Gibson Thunderbird

The Gibson Thunderbird is an electric bass guitar made by Gibson and Epiphone.

Thunderbird Bass
Epiphone Thunderbird
Period1963-1969, 1976-1979, 1987-present
Body typeSolid
Neck jointNeck Thru
NeckMaple or Mahogany
Fretboardrosewood or ebony
Pickup(s)Bass Humbuckers
Colors available
Vintage Sunburst or Alpine White, Ebony and Metallic Red in Limited Edition Models.

Background and introduction

The Gibson Thunderbird was introduced in 1963.[1] At the time, Fender had been the leader in the electric bass market since their introduction of the Precision Bass twelve years earlier.

The Thunderbird was designed by U.S. auto designer Raymond H. Dietrich (Chrysler, Lincoln, Checker)[1] along with the Firebird guitar, which it resembles in design, construction, and name.

Design and construction

Josh Reedy Decemberadio
Josh Reedy of DecembeRadio playing a custom Gibson Thunderbird onstage.

The Thunderbird bass, like the Rickenbacker 4000 series, and like the Firebird guitar it was designed concurrently with, had neck-through construction, where the neck wood went through the entire length of the body, with the rest of the body being glued into place.

While previous Gibson bass guitars had a short scale of 30½", the Thunderbird had a 34" scale equal to that of the 34" scale of Fender's bass guitars.

There were originally two Thunderbird models, the Thunderbird II (one pickup) and Thunderbird IV (two pickups)

Non-Reverse Thunderbirds

In 1966, Gibson changed the Thunderbird's design and construction. The original Thunderbirds (and Firebirds) had a "reverse" body, with the treble horn extended and the bass horn recessed. Due to a lawsuit brought by Fender because of the resemblance to the Fender Jazzmaster, the body styles were modified, with the result being called the "non-reverse" body.[2] Also, the expensive neck-through construction was replaced by traditional Gibson set-neck construction. The non-reverse Thunderbird was continued until 1969, when the Thunderbird was discontinued. Though fewer non-reverse Thunderbirds were shipped, the original reverse-body instruments retain a higher collector's value. Gibson started producing the non-reverse Thunderbirds again for the public in late 2012.[3]

1976-79 Reissue

The Thunderbird IV was reissued in 1976 as a bicentennial edition. This reissue featured the original body shape and neck-through construction but unlike the previous issues, the bicentennial edition included the new "3-point" bridge and a red, white, and blue thunderbird logo. The bass was offered in tobacco burst, ebony, white, or natural finish. After the bicentennial, the Thunderbird was continued as a regular production model until 1979, when it was discontinued once again.

Current and Recent Thunderbird models

The Thunderbird IV was re-introduced to the Gibson line in 1987 and was in regular production until 2015.

The most recent official Thunderbirds produced by Gibson Guitar Corporation. were:

Features of Current and Recent Thunderbird models

The standard Gibson Thunderbird IV is made with a nine-ply mahogany/walnut neck-through with mahogany wings attached to form the body, and was offered in Vintage Sunburst or Walnut finishes.

The Nikki Sixx Thunderbird Bass is made with a mahogany/walnut neck-through with Flame Maple body wings attached to form the body, finished in transparent Black Cherry. The fretboard is inlaid with red acrylic "X"s at the third, fifth, seventh and 12th frets.[4]

The Gibson Thunderbird Studio models (which were also available as five-string versions) have mahogany necks set into mahogany bodies. This model was discontinued in 2007.

The Gibson Thunderbird IV Zebra Wood Bass, 2007, Limited run of 400 (Gibson guitar of the Week, Week 11)."ZebraBird"

Thunderbird Short Scale Bass, 30.5" scale, 2011, Limited run of 400. "Short Scale Thunderbird"

The Epiphone Thunderbird IV, a budget alternative to the Gibson models, has a maple bolt-on construction onto a mahogany body, and is finished in Vintage Sunburst and Ebony.[5]

The Epiphone Goth Thunderbird is similar to the Epiphone Thunderbird IV. However, it has a mahogany body, a Celtic Cross symbol on the pickguard, and is finished in a 'Pitch Black' non-gloss flat finish.[6]

The Epiphone Nikki Sixx Blackbird is similar to the Epiphone Goth Thunderbird in build and appearance. However, in addition to the mahogany body, it has a slim profile mahogany neck, the fretboard is inlaid with white Iron Cross fret markers, the Thunderbird logo is overlaid on an Iron Cross for the symbol on the pickguard. It also features "Deep Sixx Humbucker Pickups", an "Opti-Grab™" handle on the tailpiece and an on/off switch instead of traditional volume/tone controls.[7]

The Epiphone Thunderbird IV Limited Edition, a budget alternative to the Gibson models, has a maple neck bolted onto an alder body. Alpine White finish with black hardware and assembled at the Epiphone Custom Shop in Korea. This model is currently no longer produced.

The Epiphone Special Run Thunderbird-IV Limited Edition Silverburst is also an Epiphone alternative to the Gibson model with a Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard bolted onto a Mahogany body (as opposed to the standard Epiphone Alder body) which gives it a much closer tonality to the Gibson Thunderbirds, which use Mahogany as a major wood in the construction of the bass. Chrome hardware is used (tuners, pickup covers, bridge, and screws) as opposed to the standard Epiphone black hardware, differently-shaped pickups compared to the Epiphone and Gibson Thunderbirds (much closer to the "classic" pickups of the 1960s and 1970s) and a special "Silverburst" finish.[8]

The Epiphone Thunderbird Pro IV has a seven-piece (Walnut/Maple/Walnut/Maple/Walnut/Maple/Walnut) neck with neck-through construction. It also has the Epiphone T-Pro bass humbucking pickups with custom active electronics and EQ.[9]

The Epiphone Thunderbird Pro V is the five-string version of the Thunderbird Pro IV. It also has a seven-piece neck, a neck-through construction, Epiphone T-Pro pickups and active electronics.[10]

The Epiphone Thunderbird Classic-IV PRO, new for 2012 is a neck-through, reverse design and features Gibson pickups.[11]

The Gibson Thunderbird Non-Reverse announced during 2012 features a choice of Vintage Sunburst or Pelham Blue finish, both in high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer.[12]

The Epiphone Thunderbird Vintage PRO Bass (Introduced in 2017) "is an incredibly accurate reproduction of the classic electric bass first introduced in 1963 that has since powered dozens of hits by artists like The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Cheap Trick. Featuring new ProBucker™ Bass Humbuckers and a vintage styled 60s Tune-o-matic bridge and Claw tailpiece. The new Thunderbird Vintage PRO is available in Alpine White, Ebony, and Tobacco Sunburst." [13]

The Thunderbird bass has very high output pickups, which despite being passive produce a stronger signal than many active basses.


The Who's John Entwistle used Thunderbird IVs from 1971–1974, but was dissatisfied with the neck. He bought several Thunderbird basses after the model was discontinued and gutted them. He then had several bodies cut to the original shape, attached Fender Precision Bass necks to them, and installed the salvaged hardware.


  1. ^ a b "Gibson Thunder Bird IV",
  2. ^ "1966 Gibson Thunderbird bass". 1965-06-22. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  3. ^ "Gibson Thunderbird Non-Reverse Bass". Gibson Guitar Corporation. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  4. ^ "Epiphone Nikki Sixx Blackbird".
  5. ^ "Epiphone Thunderbird-IV".
  6. ^ "Epiphone Thunderbird-IV Goth".
  7. ^ "Epiphone Nikki Sixx Blackbird".
  8. ^ "Epiphone Limited Edition Silverburst Thunderbird-IV".
  9. ^ "Epiphone Thunderbird Pro IV".
  10. ^ "Epiphone Thunderbird Pro-V".
  11. ^ "Epiphone Thunderbird Classic-IV PRO".
  12. ^ "Gibson Thunderbird Non-Reverse".
  13. ^ "Epiphone Thunderbird-Vintage-PRO-Bass".

External links

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