BunnyBass Field Trip:
Zon Guitars

Redwood City, CA
November, 2002

If you've been reading our bass reviews over the years you probably already know that we have a lot of respect for Joe Zon's work as a luthier. But though we've gotten to know Joe a little though e-mails and over the phone, for whatever reason we'd never had the chance to meet him in person until recently, when BunnyBassers Nancy and Jon found themselves near Zon country (a.k.a., Redwood City, California, about 45 minutes south of San Francisco) and decided to call Joe up and ask him if they could drop by and say 'hi' in person. Joe was extremely gracious and invited the two to visit his shop 'after hours' so that it'd be quieter and he wouldn't be running around doing stuff. Needless to say, it was really fun and we learned a lot - the following is our mini-photoessay of our fieldtrip to the Zon shop. Hope you enjoy it!

First impressions. We arrived at the Zon shop at about 6 p.m. At first we thought we might be in the wrong place - the shop is a modest brick building, with nothing but the address-numbers to identify it as the birthplace of Zon basses. There is no Zon sign- is this really where Zon basses come from? Nancy rang the doorbell and Joe Zon appeared - hey, Joe Zon is a big guy! Much taller than what we were imagining, kinda looks like a young, tall Robert Conrad... or maybe not. Joe greeted us very warmly and with a big smile and we both liked him immediately. We left the small front office area (which was immaculately clean by the way - papers in neat little stacks and objects on the tabletops are mostly oriented parallel or perpendicular to the edges of the tabletops!) and then moved down the hallway towards the woodshop. We saw lots of miscellaneous Zon goodies lining the walls - gold records from Zon players, early Zon ads from the late 70's and 80's (oh, the hair!), autographed headshots and posters from legendary musicians, and so on - very cool. Then we entered the Zon work area and wow, it was so clean! Brightly lit, well organized, and... clean! This is SO unlike most of the other shops we've visited - someone is exhibiting major 'Type A' personality traits here, we definitely noticed a pattern developing!

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The left side of the shop floor. The first thing that struck us as we entered the shop was that the space isn't very large. Besides a couple of small rooms for wood storage, finish spraying, and so on, most of the real hands-on workspaces can all be seen at once. For some reason we were both expecting something much larger, maybe because Zon basses are so famous we thought the size of the factory would match the size of their reputation. But the relatively small size of the shop immediately reminded us of the fact that Zon basses are built by a few skilled craftspeople, in very limited numbers.

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The right side of the shop floor. As you can see, everything has it's place in the shop, very tidy. The large silver tubing connected to the black hoses collect dust from the woodworking machines. A woodshop with very little sawdust on the floor, wow...

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Frets. This little machine is the fret press that frets every Zon neck. Joe Zon is relentless in his pursuit of effortless playability and perfect, consistent fretwork is an important aspect of helping to achive this. Usually quick to smile, we could see how Joe instantly became more serious as soon as he had his hands on the tools of his trade and started to explain about his building techniques. Over the years we've noticed this trait in many of the best artists, luthiers, and experts of all kinds we've met - this is a good trait.

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Joe and Joe pose for a quick demonstration of the height difference between the two. The big yellow crate behind them is the box the Zon folks ship their NAMM show booth/display stuff in every year. Joe also wheeled out a special machine he uses to precision radius his Phenowood (composite) fingerboards on, but we didn't get a good picture of it because it looked scary.

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Templates. Joe shows how he uses an acrylic template to cut the Sonus body shapes from a center-joined block of swamp ash. As Jon examines the direction of the grain of the wood under the template, Joe suddenly takes a moment to ponder the meaning of life.

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