Review by Kevin de Souza
Bass Frontiers Contributor
The concept behind Mike Lull’s success as a luthier seems very simple: take a classic design and refine it. Obviously a winner when it comes to the P and J-style basses his Bellevue, WA custom shop has been turning out for years (in the interest of full disclosure, I own a Lull PJ4 and am an endorsing artist with the company), Lull’s strategy is no different when it comes to his reverse-engineered Thunderbird-style bass, simply dubbed the T4. With a comfortable design, vastly improved hardware, and vintage-correct pickups, the T4 strikes an impressive balance between modern playability and classic cool.
The T4 was reverse-engineered from a stock 1964 Gibson Thunderbird, and while the overall vibe of that classic bass is maintained quite well, several tweaks make the T4 a great deal more playable than the original. The glossy mahogany neck is a bolt-on, an interesting melding of the original design and the “Fenderbird” mod that so many T-Birds saw when they fell and their giant angled headstocks snapped off. A smaller headstock, equipped with Hipshot Ultralite tuners, battles neck dive. The body shape is that characteristic zig-zag, but a forearm contour and the standard Lull neck heel contour, as well as the elimination of the raised center section on the back (don’t worry, it’s still there on the front!), improve the front-to-back balance of the T4. One of the more noticeable improvements is the T4’s two-piece bridge, which is wider than the original and has individual, adjustable steel saddles that allow for much better intonation. The finish work on the bass is also beautiful, as you might expect from a high-end, hand-built instrument.
I was a bit anxious about actually playing the T4 before I picked it up; I remembered the weight, the boxy feel and burly necks of the Thunderbirds I’d played in the past and braced myself for a repeat performance, but my concerns were soon put to rest. Mike Lull’s basses tend to be surprisingly light, and the T4 is no exception: you could play it all night and not feel it in the morning. Another trait shared by all Lulls is that their frets are leveled on a PLEK machine, which makes for great action on the already comfortable, Jazz Bass-width neck. When I played the T4 standing up, there was no neck dive, thanks to the lightweight tuners; when I was sitting down, the changes to the body design helped the bass hug my body instead of falling face-first onto the floor, as the original T-Birds had a nasty habit of doing. The short version: this is a solidly built bass that you can play without fighting to keep it upright.
One note about the size of the T4: While I had no problems playing the bass in any position, at 5’10” I had to stretch a bit to reach all the tuners while standing with it strapped on. I don’t believe this should necessarily be a deal breaker for smaller players–Meshell Ndegeocello can’t reach the tuners on her ’62 Jazz, but she still plays it–but it’s something to be aware of.
Plugging the T4 in puts the spotlight on one of the things Mike Lull kept the same as the ’64 ‘Bird: the pickup design. The Lull T-Bass pickups (as well as their covers and the surrounding pickup rings) are made to Mike’s exact specs exclusively for his shop, and they sound fantastic, with a midrange punch that works together nicely with the naturally darker unplugged tone of the bass and great string balance. The Volume/Volume/Tone controls on the T4 are familiar and intuitive, and yield a range of pleasing sounds. With the tone all the way up, the bite from the steel bridge saddles jumps to the forefront; roll it back, and you get a tone that’s dark without losing focus. The result is an awesome vintage-sounding bass with all the advantages of modern craftsmanship. I’m not certain how “at home” slapping and tapping-intensive players would feel on it, but the T4 would surely be great for most rock, pop, and country gigs a working bassist might find him or herself on. I tried the bass through a few different amps and speakers, but the classic combination of a Thunderbird and an 8×10 rig is hard to compete with. Turn it up and enjoy the, well, thunder.
Overall, I was very impressed with the T4. It’s obvious that Mike Lull put a lot of care into revamping the Thunderbird design, and his labor of love has paid off in a big way. With a starting street price of around $3500, this bass might not be within everyone’s reach, but it’s a fraction of what you might pay for a vintage T-bird that isn’t nearly as playable. If you’re in the market for a solid, straightforward high-end bass with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, the T4 is worth checking out.
The T4 retails at around $3500; a 5-string version, the T5, is also available. More information is available at www.mikelull.com.