Peter Hook's 1976 Gibson Thunderbird bass, one mighty bird! Bought in the early noughties, and played with electronic dance band Hybrid on release of their second album Morning Sci-Fi. A glorious bass, all original, including the 76-inked bicentennial scratchplate!
Of all the basses Peter Hook has played, it's probably not a Thunderbird that springs to mind. It's the Shergolds, the Yamaha BB1200s or the Chris Eccleshalls that you're more likely to remember. But that angular shape was going to fit in at sometime, and around the start of the noughties, its time had come. He plays a black Thunderbird with New Order on Crystal, and then this one, bought in New York for a gig with electronic dance band Hybrid. One of his many collaborations during and after the New Order years, he plays on two tracks on Hybrid's second album, Morning Sci-Fi. Check out True To Form for that distinctive high-fretboard, chorus-laden sound that he made his own. It can only be Hooky.
He didn't play it often (blame The Darkness . . . see The Story below). And so it was left cased - and uncased - for many years, before he came to sell it in October 2021, as one of many guitars, amps and artefacts from more than 40 years in the business. I say uncased, because it was in a pretty sorry state when he sold it. Dirty and mouldy, missing a string saddle and a few screws - not entirely loved, but actually just a good clean away from its deserved glory. So, here it is, back to what you'd expect from a guitar that's spent nearly 50 years on the planet. Heavily roadworn, but an absolute beauty to behold. That Tobacco Sunburst on mahogany just glows. The long-scale through-body neck combined with Sidewinder Humbuckers guarantee all the foundation-shattering capital "R" rock you could dream of. Plus there's all that attack at the top end of the fretboard to fly like Hooky. Deserves no other name than Thunderbird.
See & Hear It In Action
Omega's Peter Hook Signature Collection Auction (2021): Lovely video to accompany the October 2021 auction. Plenty of shots of the Thunderbird, and so much more of the gear and artefacts from more than 40 years in the business. Magic stuff!
True To Form, Hybrid featuring Peter Hook (2003): It's about 5:30 into the track, but when you hear that bass riff, it can only be one player. Utterly distinctive! Probably not on this Thunderbird, but the collaboration which led to Hooky buying this Thunderbird for the New York gig with Hybrid.
Crystal, New Order (2001): A surprisingly long cut of Crystal from Top Of The Pops in 2001. Hooky may go on to say that he doesn't like the sound of a Thunderbird for his style, but he wasn't shy of using one for the appearance!
Norman's Rare Guitars Thumpin' Thursday: Michael Lemmo gives us the lowdown on a near-mint 76 Thunderbird. And then puts it through its paces. Got to love a Drop-D on a bass!
For a guitar that Hooky played so little, this Thunderbird commands a lot of attention in the video interview that went with Omega's Peter Hook Signature Collection Auction in October 2021. Regularly in shot in the one-to-one interview, and standing out amongst all his other guitars in this shot from the end of video. If you have the time, it's a special trip through the guitars, gear and artefacts collected by one of the most unique bass guitarists from the last 40 years or more. A legacy he's sharing, but cannot help but feel nostalgic for: "Every single piece is part of my history for the past 40 years . . . These things that I've kept for years like King Midas in his castle, when you're sat there on your own, it actually means very little. And yet when you put them out and let people see them, that's when people's imaginations are fired." They really are.
His career since New Order's first split in 1993 has been characterised as much by collaborations as it has his solo work. He worked with Hybrid on their second album, Morning Sci-Fi, in 2003, adding his distinctive bass sound to the tracks True To Form and Higher Than A Skyscraper. I'm pretty certain he didn't use the Thunderbird for the recording. He was certainly using it live with Hybrid in 2003, ahead of the album's release in October. As he tells it, he bought the Thunderbird in New York, specifically for a gig with Hybrid at The Limelight. He also guested with them at London's Fabric in August 2003, again ahead of the album's release. But the chances are he didn't play it that much beyond the New York gig. And that was for a couple of reasons, the first of which would take some inspired guessing, and the second of which is pure rock and roll.
If Thor played bass, he'd play a Thunderbird. Something about that angular shape, extended neck, and earth-shattering output. At various times in their careers, no surprise to see Lemmy, Gene Simmons and Duff McKagan all toting a Thunderbird. And also no surprise that it was a rock moment in 2003 that put a stop to Hooky's love for the Thunderbird . . . The Darkness released Permission To Land, that unabashed celebration of British rock. It hit Hooky hard ;-). "I loved the shape of this instrument, but not the sound. When I got it home, I saw a ‘The Darkness’ video and my love was never the same again." Frankie Poullain, who'd have thought you'd be the reason for putting a guitar back in its box?
Or not. The case got more action than the guitar for several years after. Hooky used it to store his more famous Yamaha BB1200s - numbers 1 and 2, as clear from the handwritten descriptions for each on the outside of this Thunderbird's case. Where the guitar itself was stored, it's hard to tell, but it wasn't in its happiest state when put up for auction. Yes, the nicks and dents of a guitar that's had a life, most likely before Hooky bought it. But also a lot of dirt, and even mould covering the body in particular. But it's amazing what a good strip-down, clean and wax can do . . . and the same works for a guitar too ;-)
The body wasn't the only thing that had suffered. There's a pretty heavy crack to the lacquer at the join of the neck to the headstock. Fortunately, not a break to the wood. I imagine it would take superhuman force to break a laminated mahogany neck. I'm not going to test that theory. But I had to ask "How did that happen?" Back to Hooky: "The guitar was purchased in New York for a gig with Hybrid at The Limelight in New York. I bought it the day before and was looking forward to playing it. Unfortunately I (Mike Bassett style) went in the bar for one drink the night before, got completely trolleyed and had the worst hangover ever the next day. At the soundcheck, I'd fallen asleep with the guitar on, and when someone woke me, I suddenly jumped up, slipped and landed face first with the guitar underneath me. So, I presume it happened then. I did notice before the gig but the guitar worked." Rock and roll, kind of :-).
One final part to the story. This guitar had its owners before Peter Hook bought it in 2003. Thieves beware! There's a lot of guitars out there with some form of id, carefully hidden away. Lift off the scratchplate on this one, and a previous owner has been very clear about who it belongs to. If your name's J Wagner, and you used to live, or still live, at April Lane, Newport News in Virginia, then this was once your guitar! I haven't tried the phone number you also added, but if you ever wanted to catch up with an old pal, give me a call!
Bicentennial Thunderbird IV
Number of Frets
Kluson 546 "large elephant ear" open-gear tuners
Thunderbird Sidewinder Humbuckers
Gibson Three-Point Adjustable Combination Bridge
Gibson first introduced the Thunderbird as a companion to their six-string reverse-bodied Firebird in 1963 - a Thunderbird II, with one pick-up, and a Thunderbird IV, with two. Their first true long-scale bass, with a mahogany neck-through body design. Sustain you could serve a short prison sentence to, and still hear on release.
For what today is such an iconic guitar, it didn't do well in its 2 years of production. Only 322 Thunderbird IVs were made before the non-reverse body design replaced it in 1965 . . . and they did worse. Just 280 or so IVs before Gibson pulled the plug in 1969.
But 1976 was a very special year. 200 years of independence for the USA. A bicentennial that demanded something commemorative, and eye-catching. Gibson turned to the Firebird and Thunderbird combination again, with 76 versions of each. The 76 Thunderbird was a modernised Thunderbird IV. Back to the reverse body and neck-through-body design, but with a simpler three knob set-up and Gibson's three-point adjustable bridge. And, to mark the occasion, the 1976 models had the added bonus of a "76" and stars added to the scratchplate bird. It did better than its 60s ancestors, but still underperformed most of Gibson's bass range through the 70s, and the last one was shipped in 1979.
Fortunately, absence still does what they say it does, and Thunderbirds have been back in production, and demand, since 1986. The small numbers produced in the 60s and 70s may be few, but they're all the more sought-after for it. This one's no exception. It's definitely had a life on the road, with plenty of dings and dents to the headstock and body, and some lovely lacquer checking to boot. But the neck is super-clean, with very little fretwear. And the sound is immense. Hooky may have been put off by seeing it in the hands of The Darkness' Frankie Poullain. Fair enough if you don't like your histrionic rock. But this is a bass that's far more versatile than that. Whatever your genre, it cannot help but look and play the part.
Sources & Links
Fly Guitars on the 76 Thunderbird: If ever you want to dig into the stories, specs, and original marketing for vintage Gibson basses, it's got to be Fly Guitars. Absolute treasure trove of information!