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Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Anthony Olinger

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custom-bass-calliope

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Anthony Olinger…

How did you get your start in music?

I didn’t pick up a bass guitar until my first year in college, 2003. I had just discovered Primus early in the school year and was surprised by how much the tone of a bass, especially in Les Claypool’s hands, appealed to my ear. Six months later I bought my first bass: a five-string Peavy, the Cirrus model (I think). I started practicing every night, despite my lack of an amplifier (I finally bought one after a few months) and steadily got more interested in becoming a musician.

anthony-with-calypso-bass

Are you still an active player?

I’m very much still an active player. I love playing the bass; I’d probably be a professional bassist if I wasn’t a luthier, and I have pipe dreams of being the first “virtuoso builder.” I’ve been listening to Animals as Leaders a lot lately, trying to incorporate a little bit of their flavor into my playing style. I also just discovered Polyphia and have been revisiting Yes and Graham Central Station lately.

As a luthier I think it’s very advantageous to constantly play the instrument you build. I’m always trying to diversify my playing experience and gain a wider perspective as a player. In this way I can better understand the pros and cons of the design elements of the bass guitar.

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How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?

I built my first bass in 2006, during my last semester in college. At the time, learning to play “John the Fisherman” was proving difficult with my 35” five-string and mere-mortal-size hands. I knew about short scale basses by then and thought a shorter/narrower neck would better fit my style and physique. I searched for a new instrument but couldn’t find a 32” bass in my college student price range, so I thought I’d build one instead. I worked on the bass in my kitchen and occasionally in a shop above a bar in “Old Town” Fort Collins. I completed the bass about two weeks before I graduated, and even managed to get an elective credit for the work. I had my zoology degree in one hand and the bass I built in the other, and began to realize my true calling.

I’ve always daydreamed about combining my zoology and lutherie skills to design bass strings made with spider silks (the topic of my Honors Thesis). I’ve also yet to train my ant farm to perfectly carve out my neck pockets, but some day…

How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?

I am “self-taught,” though I’ve gotten so many tips directly or indirectly from so many different people that you could hardly call it that. On a very limited basis, you could have called Greg Sapp of Sapp Violins my mentor at one time. The short amount of time I’ve been able to spend around Greg vastly increased my potential. Beyond that, it’s my drive to continually surpass myself that pushes me to new levels. I try to learn and improve every day I’m in the shop.

anthony-with-kasia-bass

How do you select the woods you choose to build with?

Every instrument I build is fully custom, so the woods I choose depend, in part, on each owner’s preferences. I usually consult extensively with someone before designing their bass. We’ll discuss their musical tastes, sound preferences, pros and cons of their current instrument(s), their ideal instrument, etc., then combine that with my experience and expertise to create their personalized bass. I keep all this in mind as I select wood.

For necks and fingerboards I only use quatersawn wood that is, at minimum, three years old after being fully dried. During this time the wood must prove to be very stable, “moving” very little, if at all. Occasionally I’ll use “younger” wood for bodies and accent woods if an owner wants a wood I don’t have on hand, assuming the wood is still well dried and seasoned. The older the wood the better though, so I try to use wood that’s at least five years old whenever possible. I am always on the lookout for really old wood; I’ve been able to get my hands on some 100 year old wood that has been really great for instruments.

I try to make my basses as lightweight as possible, so light body woods are sometimes preferable to heavy ones. The sound the customer wants from the instrument can be a deciding factor in wood selection as well, and I always try to use woods that contribute to the overall tone of the bass.

Finally, I try to avoid woods that are on the CITES List (Convention on International Trade in Endangered species), especially if they’re for a bass that will be shipped internationally. Currently, cocobolo and Madagascar ebonies are on the CITES list in their raw forms, among a few other woods occasionally used in guitar building. You can see the full list of species here: https://cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php. 

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Anthony Olinger-1

How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?

Similar to wood selection, I usually select pickups and electronics based on a synthesis of the owner’s preferences and my expertise. Owners of my basses have asked for a wide variety of electronics, so I’ve used many brands including EMG, Villex, Nordstrand, Seymour Duncan, Delano, Mike Pope, Aguilar and more. I’m partial to Bartolini, GraphTech and Audere at the moment.

After playing the second bass I ever built for ten years, I’m finally building myself a new four-string that will have Bartolinis with GraphTech’s “Ghost” piezo pickups and “Hexpander” so I can play the bass through a guitar synth.

Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?

Jauqo III-X, Mark Smith of Brooklyn and Pete Hewitt of the band Winterfire are probably the most widely known musicians playing my basses.

How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?

Because all my basses are fully custom, building a signature bass for an artist is very similar to building a bass for any of my customers. Anyone that orders a Xylem bass is essentially getting their very own signature instrument. With all of my customers, I’ll spend many hours discussing their preferences, style and physique. After our discussions I’ll send them a full-scale drawing then re-work it (if necessary) until they think it’s perfect. I’ll also send the artist/customer pictures of the build once every week or two as it progresses. If the artist notices or thinks of something they want to change during the building process I’ll make the change(s), if possible. Sometimes I actually spend more time with the people who aren’t endorsing artists because they are still discovering their musical voice and would like more guidance.

What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?

Almost every Xylem bass is fairly unique in and of itself since it was designed by myself and its owner with few restrictions. I am also very proud of the attention to detail and ergonomics of my instruments. I try to design and build every bass to be very comfortable, easy to play, able to withstand heavy use and easy to maintain. No instrument leaves my shop unless it balances perfectly in standing and sitting positions. Often one of the first things someone says when picking up a Xylem instrument is “wow, this is light!” I’m trying to make “ghost basses:” instruments that feel so natural in your hands it’s like they’re not even there. 

austra-bass-mark-smith-endorsing-artist

Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?

The new bass I’m building for myself at the moment will be my favorite, though it’s not finished yet. My favorite completed bass would be the “Calliope” six-string fretless bass I built last year. It was so light and comfortable that I barely noticed I was playing a six-string (I normally play a four-string) and every sound that bass made was just so appealing to my ear. It lives with its owner now, but I really miss playing it. Maybe in another ten years I’ll make another bass like it for myself.

Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?

Constantly strive to learn and try new things, whether it be tools, building methods, gear or designs. Try to work just outside of your comfort zone as much as possible, challenging yourself often; this is the key to continual growth and improvement. If you’re going into business for yourself, you must put the same dedication into your marketing, advertising, salesmanship and customer service as you do into your bass building. The boring aspects of your business are just as important as the fun/motivating aspects, if not more so.

What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?

You have to find out what “perfect” means to you before you even start your search. A good way to begin is by learning as much as you can about the bass as an instrument. Research the sounds and features of different basses, the different playing styles, and explore a wide variety of artists. Teach yourself how to set up and maintain your own bass. Experiment with the height of the string action so you can hear how much it can change your tone. Get a “beater” bass or two from a pawn shop and change their setups, pickups, bridges, etc. There is a huge variety of basses in the world today, try as many as you can in combination with different strings, amps and pedals. As you explore, pay extra attention to scale lengths, neck dimensions, pickup placement and the overall feel of different basses.

When you’ve done a bit of the above you’ll have a much better idea of what your perfect bass might be. You are the only one who knows the kind of bassist you want to be; you must ultimately decide on the perfect bass for yourself.

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What is biggest success for you and for your company?

My biggest success has been running Xylem Basses & Guitars full-time since 2008. My second biggest success is that I’m backed up with orders until about March of 2019. I can proudly say that I’ve more or less achieved my dream job.

Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.

I am currently developing a “semi-custom” standard model Xylem bass or two. The new model(s) will encapsulate some features of my custom models, including balance, low weight, ergonomics and ease of playability, yet with a lower price point. I’ll build a few prototypes during the next two years and will probably release the first official model in 2019 or 2020.

What are your future plans?

I plan to continually develop new basses and push the envelope of bass design. If I’m lucky I might stumble on a way to revolutionize the electric bass someday. I’d also like to spend more time developing resources on my website for bassists and guitarists. I’ve learned many things as a luthier that have improved my bass playing, and I’d like to offer that knowledge to the musicians of the world.

Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?

Xylem basses are also available at Chicago Music Exchange. They are currently sold out, but there should be a new Xylem bass or two arriving near the end of this year. Oh, and check out the new album from Diabolical Sound Platoon, Bring the Catastrophe.

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Bass Videos

Working-Class Zeros: Episode #3 – John Patitucci IG Video, The Summer Festival Gig, iPads on Stage

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WORKING-CLASS ZEROS With Steve Rosati and Shawn Cav

In this episode we cover John Patitucci’s IG video about saying ‘no’ to the gig, the Summer Festival gig, and iPads on stage (sure it’s awesome but is it necessary?)

These stories from the front are with real-life, day-to-day musicians who deal with work life and gigging and how they make it work out. Each month, topics may include… the kind of gigs you get, the money, dealing with less-than-ideal rooms, as well as the gear you need to get the job done… and the list goes on from there.” – Steve the Bass Guy and Shawn Cav

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Curly Hendo

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Interview Wity Bassist Curly Hendo

Bassist Curly Hendo…

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, bassist Curly Hendo has been super busy. Starting with dance from a young age, Curly took up bass shortly after and has been going strong ever since. She has collaborated with numerous acts worldwide and is an in-demand session/touring bassist and musical director.

Join me as we learn about Curly’s musical journey, how she gets her sound, and her plans for a very bright future.

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @jermsbass @degierguitars @meridian_guitars @xvector_basses @marleaux_bassguitars @mattissonbass @alesvychodilbasses @gvguitars @thebassplace @xylembassguitar

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Bass CDs

New Album: Ben Mortiz, MORENO

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New Album: Ben Mortiz, MORENO

The Chilean bassist, producer and sociologist, Ben Mortiz, celebrates the launch of his latest studio work, “MORENO” an album that mixes jazz, soul, and funk following the characteristic Latin style of  Mortiz. The artist completely produced the album under the label “Fallen Lab Records” in the south of Chile.

“MORENO” brings deep and smooth sounds, expressing a sophisticated and elegant Latin vibe. You will find meditative harmonies and joyful melodic voices. The record’s core is the human vibration that Mortiz feels from the Latin American music. The Caribbean rhythms and strong Latin percussions are the musical glue in every song that emerges with the force of the electric bass.

“MORENO” creates a real connection between corporal reactions and mind sensations, always in reference to the originality of Mortiz to fuse modern and classic Latin sounds.

For more information, visit online at danielbenmortiz.com/

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Gear News

New Gear: Phil Jones Bass X2C Dual Compressor/Effects Loop

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New Gear: Phil Jones Bass X2C Duel Compressor/Effects Loop

Step Into X2C With Phil Jones Bass Dual Compressor/Effects Loop…

Phil Jones Bass latest pedal innovation is the X2C Dual Compressor with Dual Effects Loop for performance and recording. The X2C incorporates advanced compressor circuit technology and provides comprehensive tone control with a dual crossover feature which divides the signal into frequency bands ranging from 100Hz to 500Hz, ensuring exceptional clarity and dynamics in tone refinement. 

With insert jacks on each band, the X2C unlocks limitless creativity, enabling players to use various FX pedals for custom tone sculpting. Additionally, it functions as an electronic crossover, ideal for driving high-performance, 2-way bass rigs.

PJB’s Dual-Band compression design is more flexible than standard single-band compressors and provides a more natural and transparent sound. It also provides greater control over shaping and managing dynamics where standard compressors affect the entire frequency spectrum of an audio signal.  

PJB’s dual compressor enables the player to shape specific frequency ranges of an audio signal which allows for compressing the low frequencies while preserving the high frequencies, or vice-versa. Treating the low-end with a dedicated band also allows for heavy compression without affecting the midrange frequencies, which carry the attack of the sound. 

Effects can be plugged into the insert jacks on the X2C and controlled separately. As an example, the lows can be adjusted separately for an overdrive pedal while the highs can be controlled for a chorus. 

Dividing the audio spectrum into fundamental frequencies and harmonics is also effective in the enrichment of slapping techniques. The low frequencies can be compressed without changing the dynamics of the “slap”. By controlling the low frequencies and focusing the attack on the slap the amplifier will sound louder while avoiding overloading of the amp or speakers. The low band can be compressed without the harmonics being affected. In addition, the send jacks can go to different amplifiers/speakers for a bi-amplification set up.

Compact and potent, the X2C embodies studio-grade excellence, setting a new standard for dynamic processing in an uncompromising, portable pedal. The street price is $359.99.

Visit online at www.pjbworld.com

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