I first wrote this review on February 14, 2007… I have had one or two since then and now play the neck-through “Pro” version. Someday maybe there will be a budget for a Gibson ?
Epiphone Thunderbird IV Reverse Bass Guitar Review
I’m lucky enough to have a couple of basses at my disposal for recording or playing. I enjoy my Jazz Standard and fretless – they’re flexible and timeless.
But, sometimes you need the noiseless, punchy, crunch of a bass guitar with a big body and humbucking pickups. I went in search of just that very thing over the past year. I played tons of different instruments from several well-known (and a few unknown) manufacturers. I started out looking exclusively at 5-string humbucking basses. I had trouble finding a 5-string in my price range – in a bass that also had good sound and playability. I couldn’t find a bass in my target price range (sub-$400) that had sound and playability and humbuckers and five strings…
I had to open my search to four-string basses – which brought several great instruments into my price range. One of my long-time favorites has been the Thunderbird. The Gibson 4- and 5-string Thunderbirds are fabulous neck-through instruments. However, most musicians I know are on budgets, and/or need to have more than one bass at their disposal.
The Epiphone Thunderbird IV Reverse offers a fantastic balance among cost, function, and sound.
Quick Opinion: The Epiphone Thunderbird IV Reverse bass guitar is cool-looking, medium-weight, low-cost, and sounds fantastic. A bass player gets a ton of guitar for her/his money with the Thunderbird.
Interestingly enough, you don’t see Thunderbirds flying around on the stages of music acts very often. Part of the allure of the Thunderbird is its “different-ness.” Each and every time someone (even non-musicians) sees my Thunderbird, they remark that they really like its looks. When they hear the bass, they are struck by its flexibility and depth of sound. Part of the mystique is furthered by the fact that you don’t often see Thunderbirds in local guitar stores. The few that arrive in stock generally sell quickly enough that the floor is clear of them during most of the year.
Snag a Thunderbird. You’ll be glad you did. If you can afford the Gibson issues, get your paws on one. If your budget is tighter, you won’t be doing yourself a disservice with the Epiphone.
Playability: The Epiphone Firebird IV Reverse plays like the Les Paul of basses. The neck is wide enough to be comfortable in string-width, but is slim and tapered enough to make it easy to navigate the full range of the neck. The slick finish of the neck and the neck’s shape make playing up and down the neck a breeze. I tend to treat my bass parts as a melodic element, so I spend time on nearly all the regions of the neck – my Thunderbird’s neck really makes my bass playing more enjoyable. The neck isn’t as narrow as my Jazz, but is very similar to my Fender Precision bass… I guess it feels something a little wider when you’re playing it for hours on end. I like my Jazz and the narrow nut, but sometimes you just need to get your paws on a big hunk of wood and play BASS!
The frets are nicely done, although they weren’t polished and tipped like a Gibson. The overall effort needed to press a note to the frets is a great balance between buzz-elimination and strength required. It’s easier to get a clean note from this guitar’s neck than with many other basses.
The body weight is just right. It isn’t too light (it has miles of sustain in sound as a result of the body mass), but isn’t so heavy that it makes your shoulder sore after only a half-hour of jamming. I find that my Thunderbird is as comfortable as my Standard Jazz from a weight point of view. It lacks the body contours of the Fender basses, so it’s a bit hard-edged (like most Gibson electric guitar and bass products).
The balance is slightly biased towards the neck. As with most basses, the Thunderbird can neck-dive when you take your hands off the neck. The simplest solution is to grab a wide suede leather strap (or a good strong fabric, non-nylon weave) to do a better job of holding position on your shoulder. Some players relocate the neck-side strap button further forward or even on the back of the body to help compensate. I like to be sure my guitar mods are reversible, so, I went the wide strap route. Bear something in mind here: my Jazz neck-dives about the same amount…
Features: The Epiphone Thunderbird IV Reverse bass is standard with what you would expect with most basses. It has decent sound control and tuners. The Thunderbird has a fabulous neck and excellent pickups.
It has a volume knob for each pickup and a single tone to control the sound of both pickups. The knob closest to the neck controls the volume of the mid pickup. The knob in the middle controls the volume of the bridge pickup, and the knob closest to the instrument’s tail controls the tone-shaping pot (potentiometer). If you want warmer and rounder sound, turn up middle pickup’s volume and the bridge’s volume down. To make a more growly, biting sound, do the opposite. To get the big wide sound at full throttle, turn both the volume knobs all the way up.
For a time, the guitar sales sites indicated that the Thunderbird IV comes with EMG humbucking bass pickups – I do not know if this has ever been true. The pickups work like EMGs, but sound a lot like Asian-made Gibson TB ceramic pickups. The pickups are one of the key reasons I settled on a Thunderbird. These pickups are no slouch, and are phenomenal as a feature for a bass in this price range.
The tuners and neck are extremely well-done and function superbly. The tuners are stabile throughout a gig or recording session. The bridge mechanism is very versatile and has an overall height adjustment that doesn’t require tinkering with the saddles – I really like this bridge.
Quality: The finish is bar-none just about perfect. It looks great, the finish feels great, and there are no bugs or flaws anywhere.
The pickup and wiring system are well above-par for Epiphones in this price range. Generally, I have to tinker with electric bits on my Epis to get what I want. With this Thunderbird, it was great – right out of the box.
The set-up of the neck and the bridge adjustments were just right when I got my bass home. I didn’t have to tune or intonate the bass at all.
Overall, this is one of the highest quality electric basses I’ve ever played in any price range.
Sound: The Thunderbird has earned its name. It sounds wonderful. What humbuckers do for the Les Paul or SG sound, the EMG humbuckers do for this Thunderbird. This bass sings, crunches, growls, and thunders.
With many basses, the sound comes through in a way that “reds-out” the VU meters/recording meters when you crank them up enough to punch through the sound of the band. This is a fairly common problem. I often play my basses through a nice tube preamp (before pedals, amp, and/or recording interface). I get lots of nice sound this way – especially more punch. However, I need the preamp much less with the Thunderbird. It has respectable output power, and is harmonically more rich than it’s near-the-same-price competitors.
In particular, you can dial in a sound that works very well with acoustic guitar sounds – with the mid pickup and a little tone-down. But, the same instrument can be dialed up to rock hard with even the most demanding of musical varieties.
I prefer my fretless Jazz for the ultra-mellow sounds – but the Thunderbird can be really smooth and inviting as well if lightly plucked and not overblown with the preamp section on the amplifier.
You can punch, crunch, and growl with this bass. It also lends itself very well to effects such as reverb, chorus, flange, and even compression or gain distortion. The breadth of its harmonics makes it very flexible and versatile.
Value:This is an extremely excellent value bass. It is worth more than its street price, probably in the $400 to $425 range in actual value. You get a lot for your money. The Thunderbird has been offered in some neat colors, too (alas, no white this time around!). You have been able to purchase blue, traditional brown sunburst, gloss black, and a metallic red. I chose to purchase the sunburst – it was too wonderful to put down.
You get lots of sound and great electronics in this bass. I’ve not seen this level of sonic capability in any bass under $550. Only the bolt-on neck aspect separates the Thunderbird from the more costly instruments.
Wishes: I really can’t complain about anything with this bass at this price… really. If I were to offer a custom model, I’d want a few things different – even if it meant going back to the previous street price ($399).
My little wish list:
At least a glued-in neck (if the neck-through-body construction of the Gibson is too costly to mass-produce);
The very same bridge, but with lots more mass;
Schaller strap lock buttons! (OK, so I’m a fanboy. Sue me :-));
Would love to have two tone controls in addition to the two volume controls… Or, just maybe a switch instead of knobs somehow on volume or tone…