Truth and Consequences, Pt. 2
Welcome back, everyone. Last month
we discussed some of the basic knowledge needed for buying a vintage bass,
as well as some general Rickenbacker
product know-how. This month we’ll
take a peek at Gibson basses and some
of their most common maladies. Think
of this as life preserver – as opposed to
life raft – knowledge.
Gibson basses were once the redheaded
stepchild of the vintage bass world. Now
they are starting to bring in some serious
money, and a lot of them are hitting the
market. These are perhaps the best buy of
any vintage bass out there and are quite
cool instruments in their own right.
My all-time favorite bass is the
Thunderbird. This has to be the most
abused bass in the world; I see more
T-birds with broken headstocks than
models that are intact. The problem is
that you have a fairly massive headstock
sitting on top of a skinny nut. If the bass
falls over, the inertia does a quick snap
job. Most breaks running parallel to the
nut are from this kind of injury. Breaks
running up and down are from the tuner
or back of the headstock resting on
the inside of the case. The case gets
whacked and you have an instant crack.
(A simple tip: remove your G tuner and
elevate the neck when shipping a T-bird.)
I wouldn’t let a broken headstock stand
in the way of purchasing a T-bird, but it
does impact the price.
Another issue with these basses is intonation – the bottom line is that the bridge
is in the wrong spot. 99.9% of T-birds
will not be able to reach perfect intonation. It’s not bad, and should not prevent
a purchase. Early non-reverse T-birds also
tend to suffer from high-action; there’s
nothing you can do here except grind out
the saddle slot. This resulted from the
neck being at the wrong angle, although
it was later corrected. Be aware that quite
a few Thunderbird IVs are converted
Thunderbird IIs. Have a professional check
this out for you.
A general issue in the Gibson line is that
there’s tendency for a mild split coming off
the screw holding down the E tuner. It’s a
straight thin split, easily repairable and will
have little to no financial impact on a non-mint condition bass.
A general problem with the Gibson EB
line is the heel. Heels break from being
dropped and heels break from stress. Neck
joints come loose from old glue under
pressure. Fortunately, a broken heel can be
easily repaired. Basses with repaired heels
are worth less. How much is up to you. A
visual inspection will determine this and a
good luthier can hide this if the problem
isn’t too bad.
But what if the neck set is going bad? If
the action is high and relief is proper, there
is good chance. If you see paint flaked
around the neck joint, do not automatically
think the neck needs to be reset – this is
common on EB-2s. A basic rule of thumb
is to take a piece of paper and put it in the
exposed seam. If it does not go in, odds
are it’s paint flake; if it goes in, odds are it’s
in need of a reset. If there is a stark color
contrast in the area around the heel, the
neck has most likely been reset – if done
cleanly and properly, there’s no issue.
The one problem area commonly found
on EB-2s is the thunder switch. Over
time either the spring fails and the
switch needs to be replaced or it gets so
dirty you think it needs to be replaced.
To clean the switch, push down on it and
don’t let it up. Spray electronics cleaner
down the shaft and push the switch in
and out a few times. Repeat as needed
and it will remedy itself. Another thing to
watch out for on EB-2s is that they are
easily converted to two pickup EB-2Ds.
The same is true for EB-0s becoming
EB-3s. The easiest give away is that a lot
of these were done by Jethro in between
oil changes and just don’t look right. If
you see a toggle on an EB- 3 instead of a
rotary switch, look very carefully.
Another bass I’m fond of is the Les Paul
Triumph/Recording series. The early ones
used a “transformer” jack because of the
instrument’s impedance. Without this jack
the bass is useless. You’ll know when you
have one – it weighs as much as your car
and it has almost no output. You either
need the specific jack or you will have to
convert the electronics.
Next up is the RD Artist, which may be
the best vintage bass for under $2000
on the market. The problem with this
model is the electronics go bad and
you’re in for a fun repair if you can’t find
a guy or the parts to do it. Lastly – and
I’ve seen a few of these – is a Grabber
with Ripper guts being passed as a
Ripper. A big local store had one swinging on the wall and didn’t even know it.
The easiest check on this is that they
have different headstocks.
My closing thought is this: not all Gibson
basses sound like mud. I personally believe
the more you look, the more you will like
vintage Gibby’s. Next month we’ll tackle
Fender basses – in the meantime, don’t
forget the canollis!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is
currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at