Epiphone's long awaited Thunderbird Classic IV Pro has finally arrived, after several delays and much misleading info from retailers. Currently available in Sunburst and Alpine White. Epiphone choose to use Gibson's method of construction for this bass, so, neck-thru with 7ply Mahogany and Walnut (Gibson is 9ply) for the center block, Mahogany for the wings, and for the first time, Epi is using Gibson's U.S. made ceramic magnet twin coil TB Plus pickups. The bass has 20 frets, is 34" scale,12" fretboard radius, nut width of 1.50" and rosewood fretboard with pearloid dots.
My Alpine White example arrived in excellent shape from Sweetwater via Fedex in wrapped in foam, an Epiphone box and an outer shipping box - no case or gig bag and happily ding free. The bass is made in Indonesia and initial inspection shows very nice QC overall with neatly applied poly paint and crisp separation between colors on the headstock and around the fretboard. Fretwork is neatly done with no exposed or sharp edges at all, the black plastic nut does have a little sharpness to it but it's minor thing. The headstock is roughly the same size as a Gibson and very small tuners are used. The body has a nice overall cut to it, being most faithful to the '88 Gibson shape, a tummy cut and heel mount strap pin being notable, the biggest real change here is Epi's reshape of the lower 'bout for more, easier upper register access. In the photos note that the lower bout meets the fret board at the 15th fret on the Gibson and at the 16th on the new Epi. So for those of you that enjoy a foray into solo territory it's a bit easier - for me, let's just say it's the undiscovered country
The control cavity is neatly done with good clean soldering, resonable size pots and a foil lined backplate. The bridge is Epi's version of Gibson's 3 point which differs in some details, most notably in the threaded body inserts - Gibson's are countersunk into the body which allows the entire bridge assembly to sit at least 1/8" lower if needed. Epiphone's inserts have a 1/8" tall lip which would keep you from dialing in lower action. While I've certainly read a lot of negative opinions in regards the 3 point design, I've never had any reason to replace one, I can get low action and good intonation quite easily, there are several good videos out there that explain how to set one up should you decide to tinker. The guys at Sweetwater did a pretty nice set up job on mine, it was easily playable right from the box.
My test rig currently consists of a GK 700RBII a GLX 4x10 (which is only for practice not shows) and a Line6 BassPodxt Live, I keep the GK pretty flat and fine tune the eq with the Line6 using an Acoustic 360 simulation. Playing seated in a bedroom setting it was very easy to get nice fingerstyle tone right away, basses using neck thru construction and humbucking pickups have a much different non Fenderesque tone, note decay is slower, and the woods used produce a mid range tone, similar to a Rickenbacker. I ran thru quite afew cover songs playing fingerstyle and found nice tonal variation by changing my hand placement and by slightly rolling off the volume on the front pup for a more pronounced, tighter sound - Think of The Knack's "My Sharona" and some of John Taylor's early work with Duran Duran for instance. Conversly, rolling off the bridge pup leaves the neck pup to give a fuller, bassier tone. With my band live, I'm a devout pick player, and a good part of "why" I play Thunderbirds is how they sound when played with a pick. With everything dimed and playing nearer the bridge pup this bass has the growl and a bit of clank that only a T Bird has, I usually think of a big angry piano - The new Epiphone does not disappont here! I found myself in pretty familar tone compared to the rest of my 'Birds, the only real difference being the Epi sounded a little smoother, and modern compared to my '70s Gibsons and the others with Lull pups. The neck of the Epi is quite similar in profile to my '70's era 'Birds but ever so slightly thicker, I guess if you need a Fender comparison, like a Jazz Bass. The inevitable question from the misinformed "Does it neckdive" is answered with an emphatic NO. When testing this bass I used a standard width strap and wore a T shirt, the small headstock and tuners plus it's 9.5 lb weight made it a super comfy player, but then we T Bird folks have always know that
Overall the bass is very impressive especially at $499, personal preferences aside, it really doesn't need anything in terms of modifications to be gigged, Epiphone really has a great bass here, so much so that as I understand it they have discontinued both the bolt - on and active variations.
The quality and affordabilty of the Epiphone obviously lead one to ask; Why buy a Gibson? I'm hard pressed to say, the currently available Gibson differs from the Epi but only in minor, and in some cases subjective things. i.e. neck profile and 9ply vs. 7ply. One could speculate on the Thunderbird's future as a Gibson Bass, perhaps it's time they re-tooled to created some substantive differences between it and the new Epiphone.
To cold for outside pics, no Subaru shots
Note shape of the lower 'bout
1.5 at the nut and a Gibson sized headstock with very small tuners
Gibson TB Plus from the backside, this is identical to the ones used in my '09 Gibson Nikki Sixx Mk.II
Nice, clean control cavity
And a comparison to my Classic White '89 Gibson on the left, Alpine White Epi on the right.