Gibson Thunderbird IV Electric Bass Guitar (1965)

Gibson  Thunderbird IV Electric Bass Guitar  (1965)
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Item # 12297
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Gibson Thunderbird IV Model Electric Bass Guitar (1965), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 507515, sunburst top, natural back and sides finish, mahogany body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, original black hard shell case.

This seriously imposing bass is a 1965-6 "Non-Reverse" Thunderbird IV, one of Gibson's greatest if less heralded 1960s 4-string classics. The Thunderbird was Gibson's first long-scale bass, specifically designed to woo customers accustomed to the feel of a Fender bass. Earlier Gibson basses were short scale affairs noted for their dark sound; the Thunderbirds have a much more wide-range tone and put a unique Gibson twist on the 34" scale bass concept Fender pioneered. The Thunderbird IV was the upscale model adding a second pickup to the mix making it a direct competitor to Fender's Jazz Bass.

This instrument is a second-try "non-reverse" Thunderbird IV, a lower-priced, simplified descendant of the earlier "reverse" body line that had been launched in late 1963. The new models were introduced in summer 1965, available for only a few years into the late 1960s in ever-dwindling quantities and never considered a sales success. All Thunderbird basses are fairly rare and many have been damaged over the years making an unbroken example like this all the more delightful a find.

This Thunderbird IV like most is finished in the standard 2-tone sunburst. Even in this fairly conservative livery it is a supremely striking bass with generous proportions all around, especially the slim long-scale neck that seems to go on forever. The huge ax-like headstock mounts four large Kluson bass machines, the first time Gibson used them. The large, thin-rimmed contoured body is made of mahogany with a one-piece glued-in mahogany neck, making this bass far simpler to build than the earlier laminate neck-through-body Thunderbird design.

The neck is similar in feel to a Jazz Bass, narrow at the nut but chunkier than some we have had with a noticeable taper nearer the body. The rosewood fingerboard is unbound and dot inlaid. The body carries a central white laminated pickguard with a bird logo; like many it has shrunk a bit and has some cracked corners. The Tune-O-Matic style adjustable bass bridge with a separate tailpiece was a new feature exclusive to Thunderbirds. A humbucking bass pickup is mounted in the same center body position as the Fender Precision's, not by the fingerboard as Gibson had previously preferred. The Thunderbird IV's second pickup is closer to the bridge and it has an additional volume knob, the Vol-Vol-Tone wiring emulating the Jazz Bass. The large hand rests over pickup and bridge and pickguard-mounted "tug bar" were also Fender inspired features.

The pot codes on this bass date to late 1965, as does the serial number. All features indicate an early 'bird shipped at the end of 1965 or early '66. Unlike most later Thunderbirds this bass has nearly all nickel-plated hardware; only one bridge stud is chrome. In this period older nickel stock was intermixed with newer chrome parts installed with no consistency. The copper mute mounting plate is still attached to the bridge; the felt mute pads are in the case.

The Thunderbird IVs is one of the rarer Gibson basses; only 87 were shipped 1965 (most of which were the earlier reverse models) and 131 followed in 1966. The total run of non-reverse Thunderbird IVs is not much over 300 instruments. The "new model" Thunderbird IV was first listed in June 1965 at $289.50 plus $56.50 for the case. This was way down from the original $370 price of the reverse model, and more competitive with the Fender Jazz Bass. Still, sales remained a tiny fraction of Fenders and the T-Bird never really caught on.

In retrospect is it hard to see why; this is a great playing and sounding bass, offering a powerful midrange punch with a Jazz-like tonal scoop when both pickups are engaged and a sound that slides into overdriven growl when played hard or cranked. Gibson poetically called it a "throaty bass tone". While the "non-reverse" 'birds have often been discounted in Gibson history, they are absolutely distinctive instruments in look, feel and especially sound. At just under 9 Lbs. light for its size, slim-bodied, fast-playing and incredibly stylish, this Thunderbird IV is a superb example of this underappreciated Gibson model, not for the player who wants to stand discreetly in the background but a bass that demands its own spotlight! Glenn Cornick, John Entwistle, Mike Watt and (lately) Geddy Lee are noted as users of this unique bass, ignored for decades but recently attracting enough attention to merit re-issues from Gibson. This is the earliest and nicest original IV we have had.
Overall length is 51 in. (129.5 cm.), 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 34 in. (864 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/2 in. (38 mm.)., 8.99 lbs.

This bass shows some fairly minor wear overall and remains nearly all original; The tone cap was replaced (probably in the 70's) with a vintage "orange drop" type. The finish has some fairly minor dings, scratches and dents but no really heavy play wear. There is one feelable chip in the back of the neck just below the nut, and some random dinks mostly to the body edges. Most importantly, there is NO structural damage or repair; a large proportion of surviving Thunderbirds have suffered broken headstocks and/or body cracks in the thin control area; this bass has NONE of these issues.

The only really notable flaw to the instrument is the original pickguard has shrunken noticeably (common on these) with several cracked screw holes and a couple of corner pieces missing. Some of the mounting screws have been moved slightly inward to accommodate this. It looks like someone tried to glue the upper part down long ago, resulting in some minor glue ooze visible on the body around the edges just in this section. An extra screwhole in this area has been partially filled, and the "bird" engraving is missing some of the original paint fill, appearing to have been over-enthusiastically cleaned long ago. Included with the bass is a nicely done repro pickguard that can be installed if desired.

All the hardware is original and complete, including the bridge, tailpiece, bridge and pickup covers, wood finger rest, tuners and the pickups and wiring excluding the tone cap. The long thin neck is perfectly straight and the original frets show some fairly minor roundwound string wear. The nut is original, the string slots have been re-cut. This is one of the cleaner T-Bird IVs we have seen, and also a fine player. If you have been looking for one of these imposing 'birds, this is a very nice ready-to-gig example comfortably residing in the original; early model Gibson Thunderbird case, which is solid but with a repaired upper corner and some external wear. Overall Excellent - Condition.