, Ted McCarty, sought opinions and ideas about new products. The suggestions from Byrd and Garland led to the development of the Byrdland. The Byrdland, first made in 1955, is essentially a custom built, thinner, L-5CES (Cutaway-Electric-Spanish). Later, the two specified a shorter scale neck. Guitarists who had an opportunity to play Gibson samples liked the Byrdland's short scale neck (23½"), which facilitated intricate single-note patterns and unusual stretched chord voicings. The Byrdland then became a regular production instrument. Gibson developed the ES-350T from the Byrdland using less-costly hardware and detailing, and offered it as a less expensive model.
From 1955 to 1960, Gibson made the Byrdland with a Venetian, or rounded, cutaway. The illustration shows the Venetian style. From 1961 to 1968, it used the sharp, pointed, Florentine cutaway. It returned to the Venetian in 1969. The model was in production from 1955 through 1969. Gibson reintroduced it as a limited run in 1977, 1978 and 1992.
In the mid-1960s, guitarist Ted Nugent began using a Byrdland, which was unusual considering Nugent's style of music. The hollow-bodied design of the guitar caused feedback at higher levels of gain and volume, making it impractical for hard rock and similar styles. Nugent, however, controlled this feedback and incorporated it into his playing and as a result, it has become part of his signature sound. Nugent gives his Byrdlands, and other Gibsons, a custom touch by removing the stock pickup selector switch knobs and installing Gretsch strap-lock knobs. Other famous Byrdland players are John McLaughlin, Anthony Wilson, Louie Shelton, BB King, David T. Walker and James Blood Ulmer.
The guitar is currently available as part of Gibson's Custom series and is made with the Florentine cutaway. In 1976 only, Gibson offered a twelve-string version, but made fewer than 20.
The famous jazz club, Birdland, filed a lawsuit against Gibson over the name. The court dismissed the suit when Gibson showed that the name was made up from the names of two people.