Your reviewer wasn’t quite a glint in his father’s eye when Gibson first launched the iconic Thunderbird back in the 1965, but he knows a classic when he lays eyes – and sweaty hands – on one, and this, the latest addition to their Original Collection, is as enduring a bass guitar design as you’re likely to find anywhere.
However, there are always going to be detractors looking to disagree, and the Thunderbird isn’t without its critics...
It’s immediately apparent that the body is a glorious piece of wood, shaped so that it flows with a natural grace, and finished to lustrous perfection for connoisseurs of stylish excess. Available in three striking colors – Inverness Green, Pelham Blue or Sparkling Burgundy – it’s offset perfectly by the white three-ply scratchplate bearing that iconic Thunderbird logo.
The bass looks almost majestic in its luxuriant, velvety hardcase, and continues to exude that air of regal confidence when you pick it up, thanks to its considerable heft.
There is an undeniable allure to the clunky ‘so ugly you love it’ shape that is equal parts retro sci-fi and cocksure rock god, and there’s just enough tapered poise about the headstock to set everything off in a way that makes cohesive aesthetic sense, ensuring that first impressions are definitely that of a complete package.
Some purists have made much of the Gibson logo being on the headstock itself, and not on the truss rod cover, but they probably need to get over themselves, because it looks cool whichever way you stack it.
Of course, the build quality is exemplary, as it should be at this price, and everything is finished to a quite beautiful degree, with nothing of note to ruin the experience of taking such a veritable hotrod for a test drive.
The chunky chrome-plated bridge is adjustable from three different points, allowing several options for the action and intonation to be tweaked as you choose, and the rock-solid Hipshot Ultralite tuning heads are coiled in a trustworthy fashion. This is definitely a badass instrument that needs to be slung low and mean.
Sounds and Playability
I was less than enamored last time I did battle with a Thunderbird, back in Ye Olde Punk Wars of the '80s, being rather nonplussed by its unwieldy balance on both knee and strap, but someone somewhere has done some tinkering. The tendency to weigh down your left hand is gone, thanks perhaps to those lightweight tuners, and the bass feels pretty damn sweet when held up close and personal.
This is one of those instruments that really comes to life in your hands, its substantial but navigable neck enticing the player to stay awhile, fingertips seduced by the playability of its fingerboard.
There’s a percussive physicality about the neck and fingerboard that lends itself to not only rock and metal, but also reggae and slap – anything where you need to dig in a little, basically – and chords sound meatier than a buffalo stew.
Sound-wise, there’s that distinct growling roar and plenty of low-end power, but probably not much else – however, what more do you realistically need? Two volume controls – in the shape of old-school dials in the ‘top hat’ style, black with silver inserts, and very nostalgic – allow you to dial in either, or both, the bridge and the neck pickups, and an overall tone control allows for a few subtle tweaks on top.
Inevitably, it sounds best with everything turned up full. This bass may be a one-trick pony in that department, but it’s a hell of a trick, and quite a ride – more thoroughbred than pony.
The T-Bird’s weighty mahogany body provides sustain ad infinitum, but the lack of any ergonomic chamfering might irritate you if you pick from your shoulder instead of your wrist. Still, you can slip on a sweatband, or you can chafe for your art, the choice is yours – the explosive grit at your fingertips is worth a little discomfort.
As the formidable reputation that precedes it suggests, the Thunderbird lives up to its name. What it lacks in subtlety it more than compensates for with some big sounds, a battleship-like construction and a beautiful finish. Investigate with full confidence, we say.
- PRICE: $1,799
- MADE IN: USA
- BODY: Mahogany
- NECK: Mahogany, 34”
- NECK JOINT: Set neck
- NUT WIDTH: 1.6”
- FINGERBOARD: Indian rosewood
- FRETS: 20
- PICKUPS: Thunderbird Rhythm (neck) and Lead (bridge)
- CONTROLS: 2 x volumes, master tone
- HARDWARE: 3-point adjustable bridge, Hipshot Ultralite tuners and Graph Tech nut
- WEIGHT: 8.8 lbs
- CASE/GIG-BAG INCLUDED?: Hardshell case
- LEFT-HANDED OPTION AVAILABLE?: No
- CONTACT: Gibson