gibson bass history evolution

Ultimate Collector’s Guide: Gibson Bass

Deeply interwoven into the fabric of popular music history, the Gibson Bass guitar has cemented its place as an icon. This journey will take enthusiasts on a fascinating expedition, from the birth of Gibson as a company to the evolution of its premier bass guitars models. We delve into the painstaking details of acclaimed models like the Thunderbird, Ripper, and EB-3, exploring what positions these instruments as esteemed collectables. We’ll also unravel the nuances of bass guitar valuation, understanding how age, rarity, originality, and condition can impact the worth of these musical artifacts. Additionally, this dive into the world of Gibson basses will provide fundamental insights into care and restoration techniques, helping collectors maintain the longevity and performance of their treasures. Finally, a practical guide will walk aspiring collectors through the process of buying or selling Gibson basses, providing crucial knowledge for securing authentic pieces at fair prices.

Gibson Bass: History and Evolution

Origins of Gibson

Founded in 1894 by Orville Gibson in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has been a cornerstone of American music for over a century. Incorporated in 1902, Gibson initially gained fame for its mandolins before branching into guitars and eventually basses. Gibson bass guitars have become iconic in American music, praised for their warm tone and comfortable playability.

Development of Gibson Bass Models

Gibson’s first electric bass, the EB-1, was introduced to the market in 1953. It was designed in a violin shape, with one single-coil pickup. In 1958, following the success of the EB-1, Gibson released the EB-2, endorsing a semi-hollow body design, flaunting an improved and a deeper bass sound.

In 1960, Gibson revolutionized the bass guitar market by establishing the EB-0, a solid body bass bearing an uncanny resemblance to the infamous Gibson SG. With its distinctive sound, the EB-0 popularized the Gibson bass line and became a staple for many famous musicians including Jack Bruce from Cream and Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy.

The Golden Era

The 1960s were a golden era for Gibson basses with the introduction of numerous iconic models. The Gibson Thunderbird, launched in 1963, is revered for its unique design and booming sound. It found popularity among rock, pop, and blues musicians. On the other hand, the entry of the Gibson EB-3 in 1961, complete with its slim, fast neck, and dual pickup configuration, gained acceptance among prominent players across varying musical genres.

Recent Developments and Modern Gibson Basses

Post-1960s, Gibson continued to innovate and refine their bass models. Instruments like the Gibson Explorer Bass and Gibson RD Artist Bass introduced during the late 70s and 80s, added uniqueness to the Gibson bass family. In the 21st century, Gibson has reinvented several classic bass models with modern improvements. The current Gibson bass lineup includes reissues of classic models like the ’50s EB-0, ’60s EB-3, and classic Thunderbird, with integrated modern electronics and hardware.

For Collectors or Enthusiasts

Having a thorough understanding of various Gibson bass models and the different eras they come from is vital. Each model carries its individual tone, structure, and history – a personality shaped by the hands of numerous musicians over the years. This endows each bass with a unique character, making it an exceptional piece for both collection and performance.

Recognizing the distinctive feel and sound across Gibson’s diverse bass lineup deepens your ability to pinpoint the one that best suits your style as a musician. In addition, it provides the knowledge necessary to maintain the instrument’s integrity, which in turn preserves and potentially increases its value.

Different Gibson bass models displayed side by side, showcasing their variety and unique designs

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Key Gibson Bass Models

Spotlight: Gibson Thunderbird Bass

The Gibson Thunderbird first took flight in 1963 as part of the illustrious Firebird series. Known for its “reverse body” design, this model has maintained a unique visual appeal that has captivated bass collectors for over half a century. Equipped with dual humbucking pickups that can be tailored using adjustable volume and tone controls, the Thunderbird is capable of delivering a robust and punchy sound that adapts effortlessly to a range of musical styles.

Gibson Ripper Bass

The Gibson Ripper emerged on the scene in 1973. The interest in this bass guitar stems from its unique L9-S circuitry with four distinct sounds that can be toggled by a four-way rotary switch. Its pickup configuration, featuring Bill Lawrence-designed super humbuckers, extends its range of tonal options, enabling the Ripper to produce a wide array of sounds. In addition, the Ripper boasts an unusual elongated headstock and a contoured body, adding to its unique visual appeal.

Gibson EB-3 Bass

Another iconic model in the Gibson lineup is the EB-3 bass, first debuted in 1961. It became acclaimed from its association with Jack Bruce of Cream, who used it as his primary instrument in the 1960s. Featuring a mahogany body and neck with a rosewood fingerboard, the EB-3 offers a short scale length and lighter weight, making it comfortable and easy to play. It also utilizes a humbucker pickup in the neck position and a smaller mini-humbucker in the bridge position, giving it a versatile tonal range. An innovative ‘Baritone pushbutton’ provides a powerful, deep bass sound that is unique to the EB-3.

Gibson RD Artist Bass

The Gibson RD Artist Bass is a collectors’ favorite due to its innovative design and limited production run from 1977 to 1982. This model was the first Gibson bass to include an onboard active electronics system, the “Moog Circuit.” This system provided dynamic sound-shaping capabilities with switches for compression, expansion, and bright mode. The RD Artist Bass has an uncommon body shape with a maple body and neck. The model’s rarity and unique sonic capabilities make it highly sought by collectors.

Gibson Les Paul Bass

The Les Paul name is well known among guitar enthusiasts, but Gibson also marketed Les Paul basses in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These instruments feature the recognizable single-cutaway design along with two low impedance pickups. A toggle switch assists in tailoring the sound to the player’s preference, making these bass guitars versatile in their output. Although these were not widely successful upon original release, their association with the Les Paul name has resulted in a following among collectors.

Diving into the Gibson bass guitar universe offers the chance to appreciate a legacy as rich and innovative as the sound these models produce. The Gibson Thunderbird, Ripper, EB-3, RD Artist, and Les Paul bass serve as just a few examples of the unique features and distinct tones available, each presenting its own standout appeal to both players and collectors. The vibrant allure of these iconic designs, especially those from models with scarce production runs, draws numerous enthusiasts and hobbyists towards them.

Different models of Gibson bass guitars displayed together on a stand

Understanding Gibson Bass Valuation

The Significance of Age

The age of a Gibson Bass guitar plays an integral role in determining its market value. Typically, older Gibson Basses command a higher price, attributed to their rarity and the cessation of their production in many cases. A well-preserved Gibson Bass that has endured the passage of decades can generate considerable interest and fetch a profitable sum. This increment in value due to age is commonly referred to as “vintage value”.


Next, a Gibson bass guitar’s rarity can also contribute significantly to its worth. Rarity doesn’t just pertain to how many such units were produced. It also delves into aspects like whether the bass was a limited edition or whether it was discontinued shortly after it was introduced. A rare Gibson Bass will hold a high intrinsic value due to its scarce availability.


The condition of a Gibson Bass is another critical component that can drastically affect its value. Collector’s value guitars that have been well-maintained over the years. This includes regular servicing and cleaning to preserve its sound quality and aesthetics. Guitars with damaged parts or those not in working condition may suffer a significant decrease in worth.


Originality also has a substantial impact on the value of a Gibson Bass guitar. The term ‘originality’ here refers to whether the guitar features its original parts or if some components have been replaced or modified over time. A Gibson Bass that retains most or all of its original parts will generally be valued higher than one with replaced or modified components. The value derived from originality is because original parts often deliver the authentic sound quality the model is known for, thus enhancing its overall intrinsic value.

Knowing The Market Value

For hobbyists or enthusiasts looking to determine their Gibson Bass’s market value, platforms like eBay completed listings or Reverb price guides can offer insights into what the instrument is currently trading for. Additionally, consulting with experienced collectors or professional appraisers can also provide a more accurate estimation of its current market value.

Introduction to Gibson Bass Collection

For those with a passion for collecting, a comprehensive understanding of the Gibson Bass guitar becomes crucial. It involves appreciating the elements that influence its value, such as the age, rarity, condition, and originality. This knowledge is not solely beneficial in appraising your current collection, but also in acting as an enlightening guide for any future acquisitions.

A Gibson Bass guitar with high value due to its age, rarity, excellent condition, and originality.

Maintaining and Restoring Gibson basses

Stepping into Gibson Bass Maintenance

Maintaining your Gibson bass is a fundamental aspect of ensuring its performance, aesthetic appeal, and overall lifespan. Routine practices like cleaning, string replacement, and fretboard conditioning are key to keeping your instrument in premium shape.

The body of the guitar should be cleaned using a soft, lint-free cloth and a dedicated guitar cleaner, steering clear from any abrasive chemicals that could potentially harm the finish.

As for strings, they should ideally be swapped out every three months for an average player, the frequency can vary more or less depending on how often you play. The fretboard requires conditioning at least biannually, using specific fretboard oils available in the market. This practice prevents the wood from becoming too dry and maintains a smooth playability.

Addressing Common Issues with Gibson Basses

Even with the most attentive care, almost every Gibson bass might encounter certain common issues such as hardware tarnish or worn-out parts. These can affect the aesthetics as well as the performance of the bass.

Hardware tarnish can be removed with a simple cleaning solution like white vinegar mixed with water. A cloth soaked in this solution can be used to gently scrub the tarnished areas. Worn-out parts such as tuning pegs or pickguards may need replacement. It is advisable to always purchase authentic Gibson parts for replacement.

Gibson Bass Set-Up and Adjustment

In order to optimize performance on a Gibson bass, specific adjustments may be needed such as setting the intonation, adjusting the action, and truss rod adjustment.

Intonation ensures that the bass is in tune across the entire fretboard and is set by adjusting the saddles on the bridge of the bass. The action, or the string height from the frets, is also adjustable at the bridge. Truss rod adjustment might need professional setup as it adjusts the curvature of the neck and could damage the instrument if not performed correctly.

Restoring Deteriorated Gibson Bass Guitars

Collectors and hobbyists may face the task of restoring older, more deteriorated Gibson basses. These projects can be quite complex and may require professional help. However, there are a few steps an enthusiast can take.

Examine the bass carefully for any major damage such as cracks, warping, or heavy discoloration. Gently clean the bass with a damp cloth to remove dust, dirt, and grime. If the finish is heavily damaged, it may be necessary to refinish the bass. Only undertake this task if you have the appropriate tools and training, as it could further damage the bass otherwise.

The hardware can also be replaced or restored as discussed in addressing common issues. Lastly, it may be necessary to replace the frets or perform a complete fret job, which should be done by a professional luthier.

Preserving Gibson Bass Value

Maintaining and restoring bass guitars is key not only for optimal performance but also to preserve their value. As Gibson is a well-established brand, its instruments, especially older or rare models, can hold or even increase in value over time if properly cared for. A well-kept Gibson bass can become a cherished item for collectors and musicians alike.

Proper care, including handling, cleaning, and repairing can not only improve the aesthetics and functionality of the bass but also enhance its value to collectors.

Nothing compares to the alluring appeal of a pristine, well-maintained Gibson bass. This delightful instrument not only brings joy to the player but also holds significant value for collectors. As a hobbyist or enthusiast, your Gibson bass is more than a mere instrument. It is a sound investment that deserves your utmost care and respect. When cared for properly, your Gibson bass will reciprocate with its mesmerizing beauty, unparalleled sound, and increasing value.

A person cleaning a Gibson Bass with a soft cloth.

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Where and How to Buy/Sell Gibson Basses

The Art of Identifying Genuine Gibson Bass Guitars

Upon deciding to purchase a Gibson Bass, your first task entails ensuring its authenticity. Each Gibson bass spotlights specific distinctive features that potential owners need to scrutinize. The most defining include an interior label within the body of the guitar or a serial number found embossed on the back of the headstock. Totally verifiable via Gibson’s records, the serial number decodes the production year of the instrument. Moreover, the company’s unmistakable logo rendered in its characteristic “Gibson” script should gracefully adorn the headstock.

Assessing the Condition of a Gibson Bass Guitar

Gauging the condition of a Gibson bass is crucial in determining its value. Factors to consider include the overall physical condition such as scratches, dents, and finish condition. Other key elements include the functionality of each part. For instance, ensure that the tuners, frets, pickups, and electronics are not only intact but also in proper working condition. You should also take note of any modifications or non-original parts, as these could devalue the guitar.

Negotiating Prices for a Gibson Bass

Being able to negotiate the price of a Gibson bass is a vital skill for any collector. As such, it’s key to be aware of the market and the average price range for each model. Resources such as the Gibson’s Vintage Guitar Price Guide can be enormously helpful in this regard. However, bear in mind that the final pricing decision will also take into account the instrument’s condition, rarity, and any unique factors (like famous previous owners, or historical significance).

Choosing a Platform to Buy or Sell Gibson Bass Guitars

There are multiple platforms where you can both buy and sell Gibson Bass guitars. For online purchases, websites such as eBay, Reverb, and Guitar Center are popular choices among collectors due to the wide range of instruments available. When selling, ensure to provide detailed descriptions and high-quality photographs to attract potential buyers and get a fair price. In-person options include music stores and guitar shows, which allow buyers the ability to physically inspect and feel the instruments before buying.

The Role of a Gibson Bass in Your Collection

Every guitar has a unique sound and characteristics that add value to a collection. Known for their distinct tone, rich sustain, and durability, Gibson bass guitars have become a staple in many collections. Models like the Gibson Thunderbird and Gibson Les Paul Junior Bass have legendary reputations among bass enthusiasts. By diversifying the models in your collection, you can ensure a wider palette of sounds to choose from.

Maintaining your Gibson Bass Guitar Collection

Maintaining the condition of your Gibson Bass Guitar collection is crucial to ensure their longevity and value retention. Regularly clean and polish the body, oil the fretboard, and ensure that the guitars are stored correctly to prevent humidity damage. Regular string changes and set ups are important for sound quality and playability, ensuring that your instrument stays in good shape for years to come.

Remember: A well-maintained, authentic Gibson Bass Guitar can be a worthwhile investment and a rewarding addition to any collection.

Image of various Gibson bass guitars on display in a music store

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Armed with this knowledge, collectors can now confidently navigate the fascinating world of Gibson bass guitars. Take the time to appreciate the rich history of these instruments and the ingenuity behind each model’s design. From valuation to restoration, make well-informed choices that will help increase the value of your collection. And remember, the thrill of collecting lies not only in finding rare pieces but also in breathing new life into worn-out treasures and ensuring they are passed onto future generations in their prime condition. As you buy and sell these instruments, remember that each Gibson bass guitar is not just a collector’s item, it’s a piece of music history that carries a story – a story that continues to unfold in your hands. Keep collecting, keep preserving, and above all, keep playing. The legacy of Gibson Bass is now a part of your musical journey. Enjoy the ride.