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Mike Watt

Mike Watt interview, part 4: the Gibson Thunderbird

Mike gives us the low down on 30 years of music, and his Gibson basses
Introduction/Minutemen | Other Bands | Gibson EB3 | Gibson Thunderbird | Other Gibson basses

Mike Watt with his non-reverse Gibson Thunderbird
1966 Gibson non-reverse Thunderbird II: bridge moved up slightly so it would intonate, post holes filled and re-drilled. Bartolini preamp with bass-mid-treb equaliser mini-switch for 200/400/800hz mid frequency. Chandler Thunderbird re-issue pickup (no longer made? check this out). Bone nut. Black Grover tuners. Output jack put on side and replaced with neutrik locking 1/4" jack. Headstock repaired and whole neck painted black.
Gibson Thunderbird

GibsonBass Before you got into EB3s again, you were using a non-reverse Gibson Thunderbird II - what do you like about it, and what do you think about Thunderbirds in general?

Mike Watt With the reverse, the horns are too much in the way of the higher frets. I got into that with D. Boon (playing on the upper neck), but with the non-reverses it's all open for you. I got that in the early 90's. That was the good thing about touring back then, you could find basses for cheap. I got that thing, original Pelham blue. That big long headstock came off in my hands, it was all bondo. Gibson used that angled headstock for string tension, but, made the guy's weak. I added some mahogany & fiberglass on that thing. I really like the way that body was cut. The bridge was put up too close so I had them move it up a bit. I filled in the hole and moved it up.

Mike Watt: Contemplating the Engine Room
Contemplating the Engine Room

I used that bass for the entire Contemplating The Engine Room. I got asked to do a funny session back in November, with a pop singer that won that game show, ahhhh.. Kelly Clarkson, from a producer, an old friend I knew. I brought a few basses and that's the one they liked (Non Reverse II), the sound & stuff.

GibsonBass What are the extra switches on this bass?

Mike Watt I had them add a Bartolini preamp, with a bypass switch. There is something about, man I love them old nickel-plated Thunderbird pickups. I love them so much. I don't like the plastic new ones, you know; they are too tepid, too dampened. The closest I have come to them, for a few years, Chandler was making them, they sounded pretty close.

GibsonBass The 60's ones are great pickups

Mike Watt Yeah man, those are fucking great pickups.

GibsonBass Gibson did not keep records on anything.

Mike Watt One time I was playing in Kalamazoo, they closed the factory. A guy from there told me the same thing. This stuff is a mystery.

The old EB-3s were one-piece bodies, the non-reverse Thunderbirds, too. The other difference in the Thunderbirds, the non-reverses were two piece (neck & body) and the reverse was three pieces (neck and two body wings). I actually think there is better tone with the two-piece.

GibsonBass Some people think the non-reverse Thunderbird II also sounded better than the two pickup IV.

Mike Watt I had a non-reverse IV and I liked the II better. I thought they just added another pickup? They're not the same. I sold it to a kid.

GibsonBass Has Gibson ever approached you to do a signature bass?

Mike Watt There was talk once about making me a custom non-reverse - that was years ago and I just got caught up & torn and never followed it up. A cardinal red one you know.

GibsonBass Everyone wishes they would reissue those. There is of course the Epiphone version....

Mike Watt Yeah they did a bolt-on neck, maybe Korean made non-reverse that had P/J pickups. It was nothing! I went into a store, boy... Whoof. It is a good body shape, besides that, it yeah, was nothing, like a Squire P bass.

Youtube Video Clips
Mike Watt playing Thunderbird - click the images to view clips
Big Train / The Red and the Black, with Pat Smear, Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl Mike Watt - In the Engine Room Left - Big Train / The Red and the Black, with Pat Smear, Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl. Right - Mike Watt, In the Engine Room

Part 5: Other Gibson basses | Got something to add? comment | other GibsonBass interviews

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