Epiphone Ltd Edition Thunderbird IV Bass
We're never afraid to criticise manufacturers when they produce what we feel are inappropriate updates to the original design of a classic instrument, but we're also capable of applauding a tasteful or practical change.
Happily any changes here fall into the latter category, being nothing more than cosmetic changes, with the slight modifications to the hardware compared to the early versions all part of current production updates to bass ranges.
There were a few custom colours available very soon after this distinctive-looking instrument first appeared, so this Arctic White edition is entirely appropriate and a very classy looking bass indeed.
This is also a limited production run, and being made under the Epiphone banner you can be sure that the build quality-to-price ratio is very favourable.
As most of you are probably aware, right from its conception the Thunderbird design was highly controversial.
The curious reverse-styled body shape has ensured it's one of those instruments you either love or hate, as very few players sit on the fence over this.
Although this Epiphone model features a bolt-on neck construction, it retains the curiously 'stepped' body design that was a major characteristic of the original: where the neck-through section was significantly deeper than the attached body 'wings'.
This surface stepping appears both front and back and, although curious, it doesn't actually present any practical problems because you're totally unaware of its presence when playing.
What it does do is help reduce the overall weight of the instrument (which could be pretty substantial in the early days), and in this respect any improvement was rightly considered as a positive move.
One of the few full-scale basses to come off the Gibson production line, this eye-catching instrument comes equipped with a pair of humbucking pickups, fully adjustable three-point bridge and two volume controls with a shared tone.
Black hardware and reverse-headstock fascia offer a complete contrast to what would otherwise be an all-white experience – even the neck is painted.
The sealed gear tuners present a sleeker look than the original open-geared set, and their modest proportions help to improve overall weight and balance by a fraction.
The current bridge is adopted from Gibson's early EB Series and offers accurate adjustment to both action and intonation.
It's made up of individual pieces that tend to dismantle if you remove all the strings at once, so best advice is to change one string at a time!
However, in operation, it's both practical and elegant, and the look also fits in well (the classic scratchplate with its Thunderbird logo is also retained).
Compared to many from the time it's somewhat understated and, as it hugs the lower step on the body surface, it neatly brings the whole design together for a very tidy and complete package.
Initially, the Thunderbird was Gibson's answer to Fender's Jazz bass that always attracted so much attention and popularity from the moment it was produced.
Adopting a similar format using a pair of pickups controlled by individual volumes while sharing a single tone control, the resulting sound obviously shares some similarities.
But what this lacks in single-coil blending finesse, it more than makes up with a monstrous delivery and sturdiness of tone that's associated with its more powerful humbucking pickups.
Each pickup has a distinctive sound due to its physical placement on the body, and since each has its own volume control, blending the two is easy.
Using both pickups together reveals a distinctly honky element, particularly when adding treble, and provides another pleasing element to the general range of hollow sounds.
There's also a fatness to the sound associated with these basses but it's only when you try one that you fully understand what that's all about.
Let's just say that the rich tones are super-thick in stature with great sustain, but the bass still speaks with distinction and clarity – even when running the neck pickup alone with all the tone rolled off.
Once upon on a time, that would have meant curtains for many a valve amp, but modern advances in circuit design and electronics mean you can enjoy all the benefits of such a deep sound without suffering the destructive low-end aftermath.
The Thunderbird excels in visual appeal – you can't take your eyes off a bass player with one of these – particularly in this blinding white livery.
It also offers a unique playing experience… though not necessarily a good one, which is indeed why some players heartily dislike Thunderbirds.
And yes, that headstock is constantly waiting to nose-dive to the floor, so it's curious that the strap button remains on the upper body horn when a simple relocation to the back of the body, just above the neck plate, improves the balance by quite a bit.
Players used to do this with the original instrument, and it's worth considering doing the same here, even though it means creating a new hole in the body.
Also, the natural playing position the bass presents you with means that the lower frets seem to be a bit of a stretch. But on the positive side, there's something about the neck profile and sleek dimensions that feels so right.
The overall combination seems to invite you to explore the fretboard fully and encourage the use of new playing positions and styles.
Quite why certain instruments help to generate new ideas like this is hard to explain, but take it from us, the Thunderbird has this quality and is a very enjoyable bass to play indeed.
Add to this a sound that disturbs the very bowels of the earth and you have a formidable combination.
New slant on a classic look, full-on traditional sounds.
Usual quirks remain with this still-radical design.
This Thunderbird produces a menacing delivery and a good degree of tonal variation. It's a great rock bass.
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.
2 x Tone 2 x Volume 3-Way Switch
Country of Origin
Guitar Body Material
Machine Heads Material
1960 Slim Taper
No. of Frets
Two bass humbuckers
2 x Thunderbird Bass humbucking pickups
Scale Length (Inches)
Scale Length (mm)
Width at Nut (mm)