you get into making basses?
i got into it initially when i was in high school. my parents
had just bought me an SG guitar and i realized after i got it
that i'd really like to have a telecaster instead. i knew there
was no way they were going to shell out the extra dough for me
to have two electric guitars because it seemed like it would
just be beyond luxury. so i thought, well, we have the wood working
tools in my dad's garage and i thought i'm just going to make
one. so i started to make a Telecaster, but i made with a few
little changes to it. actually at this point i met Seymour Duncan
- this is when Seymour Duncan was renting a five foot by five
foot corner of a little music store. just a little corner, and
so i got some of the first pickups that he ever made. we kind
of became friends and he helped me by telling me i should try
this and that. so i made this guitar, and then i made another
guitar, and then i realized that to pursue my music career, you
can't be making guitars all the time! so i just pursued my music
career. i moved to Los Angeles and i was doing the music career
for something like 17 years.
was right out of high school?
yeah, this was right out of high school.
kind of music were you into at that time?
i was playing everything, all styles. i was studying classical
music as a kid and i studied jazz, and i was playing in bands.
bunnybass: so when
did you get back into making guitars and stuff?
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how i really got into making guitars was that i needed
a guitar for myself. i was playing a gig where i needed to get
a certain sound, so i made one. then i started touring a lot,
and every where i went people would say "where do i get
a guitar like that?" - so it dawned on me, in the back of
my mind, "i wonder if i could sell these things?" and
then when i got out of my music career, when i was winding it
down, i started wondering "how am i going to make a living?"
a friend of mine, his wife had seen the guitars that i made,
and she said "why don't you make me a bass for my husband
as an anniversary present?" so she commissioned what became
the first MB-2 bass. i had talked to him about it for years.
we had always talked about "what would you like to have
in an instrument?" - just discussions. so i incorporated
some of these things that we had discussed, as well as some of
the features i was putting in my guitar designs - light-weight
woods, making it very resonant, light, balanced properly, aesthetically
pleasing, etc. so i made what became the prototype of this bass.
it actually hasn't changed since the very first one. he was having
a christmas party when i delivered it. there were a lot of musicians
and other people there, and when i delivered the bass everybody
flipped. i think i sold a couple more that night from people
who said "i want one!". then i thought, well, maybe
i should take one to a store and see how that goes. i took one
to what was then The Bass Centre in Studio City and put it on
consignment. it sold in a couple of weeks. that's how it started.
bunnybass: how close
was the MB-2 design to the guitars you were making before that?
physically not close to the way it looks, but the concepts were
all the same. the semi-hollow design, the resonant body. if you
choose the right woods, the right combinations, it doesn't have
to be heavy to create long sustain. the sustain is more about
the vibration than about any density or weight. light instruments
can sustain longer than heavier ones if it's constructed properly.
you explain that a little more?
the first thing i have to say is that i'm not a scientist or
an engineer of this stuff, so whatever i say i'm not even saying
that it's true. i'm just giving my opinion. it really has to
be qualified as an opinion. i'm not sure how to technically describe
this, but there's a certain point where a guitar can't be too
light and it can't be too heavy. the tone suffers if youhave
a real, real heavy guitar - it's even more apparent in a guitar
than in a bass, because you have the treble frequencies. if you
have a really hard piece of wood for a solid body guitar (like
heavy ash) the guitar will start to sound really brittle and
have a hard attack and sound thin. if you lighten the wood, everything
else staying the same, the guitar will start to develop more
midrange and be sweeter sounding. what i found is that if you
go even further and introduce hollow chambers, if you keep the
center block solid, the vibrations begin to make a loop. *drawing
an oval in the air with his finger* an acoustic guitar doesn't
have that so you pluck the string and it dies out. the vibrations
are absorbed into the body. if you have a solid center block
that's rigid enough, you pluck the string and it doesn't absorb
the vibrations, it keeps vibrating. i don't know exactly how
to explain this, but when you add a hollow chamber, it's almost
like it causes it to resonate different and there's some sort
of feedback loop created. i'm guessing on that. all i know is
from my experience from doing all the wood combining. i know
what sounds good and what doesn't. so it's my experience that
sometimes you can have featherweight instruments that can sustain
longer than instruments that almost weighs twice as much. but
you have to have the solid center block to get that. it has to
have a rigid neck, have the right woods, and be constructed properly.
it's not just about weight.
bunnybass: you mention
the importance of that rigid structure between the nut and the
bridge - why wouldn't you use a neck-through type construction
with hollow chambers built around that?
here's the thing, neck-through construction makes this kind of
note shape *draws a diagram in the air with his finger* - it
swells up a little and then slowly trails off like that. a bolt
on gives more this kind of shape *draws another diagram in the
air with his finger* - it's a sharper attack and then it comes
down, maybe a little quicker. so, sonically i prefer a bolt on
neck because it gives a little more punch. and of course from
a production standpoint it makes a lot of sense to make bolt
on necks, especially if you have a little problem with it, or
even if you make an instrument and say "this would sound
better with a different neck on it". you can tune that in.
or a player can change to a different shape neck, fingerboard
wood or even have it fretted or something, you know? if you have
a problem, it's easily dealt with.
often refer to your basses as having an "acoustic-like"
sound. in a world full of Alembic-clones and Fender-clones, how
did you decide to pursue this type of instrument?
well, my basic philosophy is that the tone is created in the
wood. it has to be in the wood before you can deal with any kind
of amplification or pickups. so, you have to have a good acoustic
sound to start with. if you do have some acoustic chambers, it's
going to resonate more, make a bigger acoustic sound, be more
responsive, be more complex with it's overtones.
Leo Fender first started making sold-body instruments, it was
about making an instrument that wouldn't feedback. those hollow-body
guitars fed back. i think Leo Fender nailed it right off the
bat. i love those great early solid-body designs. he just nailed
it dead on, but they went a little too far. they said "let's
just make it out of solid wood". to me the ultimate thing
is solid wood with some acoustic chambers that are sealed and
rigid enough so that you won't have a feed back problem, but
you get enhanced acoustic properties. the instrument is also
lighter. so my main reasons for getting into that design is it
just seems to get better resonance and they just feel better
when you play them. with the lighter weight, the instrument is
there are so many companies out there basically cloning existing
designs, i wanted to do something that was different. it's not
to say that my thing is so unique, because it's obviously patterned
after some sort of solid body instrument, but i try to make it
unique enough so that it's not just a reproduction of someone
bunnybass: how do
you balance modern-machining technologies against the so called
hand-made aspects of making your basses?
what we're trying to do is offer hand-made quality in a production
item. the "hand-made" thing is kind of a joke. really
if you're making it by hand, it won't come out nearly as consistent
as if you were making it on a machine. the difference is that
you have to have a skilled luthier operating the equipment -
that's when you get the great product. the main thing is you
have to know the wood, and if you don't have someone who really
knows the wood, it doesn't matter how you make a bass, it won't
be good. selecting the wood, drying the wood correctly, putting
the components together with the right glue, and then using the
best technology you can use to get the most consistent results
with a real skilled luthier watching over the entire process.
so people say "oh, it's mass produced..." and really
what they're talking about are people who are making instruments
that don't know what they are doing, because they aren't instrument
makers, they're machine operators. it's not the equipment that's
bunnybass: how do
you select wood?
wood selection is one of the most interesting and fun parts
of the building process. it starts with going through lumber
stacks and selecting out the pieces with the proper grain orientation,
weight, straightness (in the case of neck wood) and physical
appearance. you'd be amazed at what little lumber is actually
useable for top quality instruments. we start by picking all
the boards that look pretty good, and then by process of elimination,
we end up with just the cream of the crop. after a while you
get to know about how heavy a big board of alder or ash should
be - you develop a feel for it. we also look for defects in the
wood that may not be apparent until it is milled - sometimes
you get quite a surprise! also different grain structures machine
and sand different. so there are a lot of things to look for,
especially when you start to get into production - the ease and
diffculty get amplified when you're making 40 to 50 pieces instead
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we look for quartersawn wood. this grain oreintation is strongest
and gives a quicker transient response. the neck will resist
warping better. slab sawn wood is pretty but not as desirable
for a fingerboard. so these are some of the factors to consider.
after the wood is acquired, we dry it to 6% humidity or lower.
this is crucial and most wood is not dried to this degree. if
you have too much moisture in the wood and you send the bass
to New York in the winder where it is extremely dry, you'll have
problems, because the dry weather will pull the moisture from
the wood and cause it to distort. this can cause backbowed necks,
loose bindings and all sorts of trouble. so we are fanatical
about that, and we have very few problems or returns. the wood
is stored in a room with a dehumidifier and the moisture level
in the wood is monitered with an electronic meter.
bunnybass: are you
the one that hand selects all the woods?
yes, i hand select all the woods.
about different combinations of woods?
a walnut top on a mohagany body is going to sound too soft and
murky. but a maple top on a mohagany body is going to have a
nice ring to it because you combine the warmth of the mohagany
with the hardness of the maple - that's how you add the definition
back in. you learn how that quarter inch veneer on top affects
the tone of the wood on the back. on the same token, swamp ash
- which sounds kind of bright - is going to sound wonderful with
a walnut top because it smooths the top end a little bit and
gives the bass a nice midrange punch. so there are certain wood
combinations that seems to me are standard wood combinations
that work. but for each instrument design, you have to find the
stuff that really works well.
bunnybass: how particular
are you about controlling every aspect of the instrument's design?
for example, custom building your basses' components and so forth?
well, if you want to have stuff that looks right with your
design, chances are it's not going to already be manufactured
to the exact specifications that you'll need. so my belief is
that if you have a good design and you're going to carry it out
the right way, then you should consider all the details of the
instrument as well. like our basses, for example, i wanted to
put the bridge as far back as possible, as close to the rear
edge as possible for balance reasons. and to have it look proper,
it had to be a curved piece, and it had to have the volume knob
incorporated into it so that the face of the bass could stay
clean. and that's something that's not going to be manufactured
or you can buy. it has to be an original piece. that's why we
ended up making it. that's what gives a product a sense of originality,
not just the larger factors like the silhouette. all the aspects
of the design must be cohesive - including the details - and
if you do this i think that the design will have an integrity
did you get your design sensibilities from? what's your main
i don't know. i guess it's really just a matter of taste.
i like things that are just clean and crisp. i'm sort of a minimalist
in my lifestyle. that's just what i gravitate towards. so it
would just seem to fit that when i go to design something, i'm
going to make something that i'm pleased with and hope that other
people like it too. so i don't really have any major influences.
i just like stuff to be clean and direct and has a certain beauty
in it's simplicity.
when you have something that's apparently simple though, just
a little change here or there makes a huge difference. you must
have spent a lot of time tinkering with the contours of your
instruments. they may look simple but...
the thing that's amazing is, with a guitar-shape, all you
have to do is change a 16th or an 8th of an inch anywhere and
then it looks totally wrong! so it is misleading because you
can have a shape in your mind, but when you try to draw it out,
it's near impossible to get it to look right. i exhort anybody
to try that. they'll see just what i'm talking about. because
it's really amazing - you have to create some sort of visual
harmony that works well as far as its balance and functional
geometry, and also how it looks from different angles too. you
can get a silhouette that looks neat straight on, but when you
turn it on a 45, it looks completely wrong! so there's all these
things to consider.
bunnybass: in terms
of your basses as sculptural forms, they're pretty flat.
i wanted to go with the binding on the bass because almost
no basses have binding. they're almost always that rounded-over
Fender style. so right off the bat, to be honest it was just
a marketing decision. i thought it'd look nice, but i wanted
it to be different from everything hanging on the wall. but there's
also something about when you add in binding, it pops the silhouette
and you get a clean distinction of the instrument over the space.
with a rounded one, it's somehow slightly more nebulous. the
binding kind of gives it more "here i am".
as far as the hardness of the back edges, it's basically like
an old Telecaster. and i kind of like that for its crispness
as well. but since we hollow out the inside of the body, it comes
rather close to the back and to the corners and it works out
better to make a small radius so it leaves a little more material
in there, for strength. i'm trying to have more tone chamber
space because those are sound enhancing and reduce the weight
(the average bass weighs 6.5 pounds) and the corners don't feel
you actually started building, what kind of bass sound were you
after? what were some of the variables you found yourself playing
with in order to achieve that distinctive voice your basses now
well, i want to talk about a couple of things first. these
basses definitely sound different from most other basses, but
it's not just because it uses a different type of pickup. for
one thing, when you set up a magnetic field and you have a string
vibrating within it, the magnetic field itself hampers what the
string can do. it's stuck in the magnetic field. so the first
thing in the equation is you remove the magnetic pull from the
strings and they begin to vibrate more freely. this seems to
create other overtones and stuff. so right out of the gate that's
one of the reasons this makes more of an acoustic sound because
you don't have this pickup in there, or worse yet TWO pickups,
pulling on the strings hampering the tonality.
(click to see a larger
as coming up with the kind of tone we were going for, i had a
sound in my head that i thought would be good, but since i'm
not a bass player, to be honest, i applied what knew about what
i liked in guitars. i tend to like really warm, full kind of
tones - good articulation on the top and not too muddy. just
like everybody likes - good tone! and i knew this worked on the
guitars and i was hoping that it was going to work on the bass.
i also thought, well, if we could keep any metallic parts out
of how the string is heard that would be better. so i use the
wood bridge with the bone (actually corian) saddle, and that
helps. then of course my friend wanted it fretless and i thought
that was a good idea too. i always liked fretless instruments
because you get so many micro-tones and they have so much personality.
then i tried the La Bella strings too because again, this is
something different. those are actually a big part of the tone
too. it's a steel core with nylon on the outside. so it's really
a steel string which gives you that good fundamental and good
punch, but with the nylon giving you a different tone without
the real high end you get from steel windings. in roundwound
strings you have the all metal construction and the La Bella
is a roundwound that's been ground down (ground wound) with tape
over that, and so that mutes a lot of high-end. they still have
a kind of zing to them, they have a beautiful sweet high-end,
but it's a lower high-end than the highs that you get with a
steel string. it's just a different texture.
thing is though, you can pretty much use this bass for everything.
since it's a piezo pickup, it senses the vibration of the whole
instrument and when you play back by the bridge, it creates a
drastically different sound than playing by the neck. a magnetic
pickup doesn't have that much of a range. so you could go from
simulating an upright kind of sound all the way to a real staccato-like
punchy sound. you can get a rock sound, depending on how you
have the amp EQ-ed and how you play it. it's really responsive
to finger pressure.
there seems to be a return to more organic kinds of tones. so
many people are using uprights on records and whatnot. it seems
like a logical step to get tones that are more earthy, warmer,
and traditional. to me basses should be about bass, you know?
like being fundamental as opposed to bells and whistles and making
it really sound hi-fi. a lot of people have done great stuff
like that, but my interpretations is more like the early P-bass
- that's one of the best basses. that's kind of where i'm at.
so i like the simple stuff that sounds like a bass.
are you going next with your basses?
i'm working on a couple things. i'm working on a limited
edition model of the MB-2 that's going to have some added components
that will further enhance the resonance. it's going to have a
microphone in one of the chambers and that'll be blendable with
the piezo. it's still going to be the same super clean-looking
design. miking the internal chamber allow for a even more acoustic-like
also going to make a bass for the fretted electric market which
is going to incorporate a lot of my ideas. it'll have completely
all original parts on it. it'll be something that someone might
look at if they're in the market to buy a Lakland or MusicMan
or something like that.
bunnybass: and those
would have magnetic pickups?
yes, magnetic. i'm working on getting something just as
clean and simple as it could possibly be.
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