I have had a decades-long love for vintage Japanese guitars and basses since I purchased my first Aria Pro II bass back in 1986, and since then I have owned and played more instruments from Japan than I would dare to admit. Well, today we are looking at really sweet one: a minty Westone Thunder III bass from 1983.
For those of you who have no been studying the history of Japanese guitar builders, here is a quick run-down on the brand. Matsumoku was a Japanese company that specialized in making guitars for many brands, including Aria, Epiphone, Vox and more. They built very good instruments, including copies of popular American instruments that caused some legal difficulties.
After building instruments for other companies for all of those years, in 1981 they decided to start their own brand and Westone was born. Their products were never a big hit and in 1987 Matsumoku sold the brand to a Korean company, and by 1991 the brand was gone. Not many of their guitars were imported to the US, and it seems like most of their products went to the UK.
If you look at this Thunder III, the most obvious thing is that this looks an awful lot like an Aria Pro II Super Bass. Of course those Super Basses looked a lot like the Alembics that they were copying, but that is a yet another bag of snakes. Anyway, it has a clear-finished laminated Canadian ash, maple and walnut body, rosewood fretboard, 2-on-a-side tuners, and a brass nut and bridge. This is not a coincidence, as Matsumoku built those Aria Super Basses too!
But, there are a few important differences. For starters, the Thunder III body has less extreme cutaways and it has 22 frets instead of 24. Also, the fret markers are cool little snowflakes, and the brass bridge has a more conventional design, which in my opinion looks better than the Aria bridges. But the big deal is the electronics package, which is really cool.
The Westone Thunder II Version 2 had optional PJ (HF600B and SA800B) pickups introduced in 1982, then in 1983 they renamed this PJ model as the Thunder III with no changes. These pickups are different than the humbucker(s) in the Super Basses, though they appear to use the identical 18-volt onboard preamplifier. The controls are not the same either. Instead of the 6-way control switch, the Westones got volume, active and passive tone controls as well as phase reverse, 'dual tone' (series/parallel) and active tone switches.
This one is kind of a time capsule, with no wear and just a few bumps and bruises and the frets and brass parts look like new. It is really a beautiful instrument, and it plays just as good as it looks. It has a 1 5/8-inch wide nut, and the neck profile is a comfy shallow C. One thing is that the body horns are so short that it makes the neck feels really long. It takes a little getting used to, but it sounds great in both the active and passive modes and it is worth the trouble. Having the P and J pickups gives it a lot more range than the Aria basses and it does a genuine Precision Bass tone as well as clean and edgy sounds. It can be a slap and pop monster too, if that is your thing.
I have only seen a few Westone Thunder III basses in the wild, and this one is still out in the studio if you are ready to get one for yourself. Drop me a line if you are interested, and we’ll see if we get it into your hands.