Rip and Roar! Why the Thunderbird Bass Rocks
Countless bass player have called the Thunderbird their instrument of choice, including Motley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, Kings of Leon’s Jared Followill, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Aerosmith's Tom Hamilton and System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian.
What’s at the forefront of the Thunderbird’s muscle is the bass guitar’s daring curves and fins, which – as is true of the Gibson Firebird guitar – were designed by auto designer Raymond Dietrich, who has worked with Chrysler, Lincoln and Checker.
Let’s go straight to the players to find out why this bass — which was just introduced by Gibson USA in the 2014 Thunderbird model – is such a prize.
System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian on how the Thunderbird became his main bass, as told to Gibson.com:
When System of a Down were recording our first record, we went out to buy some equipment. I found this non-reverse body ’66 Thunderbird somewhere in Hollywood. I ended up using it on the entire record. It just felt right. Before that I was using a bass from a different company, and they gave me as many basses as I wanted, in any color I could imagine, but I didn’t like any of them as much as that Thunderbird. Those old Gibsons are the Rolexes and Cadillacs of guitars. They’re all about quality. Just holding that bass made me feel different. You have to fight with it a little to make it your own because it has a heavy headstock that dives to the ground if you let go of the neck. But once I mastered that bass I couldn’t go anywhere else.
Mike Watt of Minutemen on rocking a Non-Reverse Thunderbird II, as told to FlyGuitars.com:
I used that bass for the entire Contemplating The Engine Room. I got asked to do a funny session back in November, with a pop singer that won that game show, ahhhh, Kelly Clarkson, from a producer, an old friend I knew. I brought a few basses and that's the one they liked (the Non Reverse II), the sound & stuff.
Nikki Sixx on what makes Gibson bass guitars special, as told to Gibson.com:
The attention to wood is important. With the Thunderbird, for me, I feel like I can’t stand on a stage and not have a Thunderbird in my hand. It’s like my skin. It completely fits me like a glove. The way it fits in my hand and lays in my hand, the way it leans against my body, everything about it. It’s been amazing to have a relationship with Gibson and have Gibson work with me on certain types of pickups and wiring. These are just very little things that may not mean a lot to someone else, but are very personal to me.
Tony Moreno on touring with his Thunderbird, as told to Ephiphone.com:
I've been playing the Epiphone T-Bird for a little over a year now. I love the beefiness of it and have dialed in a pretty good sound with it... and it can definitely take a beating.
Kings of Leon’s Jared Followill on choosing the Thunderbird, as told to BassPlayer:
I’ve used a few different basses over the years, but I’m pretty horrible when it comes to knowledge on the technical side of things; I basically started playing a Thunderbird because Gibson sent me a free one. I tried it out for one show, and it happened to be a really amazing show—it sounded great, and our soundman was really pleased. Because of its longer scale, it was a lot harder to play than my EB-3—which I could just rip on—but in time I got used to it. It was a difficult transition, but it sounded better, and it ultimately made me a stronger player. It had clearer highs and lows, and I could get a certain crunch that was missing with the EB-3.