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John Entwistle’s Gear: 1971–1974

Thunderbirds and Fenderbirds; Sunn

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1971–1972

Bass guitars

Click to view larger version: 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV Bass.

Click to view larger version: 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV Bass, serial no. 160065.

1964 GibsonThunderbird IV bass

1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV bass

  • 1965–69 Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style)
  • 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV bass

    • Used at least two; one accidentally destroyed by Keith Moon while exiting stage.
    • At right, serial no. 160065 (impressed to rear of headstock), in mahogany.
    • Sold in Sotheby’s May 2003 auction: estimated £6,000–£8,000; sold for £28,800.

      John: “Once you turn up the treble on a Precision, the bottom drops out.” “In big arenas, I wasn’t getting enough bottom end from the P-Basses when I had the treble all the way up.”

      From April 1994 Bassist interview

      “…by ‘Quadrophenia’ and Who By Numbers I was playing Gibson Thunderbirds. I felt I was getting stuck in a rut, using all the treble. So I changed to Sunn Colosseum[sic: Coliseum] power amps and a German preamp called a Stremp [sic: Stramp], and took up with the Thunderbirds. Eventually I found that I had developed a new playing style, then discovered Alembic basses and went back to playing with treble. I go backwards and forwards like that all the time.”

  • “The Axe” Custom bass
    • Used 15 December 1971, plus Old Grey Whistle Test (1973), Tommy film (1974)
    • Designed by Peter Cook from a Gibson Thunderbird-style neck, with body in the form of a pole-axe, black and cream stringing, two Thunderbird pickups, two volume and one tone control, 34″ scale.
    • Inspired by previous Axe bass used 1967.
    • Sold in 1988 Sotheby’s auction: estimated £2,000–3,000.

Amplification

John Entwistle began using the first iteration of his Sunn rig at this time, a 1,200-watt system, designed by Bob Heil, who also designed the Who’s first Sunn PA for the Who’s next tour. John’s rig was not miked through the PA.

1971

  • Amplifiers
    • One Sunn Coliseum Lead head
    • One Sunn Coliseum Bass head
  • Speakers
    • Two Sunn 412L 4x12 cabinets or one Sunn with one Hiwatt SE4123 4x12 cabinet
    • Two Sunn 1x18 cabinets

Conrad Sundholm (of Sunn), on the Sunn Coliseum bass amp (from the Sunn Shack):

But the Coliseum series, that included the bass amp used by the Who, was a unique preamp circuit because each of the tone controls was a separate preamp. You could turn it all the way off, so you had ultimate control. A lot of versatility — you could turn the midrange off or turn the bass off or the treble, it used active filters.

1972

  • Amplifiers
    • One Sunn Coliseum Lead head
    • One Sunn Coliseum 880 head
    • One Sunn Coliseum Bass head
  • Speakers
    • Two Sunn 412L 4x12 cabinets (center)
    • Two Sunn 1x18 cabinets (left/right bottom)
    • Two Sunn 3x12 cabinets (left/right top)

From December 1996 Total Guitar magazine interview

What gear were you using on the [Quadrophenia] sessions?

“It was a Gibson Thunderbird bass and Sunn amps. I used a very straight bass sound in the studio, although later for the tours I started to use more treble and got a bit raunchier. But I basically set the Sunn amps completely flat. I’ve never been fully comfortable with my bass sound, and it doesn’t seem to transfer to tape very well unless it’s live. I felt like I’d got stuck in a rut and the only way I could get out of it was by changing my playing style, my technique and all my gear. I started using the Thunderbird which had a much bassier sound, in fact no treble at all!

Sunn amps had a pretty solid sound to them and all this combined helped me out of this rut I was in as a player. I then went back to using treble and my style changed yet again. Even now, when I find myself in a corner, I force myself to change equipment or play in a different way.”

From October 1994, Guitar World interview

Also, around Quadrophenia was when I changed to Gibson Thunderbird basses. Either Thunderbird or Fender/Thunderbird hybrids. I had bodies made with the Thunderbird pickup and bridge. The bridge is positioned a sixteenth of an inch forward of where it is on the stock Thunderbird. And I put Fender necks on because the Thunderbird necks were too thin on top.

Ca. 1971, with custom-color (possibly orange) Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style). Early version of Sunn rig, with Hiwatt SE4123 and Sunn 412L cabinets, and Hiwatt CP103 amplifier (as backup).

Ca. 1971, with custom-color (possibly orange) Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style). Early version of Sunn rig, with Hiwatt SE4123 and Sunn 412L cabinets, and Hiwatt CP103 amplifier (as backup).

Ca. 1971, with custom-color (possibly orange) Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style). Amp rig is Sunn Coliseum Bass and Sunn Coliseum Lead heads, two Sunn 412L 4x12s and two Sunn 1x18s.

Ca. 1971, with custom-color (possibly orange) Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style). Amp rig is Sunn Coliseum Bass and Sunn Coliseum Lead heads, two Sunn 412L 4x12s and two Sunn 1x18s.

Click to view larger version. 16 Aug. 1971, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, Ill., with Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style). Courtesy Bob Elliott.

Click to view larger version. 16 Aug. 1971, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, Ill., with custom-color (possibly orange) Gibson Thunderbird IV bass (“Non-Reverse”-style). Possibly the bass Keith tripped over and broke the neck off of it. Amp rig is one Sunn Coliseum Bass head (left) and one Sunn Coliseum Lead head (right), with two Sunn 412L 4x12s and two Sunn 1x18s. Courtesy Bob Elliott.

Sunn rig, ca. 1972, with one Sunn Coliseum Bass (top), one Sunn Coliseum 880 (middle), and one Sunn Coliseum Lead (bottom). Bass is 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV.

Sunn rig, ca. 1972, with one Sunn Coliseum Bass (top), one Sunn Coliseum 880 (middle), and one Sunn Coliseum Lead (bottom). Bass is 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV.

Ca. 1972, showing the Sunn rig, with one Sunn Coliseum Bass (top), one Sunn Coliseum 880 (middle), and one Sunn Coliseum Lead (bottom). Bass is 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

9 Sept., 1972, showing the Sunn rig, with one Sunn Coliseum Bass (top), one Sunn Coliseum 880 (middle), and one Sunn Coliseum Lead (bottom). Cabinets are two Sunn 3x12 (outside top), two Sunn 412L 4x12 (inside), and two Sunn 1x18 (outside bottom). Bass is 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

Ca. 1972, showing the Sunn rig, with one Sunn Coliseum Bass (top), one Sunn Coliseum 880 (middle), and one Sunn Coliseum Lead (bottom). Bass is 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

9 Sept., 1972, showing the Sunn rig, with one Sunn Coliseum Bass (top), one Sunn Coliseum 880 (middle), and one Sunn Coliseum Lead (bottom). Cabinets are two Sunn 3x12 (outside top), two Sunn 412L 4x12 (inside), and two Sunn 1x18 (outside bottom). Bass is 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

Ca. 1972, 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

9 Sept., 1972, with 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

Late 1971 stage setup, showing John’s Sunn setup, with Sunn Coliseum Bass and Sunn Coliseum Lead heads, two Sunn 412L 4x12s and two Sunn 1x18s.

Late 1971 stage setup, showing John’s Sunn setup, with Sunn Coliseum Bass and Sunn Coliseum Lead heads, two Sunn 412L 4x12s and two Sunn 1x18s. Stack stage-right of John’s rig is for guitar monitoring.

Ca. Spring 1971, Young Vic, with last uses of the Hiwatt rig, and first uses of the 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

Ca. Spring 1971, Young Vic, with last uses of the Hiwatt rig, and first uses of the 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

Ca. Spring 1971, Young Vic, with last uses of the Hiwatt rig, and first uses of the 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

Ca. Spring 1971, Young Vic, with last uses of the Hiwatt rig, and first uses of the 1965–69 sunburst Gibson Thunderbird IV (“Non-Reverse”-style).

At home, with 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV bass.

At home, with 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV bass, and son Christopher with 1972 mini Thunderbird bass.

West L.A. Music has in its possession one of John’s 1963 Gibson Thunderbird IV basses.

West L.A. Music has on display one of John’s 1963 Gibson Thunderbird IV basses. ©West L.A. Music.

Click to view larger version.Late use of Gibson Thunderbird IV bass, On stage ca. 1974. Courtesy Bob Elliott.

Click to view larger version. Late use of Gibson Thunderbird IV bass, On stage ca. 1974. Courtesy Bob Elliott.

“The Axe” custom bass guitar

15 December 1971 in Seattle, John plays “The Axe,” a Peter Cook custom bass built around a Gibson Thunderbird neck. ©copyright and courtesy of Jeff Gledhill.

15 Dec., 1971 in Seattle, John plays “The Axe,” a Peter Cook custom bass built around a Gibson Thunderbird neck. © copyright and courtesy of Jeff Gledhill.

1973, Old Grey Whistle Test, John plays “The Axe,” a Peter Cook custom bass built around a Gibson Thunderbird neck.

1973, Old Grey Whistle Test, John plays “The Axe,” a Peter Cook custom bass built around a Gibson Thunderbird neck.

1988 Sotheby’s auction of “The Axe,” a Peter Cook custom bass built around a Gibson Thunderbird neck.

1988 Sotheby’s auction of “The Axe,” a Peter Cook custom bass built around a Gibson Thunderbird neck. Courtesy Bruce K.

1972–1974

“Fenderbird”

“Fenderbird”

Bass guitars

  • 1964 Gibson Thunderbird IV bass
  • “Fenderbird”

    Sunburst, black and orange/red-painted “Fenderbird” basses

    • Gibson Thunderbird bridge hardware and electronics
    • Custom mahogany Thunderbird IV-clone bodies (slightly thicker than a standard Thunderbird IV body to accept the Fender bolt-on neck — possibly the same thickness as a Fender Precision; which improved the tone, according to John).
    • Fender Precision maple neck, bolted on.
    • Height adjustment screws on the pickups were altered by Peter Cook to be slightly countersunk so John didn’t tear his fingernails on them.
    • Paxman cases specifically designed for the Fenderbirds.
  • 1967 Rickenbacker 4005L “Light Show” bass

    • Serial no. GE2208
    • Used for television appearance only (5:15 rehearsal on 3 Oct. 1973, on “Top of the Pops”)

Amplification

  • Amplifiers
    • One Sunn Coliseum Lead head
    • One Sunn Coliseum 880 head
    • One Sunn Coliseum Bass head
    • One Sunn Coliseum Slave power amp
  • Speakers
    • Two Sunn 412L 4x12 cabinets (center left/right)
    • Two Sunn 3x12 cabinets (top outside left/right)
    • Two Sunn 1x18 cabinets (bottom outside left/right)
    • Two Sunn W 1x18 PA bins (bottom inside left/right)
  • Signal divided by electronic crossover and sent to particular amplifier set for frequency range.

From October 1994, Guitar World interview

Also, around Quadrophenia was when I changed to Gibson Thunderbird basses. Either Thunderbird or Fender/Thunderbird hybrids. I had bodies made with the Thunderbird pickup and bridge. The bridge is positioned a sixteenth of an inch forward of where it is on the stock Thunderbird. And I put Fender necks on because the Thunderbird necks were too thin on top.

From November 1975, Guitar Player interview

Once I realized the Thunderbird was the bass I was going to be playing for a few years, I panicked because they stopped making them. I went to Manny’s [156 West 48th St., New York, NY 10036], and told them to buy up the whole stock, so consequently I got ten two-pickup Thunderbirds. Some of them had harmonic, microphonic pickups, so I couldn’t use them, and with the rest, I just couldn’t get the action as low as I wanted. So I used the pickups and hardware and bought some blonde Fender Precision necks and had some old style Thunderbird bodies built for the Fender necks to fit, and I’ve been using them on stage more than the Thunderbirds. I use them for recording as well. Blonde Precision necks are my favorites; those and Rickenbackers. Thunderbird necks tend to be too thin down at the bottom. I get my fingers all tangled up when I go to the first fret.

From November 1975, Guitar Player interview

On stage, I use two Sunn Coliseum stacks with Ox, and four with the Who. I use the straight Coliseum amp with a slave going through four 18’s, two in a big reflex cabinet, almost like a PA cabinet, and two in just straight compressed cabinets. Then I use two other amps, one for midrange, going through two 4-12’s and then an amp coming from the preamp out into the front of the next amp, with a lead cord which goes through two 3-12’s, which are like PA cabinets as well. This so I can project the sound but still have some sound on stage. The 18’s are Vegas and the 12’s are all the normal Sunn speakers

What setting do you use on the amps?

I more or less have to use the equipment flat out with the stuff I’m using with Ox. I’d much rather use a lot more equipment, but it means I’d probably drown the band completely out. To get more treble I use an MXR, the little red box. It has a reverse limiting effect; it spreads the sound out and sustains it. It also doubles the volume. The only other pedal I use is a phaser, though I have quite a few other pedals at home — Morley echo pedals, power-wahs — but I really haven’t had time to incorporate them. I don’t want big rows of switches all over the place; I trip over the phaser as it is.

From the October 1974 Guitarist:

From about the time of the Who’s next album I used a cross between a Gibson Thunderbird and a Precision. I had it made for me with a Fender neck and the Thunderbird body, with Gibson bridge and fittings. Now I’m back to Precisions, but I’m happy with anything really, as long as it’s long-scale. I need to have the right feel when I’m on stage, and short-scale basses just don’t feel right for me.

Ca. 1973, recording Quadrophenia, with painted “Fenderbird.”

Ca. 1973, Ramport Studios, recording Quadrophenia, with Orange-painted “Fenderbird,” and Sunn amp/cab (background).

Painted “Fenderbird,” ca. March 1973.

Orange-painted “Fenderbird,” ca. March 1973.

Top of the Pops ca. October 1973

Performing 5.15 on “Top of the Pops,” 3 Oct. 1973, with Fenderbird in black.

Top of the Pops ca. 1973

John with Rickenbacker 4005L “Light Show” bass.

“Fenderbird”

Painted “Fenderbird,” with custom Paxman case viewable below table.

Painted “Fenderbird”

Ca. 1973, painted “Fenderbird”

Sunburst finish “Fenderbird”

Black finish “Fenderbird”

Sunburst finish “Fenderbird”

Black finish “Fenderbird”

Sunburst finish “Fenderbird”

Black finish “Fenderbird”

Orange-coloured “Fenderbird”

Orange-coloured “Fenderbird”

Orange-coloured “Fenderbird”

Orange-coloured “Fenderbird”

Click to view larger version. Black-finish “Fenderbird” and Sunn stack pictured in Sunn ad, ca. 1974. Courtesy WhiteFang’s Who Site.

Click to view larger version. Black-finish “Fenderbird” and Sunn stack pictured in Sunn ad, ca. 1974. Courtesy WhiteFang’s Who Site.

“Fenderbird” details

Multiple views of one of John Entwistle’s orange/red-painted “Fenderbird” custom bass guitars and Paxman case, courtesy Rock Stars Guitars.

Click to view larger version: Front view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird,” courtesy RockStarsGuitars.com.

Click to view larger version: Front view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird,” courtesy Rock Stars Guitars.

Click to view larger version: Body view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird,” courtesy RockStarsGuitars.com.

Click to view larger version: Body view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird,” courtesy Rock Stars Guitars.

Click to view larger version: Rear view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird,” courtesy RockStarsGuitars.com.

Click to view larger version: Rear view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird,” courtesy Rock Stars Guitars.

Click to view larger version: Top view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird” and custom Paxman case, courtesy RockStarsGuitars.com.

Click to view larger version: Top view of John Entwistle’s “Fenderbird” and custom Paxman case, courtesy Rock Stars Guitars.

Amplification

Sunn rig, ca. 1973.

Sunn rig, ca. October 1973. Amps are, (left top) Sunn Coliseum 880, (left bottom) Sunn Coliseum Power Amp, (right top) Sunn Coliseum Bass, (right bottom) Sunn Coliseum Lead. Cabinets are two Sunn 3x12 (outside top), two Sunn 412L 4x12 (inside top), two Sunn 1x18 (outside bottom), and two Sunn W 1x18 bins (inside bottom).

November 1973, at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, Sunn rig configuration.

20 Nov. 1973, at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, with Sunn rig configuration.

Ca. 1974, Sunn rig configuration.

Ca. 1974, Sunn rig configuration.

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