Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Rob Elrick…
I’ve always preferred to remain behind the scenes, happy to let my instruments speak for themselves, as any viable instruments must. I don’t believe in “personality driven” products, and prefer to stand behind my products, rather than in front of them. Until NAMM made it impossible to do so, I almost always wore badges with fake names, not only in an effort to maintain anonymity, but because it afforded me the opportunity to receive honest feedback that would have likely never been proffered to me directly. Regrettably, those days are gone…
How did you get your start in music?
At a very early age I developed an interest in my grandmothers piano and received some rudimentary instruction on it from her until my mother was able to acquire one for our home. Shortly after, my brother and I began receiving lessons from one of the most peculiar sociopaths either of us have likely ever encountered. In grade school I studied cornet, eventually transitioning to trombone and playing bass trombone though my first year of undergraduate studies. I began playing bass guitar at 14 and almost immediately began playing in bands that practiced daily after school. That continued through graduation, after which everyone began going off in different directions. I studied music at a state university before eventually finding my way to Berklee in Boston, where I completed a bachelors in music.
Are you still an active player?
Until about 2 years ago I was still pretty active as a player. I don’t consider myself retired from playing as I still play regularly, but I am between “regular” gigs. I’ve found that the older I get, the more selective I’ve become about who I want to play with, but I do have a few irons in the fire.
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
Before going to Berklee I had put together two bass guitars from parts that had become my main instruments. They were significantly re-worked, but by no means “built” by me, simply modified and assembled. While enrolled at Berklee, around 1988 or 89, I began playing 6-string bass, and while I had been lucky enough to obtain a very high quality instrument, which I continued to play until some time in 1992, it wasn’t long before I started searching for another bass, one that resolved some of the deficiencies present in that instrument.
In 1992 I began fabricating prototypes that would become the earliest versions of the Elrick bass. I began playing them in 1992 and they debuted at NAMM in 1993.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthiery? Who would you consider a Mentor?
I have never worked under another builder so have no one I’d name as a mentor. I have been influenced primarily by my perception of what makes a practical and functional instrument. What features are complimentary, or “needed”, from a players perspective and, just as importantly, what features are not needed.
Prior to attending Berklee I was a scholarship student at the Center for Creative Studies / College of Art and Design (CCS/CAD) in Detroit. I was a crafts department major at CCS, which essentially amounted to being a materials major. While there I practiced many disciplines, I worked in the foundry, welded, blew glass, worked with wood, worked in metal smithing and as a potter. With such a diverse background in hand fabrication, I was confident in my abilities when it came time to begin prototyping my first instruments.
How do you make your wood selections?
Primary woods for an instrument are selected for their individual tonal properties but also for how they compliment one another in particular combinations. While figured woods used as decorative tops can influence the sound and responsiveness of an instrument, in most cases, their primary contribution is aesthetic.
How about pickups? What pickups have you used in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
I have a relationship with Bartolini that actually pre-dates Elrick Bass Guitars. As a result, I’m fortunate to have been a beta tester for some of the pickups and electronics found in my instruments. And while not all were in development for my exclusive use, I was able to exercise some influence over some of their products I use in my basses. As such, Bartolini pickups and pre-amps are standard equipment on all of my instruments.
I also offer pickups custom made for my basses by Aero Instrument, these are most often seen in custom wood pickup covers and Master Series basses.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians to start playing your basses?
Until recently my instruments have primarily been available only through authorized dealers. As a result, in the past, when a notable player has acquired one of my instruments, I’ve usually been the last to know. Because I’ve always considered it unrealistic to expect any musician to play one instrument exclusively, I’ve seldom sought to cultivate exclusive relationships with artists, since such agreements eventually find most artists in breach of contract simply out of practical necessity.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
I have never been a great fan of signature basses, particularly since, as a custom builder, I offer every bass player the opportunity to receive their own signature bass. This is the most valuable service I offer, the opportunity for any musician to receive an instrument that is a reflection of themselves as an artist, their own personal statement.
What are a few things that you are proud of and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
I think that when many people order a custom instrument from a company like mine, they imagine the service they are contracting is for an individual craftsmen to hand-carve their instrument from start to finish. In most instances, this is not the reality. In the case of Elrick Bass Guitars, I am the only person doing fabrication. I select and process all of the raw lumber used in my instruments (sometimes starting with a chainsaw), I fabricate all the component parts, I hand-carve all necks and body contours, I hand sand and hand finish every instrument, I do all of the fret jobs and set-ups, and I personally wire all of the electronics.
While I’m proud of the balance, playability, and aesthetic of my instruments, I’m most proud to be able to say that, since 1992, I have personally built every single US Series instrument.
Which of the basses you build is your favorite?
The favorite bass I build will always the next one, and then, more likely than not, the one after that…
Can you give us a word of advice for young Luthiers just starting out?
Do you like ramen? Good…
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
Compared to 25 years ago, todays market is awash with options and flooded with both new and used gear that is easily obtained from the four corners of the earth. Before taking the leap into a custom instrument, do your research.
Does the brand you’re considering have a good reputation in the market?
Do they have a history of dependable product support?
Do they make an instrument that suits your specific needs?
What are your specific needs?
If you’re unsure, determine what your needs are before making any significant investments.
And when you’re asking around for advice, rely on people you know and trust, not anonymous internet forum chatter.
What is the biggest success for you and for your company?
My greatest success has been my brands persistence in the marketplace. As a small business established in the days before the internet, with no advertising budget and a credit card in lieu of start-up capital, Elrick Bass Guitars has always depended on positive word of mouth to propagate. That is no less true today than it was 24 years ago, I still tell Elrick players who contact me, “tell your friends…”
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.
For me, it could be argued that every next bass is something new, but aside from known existing models, I do have some things in development, including an instrument prototyped about 20 years ago and shelved until maybe 5 years ago, then shelved again until 2 years ago when one leaked out to a top-secret recipient. There’s still a chance that it will make it into general circulation one day soon, but as is so often the case, I have been distracted by another product in development that should be ready for the world before the 2016 summer olympics. Upon it’s completion I will begin ironing out the details of a limited edition 25th anniversary bass for 2017.
What are your future plans?
If everything goes according to plan, hopefully I will find time for a nap.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?
I don’t object to sharing , only oversharing…
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