Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Freddy Utrera…
How did you get your start in music?
From an early age I was surrounded by music, because several members of my family played instruments. I started playing electric bass at 11 years old, I remember that my first bass was a Fender Jazz Bass, a present from one of my uncles; from that moment it woke in me a great interest and passion. I continued playing as autodidact and then at 16 years old I began to study music at a conservatory, parallel I also began studying electric bass with professors with international careers. Around that time I made my debut as a bass player in a group of Salsa. Years later I studied harmony, jazz and improvisation and started playing different styles like Funk, Pop, Rock and Reggae. I have been a professional bassist since 1984.
Are you still an active player?
Currently I am not playing bass with any group, but I try to dedicate an hour or more daily to play bass because of my passion for the instrument, its sound, melodic, and percussive notes continue making me happy and in love.
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
As a bass player I used several brands of basses. I frequently changed from one to another because it was difficult for me to find an Instrument that was final, that I felt totally comfortable with. I started to buy many books that talked about the whole process of making stringed instruments. One day talking to my wife after spending a lot of money on every purchase of a new instrument, I told to her, “This could only stop if I do an instrument that has all the features that I want in a bass”. She smiled and told me, “You’re crazy!!”
I began teaching myself, as I really didn’t have a teacher to teach me the art of being a Luthier. After various experiments in 1996 I manufactured my first bass; it was made with national woods like Puy and Algarrobo, those are really heavy woods.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?
Being self-taught, I was inspired by the master, Michael Tobias, and his excellent taste to combine the woods.
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
I am a lover of woods. I was buying different types and testing their sound. The blank wood goes through a selection process; I choose and buy woods that don’t have details, that you can really appreciate their beauty and excellent qualities. They are as dry as possible, ready to work immediately on them.
How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
In my firsts instruments I used Seymour Duncan and EMG. Today I work with Nordstrand Pickups, which are custom-made for us, as well as Aguilar Pickups & Preamps and EMG.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
- Marco Navarro (Rubén Blades`s bass player)
- Giovanni Ramírez (Ilan Chester and “El Puma” José Luis Rodríguez)
- Henry Paul (Franco de Vita)
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
The first step would be selecting the model; we have 6 different options to choose from. The next one would be the selection of woods for the body, neck, fingerboard and top, if the client chooses exotic woods. Next they decide the type of scale, hardware color, fret number, finish and type of pickups we work with, for example: JJ, PJ, JMM, Dualcoil.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
Their sound, as well as the esthetic that I’ve accomplished and the versatility for different musical styles. I think even though there are some standards established many years ago for the production of basses and guitars, each instrument is unique. You can build two basses with the exact same specifications, but you won’t get the same sound.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
Honestly I like them all. Every time that I finish an instrument it is difficult for me to accept that I can´t stay with him… but I have two favorite models, the Prestige and the Classic.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
Never stop fighting and pursuing their dreams, have a lot of discipline and dedication, as it is fundamental to achieve their goals. Today there are many resources to learn how to manufacture an instrument – schools, books and videos. Being a Luthier is more than a job; it is an art, so there must be a great passion for this craft.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
In my experience as a bass player, I think that the most important things to consider are the sound, quality, comfort and design. Those are really the important aspects when you are purchasing an instrument.
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
Being an exhibitor at Summer NAMM and Winter NAMM Shows, having recognized artists with experience using Utrera basses and the excellent receptivity that I have gained over years.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.
Yes, I just finished the design process of a semi-hollow model, it’s name is “Flamenco”, and others models that soon you will be seeing in my social networks.
What are your future plans?
Continue working, consolidating the brand, growing as a company, developing new models, technologies and projects always related to music. But above all to keep helping each musician that comes to build an instrument with me to find his sound, a high quality instrument that meets all his expectations and that will be a pleasure for him to play with it. As a musician that’s what fills me the most and that was the reason I started in this business.