The Gibson Thunderbird was introduced in 1963. At the time, Fender had been the leader in the electric bass market since their introduction of the Precision Bass twelve years earlier.The Thunderbird was designed by U.S. auto designer Raymond H. Dietrich (Chrysler, Lincoln, Checker) along with the Firebird guitar, which it resembles in design, construction, and name .
The Thunderbird bass, like the Rickenbacker 4000 series, and like the Firebird guitar it was designed concurrently with, had neck-through construction, where the neck wood went through the entire length of the body, with the rest of the body being glued into place.
While previous Gibson bass guitars had a short scale of 30½”, the Thunderbird had a 34″ scale equal to that of the 34″ scale of Fender’s bass guitars.
There were originally two Thunderbird models, the Thunderbird II (one pickup) and Thunderbird ,In 1966, Gibson changed the Thunderbird’s design and construction. The original Thunderbirds (and Firebirds) had a “reverse” body, with the treble horn extended and the bass horn recessed. Due to a lawsuit brought by Fender because of the resemblance to the Fender Jazzmaster, the body styles were modified, with the result being called the “non-reverse” body. Also, the expensive neck-through construction was replaced by traditional Gibson set-neck construction. The non-reverse Thunderbird was continued until 1969, when the Thunderbird was discontinued. Though fewer non-reverse Thunderbirds were shipped, the original reverse-body instruments retain a higher collector’s value. Gibson started producing the non-reverse Thunderbirds again for the public in late 2012 .
The Thunderbird IV was reissued in 1976 as a bicentennial edition. This reissue featured the original body shape and neck-through construction but unlike the previous issues, the bicentennial edition included the new “3-point” bridge and a red, white, and blue thunderbird logo. The bass was offered in tobacco burst, ebony, white, or natural finish. After the bicentennial, the Thunderbird was continued as a regular production model until 1979, when it was discontinued once again.
There are some guitars—the Les Paul, the SG, the Flying V—that are instantly recognizable, their iconic shapes having long been embedded into the hearts and minds of music enthusiasts everywhere. The Gibson Thunderbird IV bass joined this distinguished lineup shortly after its introduction in 1963.
The Thunderbird’s unique “reversed” zig-zag body design and equally distinct headstock was the brainchild of legendary automotive designer and visionary Ray Dietrich, enlisted by Gibson to bolster the guitar lines of the early ’60s and help solidify the company’s eminent rank among solidbody electric guitar manufacturers.Today’s Thunderbird IV—with its huge, thunderous sound—is still a benchmark of innovation, functionality, and style, and continues to symbolize Gibson’s drive to achieve creative excellence.