When it comes to elusive guitars, the Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird ranks right up there with Gibson’s famously shy Moderne. Reportedly designed in 1959 by Bo Diddley, the Jupiter Thunderbird was so ahead of its time that only three were made—one of which Bo gave to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Decades later, after hauling it out of his vault to use on the trio’s latest release, Mescalero, Gibbons asked Gretsch to make him an updated version that he could take on the road. The result? The new Billy-Bo, which features a chambered mahogany body, a one-piece mahogany neck, TV Jones Power ’Tron and Power ’Tron Plus pickups, an Adjusto-matic bridge on a pinned rosewood bridge, a trapeze tailpiece, Schaller Straplocks, and exposed-gear Grover tuners.
If you’re looking for vibe on steroids, it doesn’t get any better than this science project gone awry. The Billy-Bo’s ’50s tailfin shape is off the scale, the 3-ply top binding hugs the complex outline with absolute precision, and the thick neck’s shallow “V” profile provides a killer grip. The tones are incendiary—meaty and muscular with a superb balance of bite and bass, and no shortage of greasy, gutsy drive from the overwound bridge pickup. Through a high-gain amp, this guitar rocks like a fiend, but you can also coax a lot of different tones from its simple (by Gretsch standards) controls. Be warned, though, the Master Volume’s placement doesn’t take too kindly to wild strumming—so just keep your right mitt roughly where Gibbons parks his, and you’ll find this interplanetary 6-string to be a most radically cool thing to sling. You go, Gretsch!