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My new Thunderbird.....some improvements....some questions

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by spego, Dec 3, 2013.

  1. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    So I managed to score a brand new Gibson Thunderbird recently from GC on sale cheap. I love the feel of the neck and the look of it.......being a Warwick guy this whole time.....it is a change of gears for me. I couldn't pass on the price tag to give a quality Gibson a good test drive though. Coming from a guitar background and always having a Les Paul in my hands......I knew it was a matter of time before I owned a Gibson bass as well.

    So anyway a few things I noticed and changed within the first few weeks of owning it.

    The stock tuners (grovers I believe) were kinda sticky. If I detuned they would hang and then suddenly "let go". All 4 were like that and I didn't care for it......so I had ultra lite hipshots so I just swapped them. They probably just need a little grease inside......but I knew these hipshots were smooth so I just swapped them. Though there was no neck dive on this model......I knew if even the slightest was present the new tuners would take care of it anyway.

    The bass leans forward. I tried designing something that would hold it back....that failed with the first energetic gig.....so I said screw this and did what most wouldn't......took out the drill. :eek: After looking at placement of the REAR locks on some Tbirds (mostly Sixx's he uses on stage) I noticed the rear lock was high up on the wing........this would ultimately take care of the leaning forward (NOT neck dive.......there is no dive!). So i relocated the top button toward the top of the rear wing. The BEST upgrade IMHO to this bass. It fixed the leaning forward issue and its more comfortable on my forearm (after a gig I could actually feel it) and just sits "like it should" now. So I am super pleased with that change. I filled the old hole in with a wooden plug and painted it black and put clear epoxy over it......obviously you can still see it there but from 4ft away you would never know it was even there.

    I decided I wanted more tonal control over this bass than just a tone control......so I put a EMG BTC in the tone pot hole. Quite the difference......more punch and just a deeper low end. The treble is adjustable with the dipswitches on this preamp so I want to mess around a little more with that yet......but in time.

    So what I want to do yet is what I wanted to throw out and see if anyone has done on here.

    Has anyone used the EMG Thunderbird drop in replacement pickups? I'm thinking about putting in 2 EMG TBJ's or maybe a TBJ in the neck and a TBDC in the bridge. I'm VERY familiar with EMG pickups......I've had them in nearly every bass I've owned......I've had DC's in a Spector one time......they sound good in the bridge of that bass but not in the neck. My favorites so far have been the J's EMG makes.......so if the TBJ's sound like their standard J's then I'd probably like them. I was just curious to see if anyone out there has put any of these EMG pups in a Tbird.

    Anyway thanks much! :bassist:
  2. Gaolee

    Gaolee Outta my way! I'm caffeinated! Supporting Member

    'Birds are their own thing, as you have discovered. I hadn't noticed a tendency of mine to lean forward, but it might just be how I play it and how it sits. It's great that you aren't treating your 'Bird like some precious object but are turning it into exactly what you want. I can't comment on your pickup question, since I have never used EMGs. I did swap out all of the electronics on my 'Bird. For what its worth, mine's an Epi, but they are similar enough.

    One question though - did you check the nut before swapping out the tuners? It sounds like the nut wasn't cut quite right.
  3. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    Yeah i looked at that too....seems it was fine. As soon as I changed the tuners the issue was gone.

    What did you put in yours?
  4. The Hipshot Ultralites were a very good call, for several reasons.
  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
    My "modern" Thunderbirds have Mike Lull pickups and are rewired to '63 spec. Vintage tone in bass that you can take to a dive bar show :hyper:
  6. Dug2

    Dug2 Supporting Member

    Sep 24, 2011
    just play the wick!!! thats wat i'd do.
    good luk
  7. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    My Warwick's won't take a backseat so no worries about that. Options are always fun though.
  8. lol, I almost mentioned my Lulls, but I had a hunch you'd come along and do it for me. ;)

    Perhaps the ultimate choice in after-market T-Bird pickups.
  9. stiles72


    Mar 20, 2009
    Albany IL
    You did good by moving the strap buttons. I move them both at the tail and the neck on all my birds to "off center" positions which really helps. I wasn't happy with the stock pups in my '07 Tbird IV - they sounded weak and middy compared to my '00 Sixx Blackbird so I found another set of TB+ and they were an improvment. I also swapped the stock controls for a v/v/t/t & three way toggle - and can now get the IV to suit my needs.

    I just picked up a Midtown and an LP Gibson - and when comparing them to my birds, I was playing around with different pickup heights. Not that I didn't know it affects tone and ouput - but in side by side comparisons, the difference can be pretty striking. I would say before you shell out money on pups, be sure to play around with lowering and raising each pickup just to see what tones the pickup is capable of.


    Mike A likes this.
  10. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    Ah someone else that did the same with that rear button. Yours is in the same spot I put mine too. I didn't move the front one....seemed fine after I moved the back one.....but I could see how moving the front one would help out even more (though I probably won't mess with it anymore). Good deal.

    Yeah good advice there......I might play around with the height some more. Your pups look like they are the same position as mine too. I am experiencing the same thing with these stock pups......VERY upper midrange focused.....the BTC helped eq some of that out from the get go (boosting the bass near all the way and the treble slightly).

    I did hear those Lull pups on YouTube some....they do sound good....though the price tag turns me off a bit. I'll start with messing with the height and go from there.

    If anyone ever tried the EMG's on a bird post up which ones and your thoughts though.....I'm curious. I also saw Barts available too.....also tempting.....I've owned some USA Barts too and they do sound great (still own a older Ibby with US barts.....it rocks).
  11. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    I did move both pickups down about an 1/8" or so and wow that did make a big difference. The output is obviously lower now but the tone is a lot more even. The neck pickup still sounds muddy when its full on.......I leave it about 80-90% of the way up while the bridge is 100%. With just a few minutes of sound checking lowering the pickups made a reasonable difference. Thanks for pointing that out......I didn't expect it to be that big of a difference.
  12. jeff7bass


    Apr 9, 2009
  13. 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
  14. Gaolee

    Gaolee Outta my way! I'm caffeinated! Supporting Member

    I put Lace Alumatone Bass bars in mine. The funny thing is they give it a scooped sound very much like the stock active pickups it came with even though the preamp is gone. It is now fretless, too, so it's getting less and less like a normal 'Bird. If there is such a thing.
  15. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    I wanted to follow up on this in case anyone else ever searches EMG's for a thunderbird. I ended up taking the stock pickups out and using a set of Nordstrands I found on TB for a while. They sounded good but overall it just wasn't what I was looking for. I ordered a set of active EMG's for it and put those in. I juggled with the combination of a DC (bridge) and a J (neck), P (neck) and a J (bridge) or two J's. I ended up with the P/J combo (my buddy suggested it). I installed them and my first response was "Wow that is VERY P bass sounding"......and I mean vintage clanky P bass sounding. Good if that is what you're looking for (some people would really kill for that tone).....but again not what I was really shooting for......I should have just went with my instinct and bought the J's or the DC/J setup. But anyway I swapped out the P and the J to have the P in the bridge position......the output of the P was way hotter and seemed to make sense. It did.....now it growls like a SOB......and has a tight low end.....with tons of mids (actually had to scoop some on the amp). I have the BTC installed and its all wired 18V (still not sure how I got 2 batteries in there)....I have the bass control totally dimed out but I might be able to back that off some once I get some volume pumping......I only tested it for 30 mins or so in the basement.

    I'll know more after I gig it tonight how it sits in a mix.

    I may still buy a DC or another J.....haven't made my mind up yet. lol
  16. Jay F.

    Jay F.

    Aug 26, 2014
    New York City
    If you do decide to put another set of 35DC's in there, you would have effectively converted your Thunderbird to a Phoenix. Not like its a crime. I'm buying a used phoenix this Wednesday, after tinkering with it when I bought my Thunderbird last Wednesday (can you guess when payday is for me?). My T-bird is a classic pro with Gibson u.s.a Thunderbird Plus pickups. I don't know if the plus makes a huge difference or if the fact I bought it brand new but I wouldn't dream of swapping out my pups for anything else. I keep my neck pickup on 10 bridge pickup on 3 or 4 and tone knob on 0. I like my bass how I like my girls with a nice round bottom. I'm in no way judging you negatively on your decision. In fact I think it's pretty cool and it would be fun to play Dr. Frankenstein with a T-bird. The reason you're having trouble finding someone else who converted their T-bird is because very few people have the cojones that you do. And while you're taking suggestions, may I suggest a set of EMG CS or EMG SB-4B's. I have these on my stream and I love my stream (not as much as I love my T-bird) but for a guy who had a P/J combination and still wasn't happy, maybe this unorthodox approach will suit you. Ripping off a text from Schecter but putting it the exact way that I would: P adds warmth, and incredible low end punch, while the LJ gives tight mid-range punch and dynamic high end response for a well defined attack. Used separately, or in combination, they offer unsurpassed flexibility in bass tones, accommodating both new and traditional bass playing styles, and making your bass sound the way a bass should. I hope you're enjoying your project as much as I enjoy hearing about it. Keep us posted and let us know what you decide to do with that neck slot.
  17. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    It's interesting that the guys with Epi tbirds seem to move their neck strap buttons from the upper bout (stock) to the neck joint yet OP has done the opposite.

    It also seems that moving the tail button up on the wing is most effective.

    Just observing. One thing I would do when moving buttons is not fill the empty hole with wood and try and match finish. I would Just put a black screw in it and be done with it.
  18. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    I actually never moved the front button..... Left it stock..... But the rest move was ideal. It was night and day difference. I played with pickups and preamps in that bass until I finally restored it to it's stock electronics and sold it. I've since built a fender jazz that I'm loving..... So the bird just wasn't for me I guess. I lived how bad ass it looked...... Just couldn't get MY tone out of it no matter what I did. Thanks for the input and I'm glad I provided some cool info anyway. :)
  19. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX
    you still digging your EMG equipped Gibson Tbird? I'm dropping mine off at my tech's today after work. Having a 35CS put in the neck and 35DC put in the bridge.....really looking forward to hearing this combination. I've gone through two sets of Gibson Tbird humbuckers that were noisy as hell. Got pissed, had the routes routed to accept EMG 35 sized pickups, had pickup surrounds made and dropped some Chinese aftermarket EMG 35 sized exposed pole piece humbuckers (which sound pretty good) but now moving toward EMGs. Hopefully I can get my tech to fit two 9volts in the control cavity, if not I'll just go with one.
  20. spego


    Dec 1, 2008
    Hazleton PA
    I've downsized my collection a lot since I haven't been playing much anymore. Our band has went from 2-3 nights a week now to maybe 1-2 a month.....the scene around here in northeast PA is pretty horrible now. There are too many bands that will play for nothing......and the talent ends up being bad enough that the clientele gives up on the venues. So all around terrible.

    So yeah I sold the bird a while back. I'm down to one Warwick and my Geddy and that's the only basses I play out....mostly my Warwick though.

    I did like the bird but had the opportunity to sell it without a loss so I dove on it. If you like the feel and the way it sits I highly recommend the EMG pickup upgrade though it made the bass an animal. I'm sure you will enjoy putting the money into it......it was a totally different bass with the EMG's IMO.

    My buddy has a krist novoselic gibson and I borrowed that for a while.....I did kinda dig that bass! I'm a J/J guy through and through I've come to the conclusion though. Love the fatness of the buckers but always gravitate back to J's.

    Let us know how you make out!