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1978 Gibson RD Artist Bass Guitar, Fireburst + OHC & Original Owners Manual

Model RD Artist bass
Available 1977-81
Pickups Mark V humbuckers
Hardware 3-point chrome bridge, and Schaller BMor occasionally M-4 machine heads
Scale 34 3/8 inch
Body Maple
Neck Three-piece maple set neck, with ebony fretboard
Finishes Fireburst.

Weight: 11lb-9oz

Serial #: 71998001

PX Always Welcome

Heads up all ye aficionado bassists, here we have a beautiful example of a 1978 Gibson RD Artist Bass in Fireburst. The Cadillac of the RD series basses. What a great vintage bass this one is. They were only produced between 1977-1981, so this is one of the earlier ones. Made in the Kalamazoo Plant, MI, USA on July 18th, 1978, Production Number: 1

It is in really great condition for the year and the Moog active electronics are in great working order. It has some honest play-wear, but that just gives it the authenticity it deserves. The neck is ‘Bang-On’ straight & the action is as low or high as you want it. The sheer tonal variations are quite mind-blowing, from thunderous P bass Hz to the mid-high pop & slap of a J bass.This beast even has built-in compression for God’s sake! I have included all the spec data below to give you a head start on its switching options & Moog-Worthiness.  Comes with its original case & even has its original owners manual, which is very neat.

These babies do not come along that often, so if interested, I suggest you don’t ponder too long, as it’s likely to fly!


The RD Artist was launched in late 1977, after two years of development (see the RD Artist timeline), as Gibsons first active bass guitar. According to the Gibson product development director at the time, Bruce Bolen, it had been designed from a “musical purpose” point of view, “to determine what the musical instrument is supposed to accomplish”.

Gibson had worked closely with Moog (at this time both companies were subsidaries of Norlin) and Who bassist John Entwistle, to create a bass that would benefit from the newly emerging electronics being fitted to basses by manufacturers like Alembic. Bruce Bolen explains, in this 1978 quote, some of the vision behind the RD Artist.


Bruce Bolen0One of the particular musical qualities that I personally was looking for in one of the models, was a similar effect to that of a steel player – this being the reduction of the intitial attack and the swell of the note after the initial attack had been made. A steel player of course uses a volume pedal to accomplish this but it was still something missing. Bob designed a special circuit that would achieve this as well as an expansion circuit unlike any other that had been designed to date.0


It was a very high quality instrument with a terrific array of sounds, it replaced the Ripper as Gibsons best-selling bass of 1978 and 1979.

The RD artist first appeared in the 1978 RD catalogue and then the 1978 Quality/Prestige/Innovation catalogue, along with the RD standard, and a range of RD guitars.

RD Artist controls

The four dials on the active RD guitars were a volume for each pickup, as would be expected, a treble control, and a bass control. The unusual thing about the bass and treble controls was that they operated in the range 5 to -5, with 0 being the neutral position. Listen to this clip – it demonstrates the RD bass at its most mellow (neck pickup, bass 5, treble -5) and then again at its most brash (bridge pickup, bass -5, treble 5 expansion and bright mode). This was recorded with a second version Artist bass; the earliest versions were not able to employ expansion and bright mode simultaneously. These sounds are extremes, but the RD can do anything in between.

Gibson describes the first-version RD controls in the RD-77 owners manual, and the 1978 RD control description flyer. For differences between the first and second versions, see the 1978 RD Artist and 1981 RD Artist pages.

Expansion, compression and bright mode circuitry

The RD Artist requires a 9 volt battery to operate; it has no passive mode. When the input jack is removed from the instrument it draws no power, so to prolong battery life, it should be left unplugged when not in use.

Compression – neck pickup only. As can be seen in the graph, compression reduces the fundamental attack, and ‘compresses’ each note into a long sustaining signal.

Expansion – bridge pickup only. Offers a very fast, explosive response, with a rapid decay.

Bright Mode – affects the output of either (or both) pickup, and as the description suggests, accentuates the treble frequencies.

Justin Meldal Johnsen with RD Artist bass
Justin Meldal-Johnsen: “the basic tone is cool, particularly with flats”. Read more in the GibsonBass JMJ interview
Ralphe Armstrong with fretless RD Artist bass
Ralphe Armstrong: “I liked because it was big and it had a long fingerboard; you can play a G harmonic on it and it had a big sound”. Read more in the GibsonBass Ralphe Armstrong interview
Krist Novoselic with ebony RD Artist bass
Krist Novoselic plays and records with several Gibson basses. In the Nirvana days he was regularly seen with a Gibson Ripper, and as pictured here, a black RD Artist bass. Image courtesey Brad Barrish,



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If you want to return an item please make contact for a returns authorisation. You have 2 days to try the instrument with a full refund minus our shipping costs (including our cost of free shipping if applicable). It is the purchaser’s responsibility to return any unwanted product promptly to the company in the condition they were received, using the original packaging and with a copy of the sales receipt. (We recommend you insure the item in transit). The item must be shipped back via a service comparable with which it was delivered, immediately upon return authorization.

Goods that have been altered from their original condition in any way cannot be returned.

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