YOU HEAR IT FROM BASS PLAYERS OF ALL stripes: “I’m a Fender guy,” or “I’m a Gibson guy.” It’s as if pledging allegiance to one or the other declares one’s position in the greater congress of bass. On one side of the aisle sits those who celebrate the iconic Fender bass’s contoured body, slim neck, and balanced voice. On the other side stirs a somewhat rowdier crew of Gibsonites, who relish the virtually untamable low end, burly profile, and rebellious attitude of brutal axes like the Thunderbird, the Ripper, and the Grabber.
We might never agree on this matter of taste, but a bass builder from the Pacific Northwest may hold the key to compromise. For years, Mike Lull has produced some of the most coveted Fender-style basses on the market. Now he’s crafted an instrument to charm all but the most bullish of partisans: the T-Bass. Borrowing elements from the classic Gibson Thunderbird and applying his own spin, Lull has created a bolt-on beauty in the style of John Entwistle’s famed “Fenderbirds.”
Claiming that bolt-on construction imparts the kind of high-end response lacking in the original neck-through Thunderbirds, Lull has opted to fit the T-Bass with a graphite-reinforced mahogany neck. Our tester’s neck felt fabulous, effectively seeming to cross chunkier Gibson- style depth with a more svelte J-Bass profile.
Thunderbirds have long been dogged by their tendency to neck-dive, a design conundrum that Lull attempted to tackle. Lull’s sleek headstock design may look a little incongruous to some, but it’s a compromise I readily accepted, as its relatively light mass seemed to help the bass balance. (Ultra-light Hipshot tuners no doubt contributed, as well.) Slight cutaways on the back and upper bout of the bass helped my body fit against the T-Bass. I found the bass most comfortable to play with a pick; I normally rest my forearm on a bass’s body while plucking, and the angular lines of the T-Bass made this feel rather awkward. Still, when I grab a bass with this much attitude, I tend to want to sling it low and rock with a pick, rather than pluck flighty passages, so I consider it a wash.
Without fancy electronics or high-tech gadgetry, there’s really not much to this bass. But don’t confuse complexity with quality—judging from its gorgeous grain, the wood for this bass was chosen with an eye for excellence. Evidence of Lull’s keen eye abounds, from the new bridge (for more effective intonation) to the pickups, made to vintage Thunderbird specs. The pickups seemed another best-of-both-worlds home run, with both the low-end bluster of a Gibson and the clear, even response of a Fender. (Those looking to pimp their own T-Birds can purchase Lull’s pickups for $289 a piece.)
Big and ballsy, the T-Bird makes as deep an impact on the ears as it does on the eyes. Those seeking ultra-crispy highs and a focused midrange bark should probably look elsewhere, but for players keen on savoring a deliciously deep fundamental with a dusting of high end, the T-Bass might be your dish. As for the slappers in the house, the Lull’s big booty will get that thumb a-thumping, but you might do just as well to check out some of Lull’s other creations, since I found the body style made slapping feel a bit unnatural.
Lull has done a great thing with the TBass. The only shame is that few of us middle- class bass brawlers can afford to shell out three grand for the bass. That is, unless we convince Congress to extend Cash for Clunkers to include jalopies of the 4-stringed variety. I’ve certainly got a few beaters I’d love to trade in . . . .
MIKE LULL T-BASS
Pros Righteous look, balanced feel, and meaty tone
Weight 8.88 lbs
Options Active electronics, 5-string version, various custom finishes
Made in U.S.A
Warranty 3 year