Stuart Spector first began producing handmade basses in his Brooklyn workshop in 1976. Stuart recruited fellow Brooklyn woodworker Ned Steinberger to design an instrument that was better suited for the modern bassist. This design, referred to as the Spector NS-1, took the bass world by storm upon its release in 1977.
Players of all genres instantly fell in love with the extremely comfortable and uniquely contoured body of the NS-1. With the addition of a second pickup, the NS-1 became the NS-2 in 1979. The NS-2 quickly became the choice of the world’s top bassists and has remained the foundation for nearly every Spector design since its release.
The playability, tone, and craftsmanship of a Spector bass remains at the absolute highest caliber. Now Spector celebrates 40 year and we are so happy that they trusted us with this cover interview.
How did you get your start in music?
I had a few years of piano lessons when I was very young, 7 or 8 years old but I wasn’t that interested in the corny material I was taught.
I started playing guitar when I started high school in 1962, as this was the beginning of the folk music era. I learned to play on a nylon string acoustic guitar that I bought for $10 from a teacher at school. That was about $8 more than it was worth but it almost produced a tone. Shortly thereafter I bought my first electric guitar from a classmate, Kenny Kosek, who is an incredible fiddle player. It was a Zim-Gar and my first customization project was to duct tape all the switches into the on position so they didn’t shut off when I strummed a down stroke.
Are you still an active player?
Yes, I still play music every day. I hate TV! Complete crap and it rots your mind; when you watch TV you are the product that is being delivered to the advertiser. I play guitar, piano, and bass in descending order of competence. I realized years ago that I did not have the super-talent that it takes to be a good, professional musician; there are too many highly talented natural players out there. I have a bar-band called, “Crawdaddy” that plays around the Woodstock area about once a month. Fronting the band is my right-hand man at work, Jimmy Eppard who is one of those damn natural talents. We specialize in funky R & B with a New Orleans flavor, piano, guitar, bass, drums and saxophone. Our sax player is 80 years old and still kicking ass.
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
I was sitting around with my good friend, Mike Kropp, another one of those naturals, in his case on banjo and guitar. I admired his 1945 Gibson Mastertone hearts and flowers flathead 5st banjo. He informed me that the neck was not original and had been made by a friend of his in their student apartment in Denver. This was a very ornate neck with binding and inlay etc. I got the notion that this meant that I could build myself the electric guitar that I wanted but couldn’t afford and set out to do it; crazy, but true.
I went to a store called HL Wilds in the depths of the East Village when it was a truly funky area. Their security system was a German Shepard that looked like it had been crossbred with a Kodiak bear. I bought a piece of curly birch, which was super hard, and mahogany and ebony for the neck, shell for inlays and a copy of the only book on guitar building that existed, Irving Sloane, Classical Guitar Construction. About all I gleaned from the book was the formula for calculating fret positions.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?
Almost entirely by trial and error, my mentor is still one of my dearest friends, Mr. Billy Thomas, who took me under his wing and taught me how to safely run power saws and such. He comes from 4 generations of Welsh immigrant woodworkers who all retained all parts of all their fingers. He was one of the founding members of the Brooklyn Woodworkers Coop, along with myself and about 5 other guys. We shared a very cheap loft in a 100-year old factory building at the south end of Park Slope Brooklyn; 444 12th St. was the address. It is now fancy condo apartments. We had 4000 square feet of workspace, including heat and electricity for $500 per month.
I know that you collaborated with Ned Steinberger, can you tell us more about that?
Billy Thomas and myself went to look at some machinery in the shop of a cabinetmaker, who was retiring, and his helper who would soon be out of work was Ned Steinberger. He asked if he could join the coop and we found him space for his drawing board in the corner.
He became interested in the instruments that I was building with my original partner, Alan Charney and said that he thought he could design one for us. He had been studying furniture design at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum School and had been trained in, “Form follows function,” hence the ergonomic curves on the NS bass body.
Tell me more about the NS bass. I love the curved body. How different was the NS prototype with the NS basses we see today?
The curved body was the direct result of Ned’s work on designing chairs, the curve of the body nests nicely with the curve of the human torso. The prototype is somewhat different from the ongoing NS basses in subtle details of the shape of the horns and the way that the neck appears in the body.
How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
When I started there were no bass pickups at all on the market and not really any guitar ones either. My first instruments used D’Armond pickups that I made wooden covers for. In a year or so DiMarzio started and the first EBO replacement pickups were available. Then came their P and J setup, and then a few years after that we started using EMG active pickups along with our tone circuit, which was engineered by Henry Zajack. The tone curves on the EQ were done by me sitting with him and playing the bass while he inserted different value components in a breadboard version and I said I liked it or not.
I believe that you are the first company that used the “Reversed P-bass” pickup. How did that came about?
I had a customer named David Schwartz who played with John Hall at that time (later went on to write the theme music for Northern Exposure) and asked for a bass with two J pickups and the front one tilted forward on the G string side. After playing the instrument I realized there was some merit to this idea in that it balanced out the treble strings by giving them some more bottom end based upon where they were sensing the strings.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
In a simple list:
- Prakash John (Alice Cooper Band)
- Scott Smith (Lover Boy)
- Tim Schmidt (The Eagles)
- Gene Simmons (Kiss)
- Sting (The Police)
- Doug Wimbish (The Sugar Hill Gang)
- Graham Maby (Joe Jackson)
How did you start exporting basses abroad?
I was selling basses to Stuyvesant Guitar on 48th Street in NYC. The owner Steve Friedman had people come from all over the world and Burhhard Bugerhof from Amptown Hamburg came in, liked my basses and ordered 12 pieces; Steve was gracious enough to just turn the order over to me. We have always exported almost 45% of everything we build. It’s really a joy and an honor to have contact with players all over the planet.
Now you have several lines, some are constructed in Czech Republic and some in Korea. Tell me more about these lines. What is the difference between these “foreign lines” and the USA Spector basses?
As of course it is very expensive to make instruments in the USA, not the least because of the stupidity of our lack of a national health care system, we build somewhat less expensive instruments in CZ and KR.
For the Czech factory which I have been working with since 1988, a year before the Velvet Revolution, we send neck and body wood, and carbon fiber rods from our same suppliers that we work with in the USA. The fretboards on the Euro basses are E. Indian Rosewood, whereas we use Pau Ferro from Bolivia and Birdseye Maple on the USA basses. The Czech basses generally use Tone Pump circuit, which is made in Prague by Petr Michalik
The USA basses feature tone circuits by HAZ Labs or Aguilar all made in the USA.
The Professional Series basses from Korea are very high quality and will provide a lifetime of enjoyment for any player at a reasonable price. They all have 3 ply hard maple necks to provide extra strength and stability.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
I’m most proud of the wide range of music that bass players use our basses for. I think our basses are among the most comfortable to play and we pride ourselves on them being able to be played with a low action, if that is what the musician is looking for.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
I wouldn’t want to hurt any of their feelings.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
Consider something easier… but if you have the fire in your belly, go for it.
40 years of Spector basses… When you look back what would you change and what would you have done differently?
I would have learned CNC technology sooner; I have pretty well mastered it for starters in the last 9 years and it is a transformative experience. I can machine almost anything that I can draw which is a huge amount of fun.
Time to time some Luthiers come with some new ideas or new constructions. Do you think that these innovations have revolutionized the bass sound? I mean extended B stock, single cut body, semi-hollow body, etc. Do you plan or did you ever try to made instruments with these constructions?
I am working on a single cut bass and expect to debut it some time in 2016; it won’t be ready for Winter NAMM.
I saw at the NAMM 2015 a semi hollow bass, which was amazing! Tell us more about that model.
Thanks so much, this is our NS-2-CTB, (Carved top bass), still trying to come up with a better name for it. This was completely designed and built in our shop using CAD/CAM.
The top is carved from reclaimed redwood that we recycled from huge water tanks that are 70 years old and were on top of NYC office buildings. The top is carved to 3/16″ thick and is hollow for all except a 3/4″ wide strip supporting it down the center of the body.
It uses an Aguilar OBP-3 preamp, an AG or EMG magnetic pickup and a Fishman piezo jazz guitar bridge, which we have altered.
I’m very excited, in that right now, Mr. Tony Garnier, bass player and bandleader for Bob Dylan, is using it on their current tour of Europe. I have known Tony for over 30 years and he is the consummate musician, string bass, etc. and a really funny and swinging guy.
Your company has a long history with many accomplishments, but what is biggest success for you and for your company?
My biggest success is working at something that I love, solving problems in building better instruments and finding better ways to produce them. The biggest success is working with so many amazing musicians all over the planet and getting to hear the music they produce with the tools that we build. It’s a rare honor in this era of disposable items to build instruments that are intended to last for hundreds of years.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.
As I mentioned before, a single cut is surely in the works, and we will have various 40th anniversary models at the NAMM show in January.
What are the future plans of Spector basses and Stuart Spector?
To keep having fun building instruments and playing music. Remember, in English it is playing music, play, have fun, bring joy to the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!