For those considering a Gibson Thunderbird

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Gyver, Nov 2, 2017.

  1. Recently I had the chance to trade my '58 Reissue Fender Precision for a 2008 Gibson Thunderbird and I must admit I was nervous about the idea based on the negative comments I've read online. People seem to either love or hate Thunderbirds, and the internet is full of comments about how awful they are (other than how they look). Plus my Precision was an excellent bass other than the too-large (for me) neck which is the only reason I considered trading it. But after trying the Gibson in person I decided to go for it, and below is my take on some of the negative opinions often expressed about the TBird.

    -Neck Dive. Mine has no neck dive at all. In fact my '58 Precision, with its light body and large neck, had more neck dive than the TBird.

    -Neck size. Small/thin/narrow, feels even slightly smaller than my Fender Jazz. Similar in size to a MusicMan Sterling Classic I used to own, but the TBird neck feels much more stable than the MM neck did.

    -Upper fret access. Yes, this is a problem, but not as bad as I had expected. No issues up to 18 frets, but 19 and 20 do take a bit of acrobatics to play effectively. If you noodle in the upper register a lot you might not like this bass.

    -Action. The action was low when I got it and it played beautifully. No fret buzz whatsoever. No dead spots either. You could set the action as low as you wanted on this bass with no issues.

    -Bridge. I found many negative comments online about the 3-point bridge. I changed the strings and set the intonation after getting the bass and I found the bridge easy to work with. Just make sure the bass is lying flat when you change the strings. I also read about poor sustain with the 3-point bridge, but my TBird sustains wonderfully. The set radius is simpler to work with than individual saddles (Fender and fender-style bridges), although it does limit the variety of adjustment you can do.

    -Weight. Mine is very light, I'm guessing around 8 pounds.

    -Long reach to lower frets. Due to the lack of an upper horn and the resulting strap button placement on the neck heel it is a longer reach to the lower frets. The reach on my MusicMan Sterling was similar and it did/does not bother me, but I could see it being a bother for some.

    -Body "Tilt." Because of the placement of the strap button on the neck heel the top of the bass does tend to tilt away from your body a bit. If you like/need to see the fretboard when you play this could be a problem, but if you only need to see the fret markers it is not an issue. To be honest I do not notice it.

    I was worried about this one, but surprisingly I find the TBird to be as comfortable to play as my Fender Jazz and Precision basses. It does feel different, but not uncomfortable. My right arm rests perfectly on the top of the TBird "tail" and the balance and light weight make it easy to play for extended periods of time. Once you get used to the fretboard being shifted a bit to the left you are good to go. The lack of easy access to the 19th/20th frets is the only drawback I see in the TBird's playability from an ergonomic perspective. One thing I would add is that this is not a slapper's bass. It can be done, but other basses I have owned (Jazz, Precision, MusicMan, Ken Smith Burner) do much better for that style.

    -Sound. One of the most common online comments is about the TBird being a one-dimensional, rock-only, pick-style bass. People also complain about it being "muddy" or "boomy." When I initially tried the bass through my GK 700RBII it did sound bass heavy and somewhat undefined, enough so that I thought I had made a mistake with the trade. But once I figured out that the sweet spot for fingerstyle is above the bridge pickup the resulting sound was growly and defined with a perfect amount of bass. Using a pick up by the fretboard with both pickups full on produces an excellent Phil Lesh sort of sound. Rolling the neck pickup off slightly produces a jaco-ish tone and rolling the bridge pickup off slightly produces a P-ish tone. Volume balance between strings and upper/lower registers is excellent, and after recording several sound samples between the TBird and my Jazz I must admit I like the TBird sound better. It will not do the Carole Kaye palm mute w/ a pick thing as well as a Precision, but it will do it. I find the range of available sounds similar to my Jazz except that the TBird humbuckers are "meatier" if that makes any sense. One surprise is how good it sounds with flats. I had a set of TI Jazz Flats lying around so I put them on and it absolutely kills! IMO the TBird sounds better with the TIs than either my Jazz or Precision, I was very surprised and do not see myself going back to rounds on this bass anytime soon.

    Quality Control. Mine is an absolute beauty with no QC issues whatsoever. Excellent attention to detail throughout.

    Anyway sorry for what has become quite a long message, but hopefully this will help anyone considering a TBird with their decision. Honestly I was worried about trading a tried and true bass for one that is a bit more unusual, but I am happy I did. The truth is the TBird is definitely a different creature than a P or J, but it is worth considering for anyone looking for something unique/different. I think most people who have not tried one would be pleasantly surprised, I know I was!
  2. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    yes, i recently sold my pbass

    yes, i want to try a Tbird

    thank you!
    OOD, StrangerBasses and Gyver like this.
  3. CryingBass

    CryingBass Just a Fool Whose Intentions are Good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    That was an informative post op. Thanks.
  4. Blaargh


    Apr 4, 2016
    Mine has a few QC problems (namely the crappy truss rod cover and warped pickguard. Internals weren't as professional as I'd like either), but other than that I found mine much the same as yours- Lots of tones and really easy to play (coming from my other main bass which is a Jazz).

    I find it's a little less clear than my Jazz, but it's not boomy or muddy by any stretch (unless you're intentionally making it so). I'd say it's a good alternative to people who don't like Precisions, like myself. It's got a bigger variety of tones than I expected, but I do love it for that downtuned, hard picking, overdriven stoner rock sound. Bit of a stereotype, but damn, it's good at it.

    The only real issue I have is that I live in constant fear of the headstock join breaking. I really don't know why they didn't bulk that out on the new model.
    Shannon, RedVee, Tbone76 and 2 others like this.
  5. TBird1958

    TBird1958 As a matter of fact....I am your Queen! Staff Member

    Mar 13, 2008
    Seattle Washington
    Endorsing Artist Mike Lull T Bass pickups
    Thanks for a great, informative post! :)
    hillerup, Larry V, vandoorn and 11 others like this.
  6. Chico Ruger

    Chico Ruger

    Dec 11, 2014
    Western NC
    What a informative, well-written report! Tons of useful information, particularly the info on the TIs. If this were school, you’d get an A+. Thanks!
  7. tat2clod


    Nov 19, 2011
    Bloomington IN
    I like your information given as I'm going to add one at some point. Thanks again for the input.
    lowdownthump and Gyver like this.
  8. Awesome that you for one were open minded enough to give it a chance despite all the negative propaganda out there from the haters, most of whom have never themselves dug into one enough (as you did) to find out how versatile a T-Bird really can be. Yeah they're not for everyone, IMO there really is no one bass that is. That you gave it a chance and actually GOT IT is way cool. Welcome to the to the club!
    hillerup, Larry V, RedVee and 10 others like this.
  9. And thank you for your many posts about Thunderbirds, they were helpful when I was considering getting one of my own!
    hillerup, vandoorn, RedVee and 11 others like this.
  10. TBird1958

    TBird1958 As a matter of fact....I am your Queen! Staff Member

    Mar 13, 2008
    Seattle Washington
    Endorsing Artist Mike Lull T Bass pickups
    Glad to help, now take some pics of your new, lovely Thunderbird and stop by the club thread
    hillerup, Larry V, Tbone76 and 6 others like this.
  11. I have a 2013 ebony Gibson Thunderbird and I really like it. I bought it because I play in a heavy metal band and it definitely has the look. I wanted a black one and I definitely wanted a Gibson.

    I am not knocking the bass. But to me, of my four basses, I like its tone the least. No matter what I do, it sounds clanky and a little thin. I play it through two 410 HEs and an SVT CL so I can definitely make it work, but my Fender Precision sounds soooo much better in the mix IMHO. I even switched out the bridge and pickups (thunderbuckers and badbird 2 bridge) hoping for an improvement, but it largely sounds the same, a little better.

    It has great action, feels great, I like how it hangs and I loooove it’s look.

    I’m not a fan of three point bridge. It seems like they were trying to be innovative, but instead created problems by making string changing and intonation more difficult. Also, I think the floating bridge sucks the tone. However, I will definitley keep gigging with it. It looks too good not to.

  12. bass40hz

    bass40hz Cigar smoker, scotch drinker, American Patriot Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Richlands, NC
    Excellent post...welcome to the 'bird brain club ;-)
    hillerup, Larry V, RedVee and 6 others like this.
  13. Gaolee

    Gaolee Official leathers tester and crash dummy

    Hey, don't go blowing our cover! If too many people discover that neck dive and everything else is a myth, demand will go up, and then prices for Thunderbirds will go up since Gibson is only half-hearted about making them any more. It's a secret, doggone it!
  14. My apologies lol!
  15. LadyLoveStingRay5


    Jul 17, 2004
    OP your post was great read and Im not even considering a Thunderbird.I just so happen to like the way they look. Still enjoyed reading it. Only one thing was lacking.....Pics. We need pics.
    hillerup and Ellery like this.
  16. ok, here you go!

    Attached Files:

  17. LadyLoveStingRay5


    Jul 17, 2004
    Nice!! Enjoy.:cool:
  18. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Strokes, folks, different, and all that. Glad you like it.
  19. heatheroo1


    Dec 14, 2009
    Ephrata, PA
    been playing my '77 since I bought it new in 80 so........yea, I'm a fan. I had to chuckle when you mentioned laying it flat to change the strings. I learned that one the hard way :) I never moved the strap button to the neck heel. I just made sure I had some very robust strap locks.

    Attached Files:

  20. foolforthecity

    foolforthecity Supporting Member