The story of Gibson’s Thunderbird – the tricky, difficult but brilliant design that modernized bass guitar

1964 Gibson Thunderbird II bass
(Image credit: Future)

Announced in spring 1963, the Gibson Thunderbird bass guitars originally appeared as two distinct models: the single-pickup Thunderbird II and the dual-pickup Thunderbird IV. There were no I or III models, rather the II and IV designations conveniently sat betwixt their six-string siblings, the Firebirds (models I, III, V and VII). 

All six appeared together as a series intended to modernize Gibson’s solidbody line. The firm had attempted something similar in 1958 with the release of the ‘modernistic’ Flying V and Explorer, though production was halted by the following year.

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Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.