Sunday, December 1, 2013

Epiphone Thunderbird Classic-IV Pro Bass Review

Hi there!

Bass players often joke around about Gibson not making basses, and though I am certainly not fond of their Les Paul or SG basses, I think their old Ripper and Grabber basses are pretty cool. Not to mention their big gun, the Thunderbird. Today we are looking at a very good substitute that is sold by Epiphone, the Thunderbird Classic-IV Pro.

The original Gibson Thunderbird was a refreshing change of pace when it was introduced in 1963. It had a bizarre reverse body profile and the headstock turned the wrong way at the end, courtesy of automobile designer Ray Dietrich. It also got a super-solid neck-thru construction and a tone that Fender could not offer. It caught on with a few band over the years, most notably, the Who, Cheap Trick, Lynyrd Skynyrd, not to mention its most ardent ambassador, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue.

Fast forward four decades, and you will find that Epiphone introduced their own imported version of the Thunderbird, and it was immediately panned, and for good reason. It had a bolt-on neck, was festooned with cheap-ass hardware, and it played and sounded like crap. However, it was really cheap, coming in at around $300 (about a fifth the price of the American-made Gibson model).

Well, Epiphone still sells that chunk, but they have since introduced a $400 Pro-IV and the $500 Classic IV-pro I am reviewing here. The Classic IV-Pro is a completely different animal, and could be a bass worth buying if you can hang with the eccentricities of owning a T-bird bass.

From the first glance you have to agree that they did a very good job of following the original visual theme. Epiphone went all the way with the wood, going for mahogany wings on either side of the seven-ply mahogany and walnut thru-neck. It retains the original thin body wings that step up to the width of the neck, which is a clever weight-cutting feature. Rosewood is used for the fretboard which is unremarkable until you consider that if you buy a new Gibson Les Paul you will get a maple fretboard that is dyed to look like rosewood. For $2000 more. This one is finished in Vintage Sunburst, which is the only color I like on this body style. Alpine White is also available, but I will make fun of you if you buy one.

That seven-ply neck has a 34-inch scale (rare for a Gibson bass) and it is a skinny 1.5-inches wide at the nut. It has a 60’s profile on the back and a 12-inch radius across the fretboard. They sunk some cute pearloid dot markers into that fretboard, and pressed 20 medium jumbo nickel/silver frets into it. There is no binding on the neck (or the body, for that matter). Hidden on top of the headstock are the sealed gear tuners, which are finished in black. This is a departure from the original shiny open-geared tuners of the originals, but the current Gibson T-birds use black hardware too.

Moving down to the body you will find that the three-point flush-mount bridge has the same finish. The bridge seems solid enough and is adjustable in every possible axis, allowing a multitude of set-up possibilities. The black hardware bugs me a bit, but it is not a deal-breaker. The truss rod cover has the Epiphone logo, and it would probably not be hard to find one that says Gibson if you want to fool your audience. Thankfully they went with iconic pickguard shape, complete with the bird outline on it.

The electronics are very good, with two potted Gibson ceramic magnet humbuckers. They are wired through two volume controls and a master tone control, which are in a tight line and set right next to the G string.

I have always liked the look of the Thunderbird, and Epiphone did a wonderful job of catch the vibe of the original. If you have not played one of these before it is kind of a trip, because the neck feels like it is a mile long. This results in some neck dive, which is somewhat ameliorated by the lightweight tuners. Thought the stepped body profile may look a little odd, I do not notice it when playing, and it certainly does cut weight as this bass comes in around 9 pounds, 2 ounces.

The neck on this one is nice and thin and its rounded back profile is very comfy. Epiphone’s Indonesian workers made sure that the frets are level with nice ends, which is something that the Gibson factory cannot seem to accomplish with their high-dollar Les Pauls. This bass showed up with good intonation and a medium action height. It is a good player, for sure.

The sound is very similar to the Gibson Thunderbird. This bass was originally introduced to combat the Fender Jazz Bass, and though the controls are the same the humbuckers are less subtle, which gives this instrument a different character. The output is more powerful and experimenting with different types of amps and gain settings will result in most any sort of tone you could possibly hope for. And though can play clean and distinctive tones, where this bass naturally shines is in super fat and overdriven circumstances. It is a dreamy rock bass, and you can see why louder bands prefer its tone.

So, for $499 (list price $832) you get a bass that is just as good as its Gibson counterpart for a thousand bucks less. This includes Epiphone’s limited lifetime warranty, but no case. Keep in mind that most cases will not fit the T-bird, so you will want to pony up for the Epiphone hard case, which runs about $98 (list price $148).

If you like the looks of the Thunderbird and can handle the ergonomics, the Epiphone Thunderbird Classic-IV Pro bass is the only one to consider. Check one out!


No comments:

Post a Comment