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Gibson Thunderbird: Old vs. New

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by thisSNsucks, Apr 13, 2011.

  1. thisSNsucks

    thisSNsucks Supporting Member

    Dec 19, 2004
    Yonkers, NY
    Hey guys,

    Just wondering if there's any big difference between older (70's era specifically the bicentennial models) Thunderbirds and the current ones Gibson makes.

    Either one better or worse? Any big differences in tone?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. I think the PUs are different. "Better" is in the ears of the beholder.
  3. thisSNsucks

    thisSNsucks Supporting Member

    Dec 19, 2004
    Yonkers, NY
    Very true. By better I really mean any improvements (again subjective) in the newer ones.

    BTW that's a really cool looking Tbird in your avatar.
  4. The older ones are the ones that made the reputation. John Entwistle, Mike Watt, etc. were all done on older style Thunderbirds. I think the biggest difference was the old style chrome (nickle?) pickups.

    I owned a newer '90s TB Plus model but sold it after it basically sat in it's case for a few years.

    Beautiful basses, but I'll hold out for an older vintage one someday.
  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The originals from the 60s had alnico pickups and separate bridge and tailpiece.

    The 70s Bicentennials still had the alnico pickups but a one-piece bridge/tailpiece.

    The models from the 80s onwards come with ceramic pickups (TB-Plus), black hardware and the one-piece bridge/tailpiece.

    Different tuning machines in different eras, too and the usual changes in knobs.
  6. gnjpowell

    gnjpowell Banned

    Nov 12, 2010
    Concord, NH
    Bass & guitar tech, FOH sound, backline rentals
    Price! Older Thunderbirds & Bicentennial models go for BIG BUCK$!
  7. jumbodbassman

    jumbodbassman Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2009
    Stuck in traffic -NY & CT
    Born Again Tubey
    60's pups are clearly the best. 76 time - nice basses but thinner pickups. new pups don't sound like the older ones... mike lull makes a greatr repro of the 60's pups
  8. I ended up with an '05 "studio" via trade a month ago.


    It's pretty cool. Balances perfectly (no dive like IV's), and has a nice throaty growl.
    The set neck makes it more punchy, and it has a warmer & darker sustain than typical neck-thru t-birds.
    The Studio bridge is a hipshot type bridge and not the "traditional" Gibson one. Also there is no "step" cut in the body.

    "Made in the U.S. of mahogany and equipped with Grover tuners and 2 TB Plus ceramic humbuckers. A classic thumper with a strong alternative vibe. Includes Gibson hardshell case".

    Mines for sale. Absolutely nothing wrong with it at all...I just have too many basses.
  9. 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
    Through their production there have been at least 6 different pickups used in Thunderbirds from the single coil original design to ceramic magnet humbuckers. The '60s and '70s editions had a much larger headstock ( yes prone to breakage if you're clumsy!) and larger tuners, a 2 point bridge for the '60s and the much maligned 3 point for subsequent production. Construction has varied from today's 9 ply walnut mahogany to set neck on late '60s Non Reverse.
    New current issue are around $1500.00 from GC with used around 1000.00, '76s vary depending on condition, I've seen them between $1400.00 (poor condition, repaired headstock) to $2200.00. Retro fitting a recent edition with chrome parts including some of Mike Lull's pups is a simple project that will give you the tone of an early '60s 'Bird at a very reasonable price.

    My preferred basses to play out are usually my '76s, but I rotate thru them all depending where we're playing.

    An older shot of some of my basses, '76s and newer.
    moonshinegtrs and E S Anderson like this.
  10. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    The later ones had the bridge deficiencies of the originals addressed.

    The stopbar was attached with only three screws (see above pictures). On my '63, these spontaneously failed, two breaking outright. This was not uncommon.

    I lucked out and was able to back them out without damaging the threads and replaced them with some much stronger polished stainless screws of the same size and pitch but with a somewhat fatter shank/shallower threads. Perfect, ideal, invisible repair that's held to this day.
  11. Barkless Dog

    Barkless Dog Barkless to a point

    Jan 19, 2007
  12. ledyard


    Jan 31, 2010
    Upstate NY
    Ihavnt had the pleasure of playing any vintage birds. But of the two i have owned my 1990 custom shop was just magic. The finish was 1 of 2 made. Which I didnt realize after the loser "vintage" shop i sold it to played it off like it was a dime a dozen.
  13. lowend1


    Feb 15, 2005
  14. godofthunder59

    godofthunder59 God of Thunder and Rock and Roll Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2006
    Rochester NY USA
    Endorsing Cataldo Basses, Whirlwind products, Thunderbucker pickups
    60's Thunderbirds are far different from the '76 reissues and the post '87 version we know today. Version I '63-'65 features the iconic reverse shape a nine ply mahogany/walnut neck through construction with the two mahogany body wings. Pickups are humbucking with nickle plated covers. Bridge and tuners are also nickel plated. Version II '65-'69 the "nonreverse". Features a 1 1/4" slab mahogany body with a set neck. The hardware package is the same as the '63-'65 though basses can have mixed hardware packages of nickel and chrome. I find the NRs sustain much better than the neck through originals mainly I believe due to the NRs one piece mahogany body. A interesting note is that a few Tbirds were equipped with single coil pups, numbers are not known. Version III the '76 reissue. The '76 shares very similar construction details to version I '63-'65. Pickups is where they are the most different. The covers are chrome with three screw holes instead of two as on the 60's. The covers are stamped with different dies and have a larger edge radius. The BIG difference is the construction of the pickups. The coils used are the same as used on the G3, The coils face each other under the cover instead of side by side. Many early units had microphonic pickups that would squel like a stuck pig (I had one of these new in '76 it took two years to get new pickups from Gibson) Output was much lower than the original Thunderbird pickup. By '77 they had the pickups sorted out. I think there was much variation in the '76-'79 units. I had a '79 that had very pretty loud, most '76s I have played have had very low output. Some of my 'birds Thunderbirdfamily2010007. my latest addition winging it's way from Tenn. 050.
    moonshinegtrs likes this.
  15. godofthunder59

    godofthunder59 God of Thunder and Rock and Roll Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2006
    Rochester NY USA
    Endorsing Cataldo Basses, Whirlwind products, Thunderbucker pickups
  16. SlingBass4


    Feb 28, 2009
    Kansas City
  17. Smaller headstock. I am not sure anything else would be considered an improvement. Maybe the nine ply neck as opposed to one piece? I don't know.

    Consensus is the 60s PUs are far superior to the modern ceramic. But again, it depends on your tastes, wants and needs. Someone playing modern hard rock or metal would probably prefer the ceramic PUs.

    Look into a Greco T Bird from the 70s, it is a killer bass that pretty much nails the 60s Gibson T Bird at a fraction of the cost.
  18. godofthunder59

    godofthunder59 God of Thunder and Rock and Roll Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2006
    Rochester NY USA
    Endorsing Cataldo Basses, Whirlwind products, Thunderbucker pickups
    Thanks ! We really try to capture the "spirit"
  19. godofthunder59

    godofthunder59 God of Thunder and Rock and Roll Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2006
    Rochester NY USA
    Endorsing Cataldo Basses, Whirlwind products, Thunderbucker pickups
    I am not a fan of the new ceramic plus pickups but that is not to say they are a bad unit. They lack the sparkle and inherent overdrive of the original '60s pups.
  20. jdthebassman


    Jul 11, 2010
    i had a white 76 tbird sold it years ago,just picked up a 1991 tobacco burst. i prefer the 91 over the 76. i feel the pickups are brighter more clarity, tons of punch.when run through a sadowsky preamp sounds awesome.