Being that I loved the mid ‘60’s Gibson non-reverse T-Bird basses back in the day, I ordered a Bach Thunderbird directly from the manufacturer, B&CH Music the in Czech Republic (http://www.bachmusik.com/en/), since they are the only ones that I’m aware of that currently produce a bass like this. I saw that a few people had them on the web and they looked fairly decent from the pictures that I’d seen, and although Epiphone offered a non-reverse a few years back, it had a bolt-on neck, and came with a p bass pickup, and a jazz bass pickup in the bridge position. This bass is all mahogany, with a set neck, and has the more modern 3.5” x 1.5” t-bird pickups, in the original locations.
The only way that you can buy one from them is with a direct bank wire-transfer, which is kind of a hassle, plus the fact that your bank will charge you anywhere from $35-45 to make the transaction. I ordered the model BACH BTH-2 TRD which has a price of 320.75 +110.42 shipping (these figures are in euros), which equates today to about $536 dollars US. So, after making the transfer it ended up costing me $536+$45 ( $581). When I ordered it, I specifically asked for the case to be shipped with it, since its way too long of a bass for any other bass case or gig bag to fit it into, and the website stated “case for this model in our offer”. I came to find out later, that their price DOES NOT include a case, and that it’s a matter of poor English on the manufacturer’s part. When it arrived approximately 2 weeks later, I also had to pay an additional $50 in extra shipping fees, taxes and duty fees, so now my total for the bass, without a case, was up to $631.00!
Bach ThunderBird Bass
Upon opening the box, I looked it over, and put it on my digital scale, just to see what this super-long bass weighed. Surprisingly, it came in at a fairly light 9 lbs 1.3 oz. The poly finish is okay, but has quite a few ‘waves’ in it from it not being blocked very well before they rubbed it out, so I would give its finish a C. The first thing that I did was look down the neck to make sure that it was straight. It had a large front bow, so I took out the included allen wrench and adjusted it. I was able to get it basically straight, with a few small dips here and there, but nothing that would effect its action in a negative way. The black plastic nut was poorly fitted, being a bit too small (not wide enough) and biased way too much to the bass side, so I immediately made a new one out of white Corian. The frets were beveled in a bit too much at the edges for my taste, giving a somewhat narrower playing area, but at least they were pretty level, and all of them securely pressed into the rosewood fingerboard. Since I ordered the two pickup version (which I now regret) I looked at the routing for it which was routed a bit too large for the bridge pickup. The pictures on the website show a nicely fitted route for it, but mine has 3/16th’s extra routing in front and behind it, so I’ll probably make a chrome bezel for it, since the originals had one anyway. Since I intend to replace the pickups, I now wish I would have just ordered the single pickup version and then routed the bridge pickup myself.
After making adjustments to the neck, nut and action, I played it acoustically (without plugging it in). That’s when I found out that all four of the machine heads rattled horribly, since the clover leaf is actually a separate piece from the worm drive. I removed each one, took them apart, and placed the clover leaf/worm shaft in a vise and pressed them together tighter which alleviated the rattle for now. These type of basses have always had quite a bit of neck dive, I decided that I’m going to install some new Gotoh ‘res-o-lite’ vintage reverse tuners, which have the appearance of the original Klusons that Gibson used, but save al ¼ lb at the headstock end (which is where these basses really need it). They tune much smoother, have a 28:1 ratio, adjustable tension, and all with NO rattles (plus the fact that I already have some in my inventory ;-).
Next, I looked at the pots and jack. In my opinion, you couldn’t possibly find smaller and cheaper pots than these, and the jack was no picnic either. I decided to replace them with CTS pots and a new Switchcraft jack. I also noticed that the pot for the bridge pickup's volume control wasn't ever grounded, but the funny thing is, it worked properly. The bass is wired in the same manner as a Fender Jazz bass, with a volume control for each pickup and a master tone control. The pots measured 450K each.
Okay, time to plug her when she was still stock. The amp that I used is an Avalon VT737SP channel strip, into a Crown xti2000 poweramp, using an Accugroove Whappo Jr. cabinet. My first impression is that the neck pickup sounds okay, but the bridge one leaves a bit to be desired. When using both, the pickups don’t have much highs or lows, and are kind of lifeless, so I’m going to be installing a set of Seymour Duncan SSB4’s in it this coming week (I just ordered them today). The factory roundwound strings appear to be stainless steel, but the G string has been deader than the other three strings since I opened the box, so I’ll be installing a new set of D’addario stainless steel ones when they get here. By the way, although the pickups look like they have metal covers in the pics, the pickup covers are actually made of ‘chromed’ textured plastic. On their website, they are listed as ‘alnico’ humbuckers, and I measured them to have a DC resistance reading of 9.07K for the neck and 9.01 for the bridge. They are quiet (no hum) but don’t have all that much output. In my opinion, they are not bad pickups at all, but not great either.
To solve the neck dive issue when using a strap, I simply relocated the upper bout strap button to the neck’s heel area. The original Gibson non-reverse T-Bird also had a ‘tummy cut’ on the back, and this particular version of this bass doesn’t, so even though with the balance issue being mostly resolved, the bass leans forward, and away from you when you play it. I found that very uncomfortable, so yesterday, I decided to cut a bevel into the back of the body (tummy cut), using pictures that I found on the web of a vintage non-reverse to approximate its size, location and shape. I’m also going to make a new pickguard for it, since the Philips head screws that they used to mount it are so large and look kinda out of place to me.
Here's a few pics of the tummy cut process:
Transparent red lacquer, and then clear catalyzed poly over the exposed area:
Sanded with 600, then 2000 wet/dry and buffed:
In these pics, you can also see the relocated strap button from the upper horn to the neck heel area. I used chrome Schaller strap-loks, since I don't want to be dropping this bass with its fragile headstock.
Here's a pic of it with its pickguard removed to show the set neck area:
In my opinion, the neck, body, bridge and tailpiece on this bass is actually pretty nice, and with a new nut, tummy cut, and strap button relocation, it has the potential for a very good bass, especially if you invest a bit more money into it, and possibly replace the pickups.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I may sound somewhat critical to some people, but also possibly be too forgiving, to others. I didn’t expect perfection, but I did expect a properly cut nut, cleanly routed bridge pickup, and machine heads that didn’t rattle when you played it, especially considering its price without a case of $431.75 (US), before taxes, bank fees, shipping and duty fees that add another $200 to that, just to get it here in the states. I think that most Chinese, Korean and even some Indian made basses are made as well, or better than this instrument, especially at this price point.
After several attempts, the instrument maker, Roman Bach (who I found to be very polite) did return my emails after a few days, concerning these issues and offered me a refund for the purchase, however, if I did return it, I would be losing my bank fees ($45), duty fees ($50) and have to pay the shipping back to him (about $143), so I decided to keep it, and make it into something that I could use, rather than be out the $250.00, and end up with nothing (live and learn, I guess).
Eventually, if I get it to sound the way that I want it to with the new pickups, I’ll probably strip the finish entirely, and shoot it with an Ivory nitro finish, but that’s down the road, and that’s only if I love its sound with the new pickups. For now, I think its appearance is fine, and I’m more concerned at getting some real tone out of it at this point.
I'll be sure to update this page once the new pickups are installed, and I'll also post a couple of short sound files (mp3's) of the stock pickups vs. the Duncan SSB-4's so you can hear the difference in its tone. I hope that this info is helpful for anyone that is considering purchasing one of these basses. At first, I was very disppointed with it, but now, after a few mods/ improvements, I'm actually starting dig this bass and I can't wait for the new strings and pickups to arrive.
SEE UPDATE BE:OW
Original machine heads
After replacing the machine heads and cutting the 'tummy cut', the bass now weighs 8lbs 9oz (one ounce over 8 1/2 lbs), and it is much more comfortable to play. To me, it's amazing how that 1/2 lb makes it feel so much lighter, and being better balanced definitely doesn't hurt.
With the Gotoh 'Res-o-lite' machine heads installed
Original wiring with small 500K pots, imported jack and .047 cap:.
New USA CTS pots, Switchcraft jack and vintage Cornell-Dubilier .047 capacitor:
The Seymour Duncan SSB4 pickups arrived today and I installed them. They sound similar to the stock pickups, but have a little bit more output, clarity, definition, punch as well as a little more high end. In my opinion, they sound great in this bass. To really make it more authentic, I intend to install two Mike Lull T-Bird pickups in it when he gets more in stock. However, they are indeed, very expensive at $289 each, plus another $40 for the bridge pickup ring, but I think that it will be worth it.
Here's a couple of pics of it with the Duncans:
Installed the new Mike Lull pickups and I made a new pickguard for it. I always though that the Bach pickguard's shape was a bit off, had too large of a beveled edge and the pickguard screws were not only in the wrong locations, but were HUGE. I also found some original chrome 'ashtray' covers as well as a Gibson truss rod cover.