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Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson



Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-1

Interview with Luthier Cleve Johnson, LedBelli Bass Guitars –

How did you get your start in music?

I began playing music in grade school with the band! As a teenager in high school, I picked up the guitar. Later on, in my 30’s, I imagined myself becoming a successful fingerstyle acoustic guitarist along the lines of Don Ross or Chris Proctor. Then one day about 15 years ago a friend of mine was short-handed for a gig and needed a bass player. He asked me if I could fill in and I thought, “Sure, why not?” So, the first time I ever played bass was live in in front of an audience! And just like that, I was hooked. Quite by accident I discovered that I had a rhythmic sense that suited bass guitar, and I was hooked on bass from that day forward!

Are you still an active player?

Yes, I have a blues/blues rock band called BlackWater. It’s a power trio with a female vocalist up front, and we gig when we can! And yah, I play one of my own!

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

I built my first bass in 2008. At that time I owned a German made Humanbase – it was a 6-string fretless, neck-thru design. For many months I’d had my eye on a Ritter bass that I wanted to buy, but I could not afford it. I had a woodshop and for most of my adult life I had built many furniture projects. Since I had owned a number of very high-quality acoustic guitars during my life, I knew instinctively what a good stringed instrument should have – I knew what needed to be there. In the springtime of 2008 I had a knee surgery that kept me off work for 3 or 4 months, so I decided that I would spend my time off from work building a bass guitar!

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-10

When I started that first bass I never intended to build more than one bass. I never started building that bass with the intention of becoming a “Luthier”. The first bass was a neck-thru bass, and I knew there was no margin for error – I knew that if I made one mistake, the whole thing would be ruined. I actually never expected to finish it, thinking that somewhere along the way I would blow it. But things turned out, and the result went way beyond my own, or anyone else’s expectations. Pretty soon, somebody said, “You should build another one of these.”

So, in 2009 I attempted 3 more basses, two of which I felt were sub-standard and I destroyed them (I was trying new things). The remaining bass from ’09 is still being played today – on permanent loan to a young jazz bassist in Seattle named Juan Hernandez. That bass is a semi-hollow body, single-cutaway fretless bass that I still offer to clients today – the Jonah HSC model.

Then in 2010 I met Mick Vaughn, the bassist for Tim Reynolds & TR3. (Tim is the lead guitarist for The Dave Matthews Band who also has his own band that tours when he is free from DMB.) Mick played my very first bass for a sound check and he liked it well enough that, to my surprise, he wanted one of his own! So, in the spring of 2010 I began work from scratch on a brand-new design. Mick wanted his bass in time for the Mile High Music Festival in Denver CO in August of 2010. I literally finished the bass two days before we had to leave for Denver! I’m still blown away that the first time that bass was played was at a major music festival in front of 9,000 people, being only my 5th build! This new design for Mick became what today is known as my “Noah” model.

So, within a few weeks after the festival, I had a half-dozen “orders” that I never expected. I suddenly found myself in the role of a bass Luthier, and I was in over my head – I was freaking out!

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-9

How did you come up with the name, “LedBelli”?

I get asked that a lot! It started out as a sarcastic joke between friends! In 2009 a buddy came over to the shop to see what I was up to, and he began to pester me, “What are you gonna call them?! You gotta have a name!”, and I kept blowing it off. But he wouldn’t let it die! At the time I was listening to a lot of Lead Belly blues in the shop, and so just on impulse to get my friend to shut up I said, “I don’t know, I’ll just call them Lead Belly Basses or something!” He promised me that he was going to hold me to that and sure enough, the following year when things broke loose he was right there holding my feet to the fire! What are friends for?! Lol. So, I changed the spelling around and went with it! Later on, I considered changing the name to something more serious, but it was too late – LedBelli had already established an identity! Now, I’m kind of glad it went the way it did!

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

I learned woodworking in high school shop class, and those skills never left me. I built furniture off and on all of my adult life. But as a bass Luthier, I am almost completely self-taught – again, I knew from being a musician what needed to be there and then devised my own methods of getting there!

I can add that here where I live there is an accomplished acoustic guitar Luthier, Duane Noble, who taught me the basics of finishing with nitro-cellulous lacquer and some basics about fingerboard radiusing and fret-work. But even he will admit that he was not of much help beyond those initial basics! I pretty much winged it from there!

Since my finishes have become something of a hallmark for my work, Duane was very helpful in that area. However, the way I achieve my finishes today is completely different from how Duane taught me to do it in 2008! Otherwise, everything else I have learned by trial, and a lot of error!

I’m very observant – I never pick up an instrument without looking closely to see how they did what they did, and then I try to think of how I would do it. It’s a systemic learning process that never ends.

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

From the beginning I’ve kept my wood choices well within the boundaries of what’s traditionally acceptable. What I do differently is that I look for the most amazing woods I can find within those boundaries. I want wood that makes people say, “Wow”!

I’m pretty picky about the wood I use. I have a handful of Northwest suppliers I frequent and I am always looking for the most exotic figured domestic hardwood I can find. I focus on Ash, Maple, Alder, and Walnut for the bodies, while my necks are made mostly from Maple and lately, Wenge. My fingerboard choices are Ebony, Rosewood, Maple, Ziricote, and Cocobolo.

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

In the beginning I used Delano Pickups and preamps almost exclusively, unless a client wanted something else. Contrary to what many of my critics think, my earliest work was modeled around the Humanbase that I owned. My Humanbase had Delano electronics onboard and I liked it, so I went with that. Delano and I eventually developed a great relationship, and I would still recommend them to anyone who seeks top-notch quality and a modern-esque tone.

However, in 2011 I learned of Carey Nordstrand’s work, and I contacted his company about making me a custom wound set of MM- humbucker’s for “The Rainbow Bass” (pictured) that made its debut at The Gorge Amphitheater during the Dave Matthews Band “Caravan” Concert in 2011. From day 1, Nordstrand gave me the kind of attention normally reserved for dignitaries, and that marked the beginning of what has now become a very fruitful relationship! I can honestly say that I have become good friends with Carey and several of his employees as they have taken me under their wing and produced for me everything that I’ve ever asked of them! Nordstand does not care how small I am . . . they treat me like I’m the only builder alive! So, since 2013 I have used Nordstrand Pickups and Electronics exclusively. The only time I don’t use Nordstrand is when a client specifically asks for something else! Most clients don’t!

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

Mick Vaughn, of Tim Reynolds & TR3, although Mick would dispute the “well known” label. Mick is a musician’s musician, and he is known and loved inside the industry! He’s also one of the most genuine people you will ever meet, and I think he would be a great bassist to feature in Bass Musician Magazine!

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-15

How do you develop a custom bass for a client?

I listen -closely- to them. With some clients, I’ve spent hours on the phone hammering out the details of what they want! Other clients may simply say, “Make it like that one!” Regardless, I try to listen to what my client is trying to say, and then I work to meet that expectation.

But in all cases, I try to keep what my client is looking for within the boundaries of what I offer. I have 6 different design motifs that I stick to and they are proven. Within the framework of one of those motifs the client and I work together to make it happen!

What are a few things that you are proud of about your instruments or that you would consider unique about your instruments?

Well, that’s a hard question for me to answer!

I guess that the over-riding thing that comes to mind is that my work is completely hand-crafted using only hand tools and basic shop equipment. My shop is very small! I do not use any CNC or CAD in my work. There is no automation. When I work, I sweat . . . sometimes, a lot! I don’t criticize those who use CNC or automation, and I understand their production advantages, but it’s just not what I’m about. I guess you could say that I’m kicking it “old-school”.

My over-riding desire is that I want the instrument that I deliver to a client to be as pure an expression of my art as I can give to a new owner. I take a lot of pride in being able to handcraft an instrument that makes people go, “WOW!” when they open the case. I don’t see my work ever being mass-produced – frankly, I don’t think it can be. I have never built any two instruments exactly alike, and I sincerely doubt that I ever will.

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

That’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite! I don’t have a favorite one, but there are a few that stand out – the very first Noah that Mick Vaughn owns is special, if only because it was the bass that sent me down this road that I’m on. The Rainbow Bass (a Noah model) was a game-changer for where I was at in 2011. In 2015 I introduced a new model, the Blackbird, that was an instant hit and that I plan on doing a lot more of. Also, my Jonah SSC model is pretty radical with its ultra-thin body.

I can’t pick just one!

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-2

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-3

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

Definitely. Remember two things:

First, stay away from uninformed (or under-informed) critics of what you are trying to achieve in your work. Stay true to your own vision for where you want to be. If you are paying close attention, this craft is self-correcting. If you make a mis-step, you will soon know it. Follow your muse . . .

I have a saying: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t – criticize those who are doing it.” The majority of the people who will criticize you have utterly no idea what they are talking about. Ignore them. My art has flourished since I stopped worrying about the opinions of the uninformed.

Secondly, find one or two people who can give you the moral support and wisdom that you need to excel. They don’t necessarily have to be Luthiers. They just need to be people who are further down the road of achievement than you are! Find one or two successful people who are able to cheer you up and give you wisdom when you’re having a bad day! For me, Carey Nordstrand, Tom Bowlus, and a Seattle area artist and good friend, Aaron McCrae, have provided that support exactly when I needed it. On two or three occasions, I was ready to quit this gig! Each of them gave me the perspective that I needed to keep going!

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-5

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

I would tell a young musician this: find the best bass you can get for $500.00 or less, take it to a professional who can set it up well, and then learn to play it and THEN learn to play it some more! Focus on becoming the best musician you can be! As you become a better musician, you will slowly realize what you want in YOUR instrument. But don’t go chasing the ultimate bass guitar thinking that it will suddenly make you proficient in areas where you’re not. A bad musician with a $10,000.00 bass guitar is still a bad musician! There is only one way to get better: hard work and practice. (That’s also true in becoming a Luthier!)

What is your biggest success for you and for your company?

This spring I had a very expensive bass come through my shop from a well-known builder whom I’ve admired for a very long time. Anyone who is a bassist would immediately recognize the name. For the first time, I was able to directly compare my work to his work. In that comparison, I suddenly had a revelation: somehow I had unexpectedly crawled my way onto the same playing field of artisanship, tone, and playability as his work. I never saw this coming . . .

That moment of realization changed everything. Up until then I kind of had a Luthier’s inferiority, or underdog, complex. I always figured that my work was, at best, journeyman level. But on that day I realized that I’m making something special. Realizing this has changed everything about how I now approach my work.

Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Cleve Johnson-7

Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design?

Yes, this summer I am introducing a new model, the Majestic, that will be my “flagship” model. It is a 27 fret neck-thru design with a Wenge neck and Ebony fingerboard. Going forward, those will be the defining features of the Majestic, while I will vary the body top and wings. It’s going to be killer, and a lot of folks are already lining up for it! I’m excited to see how it turns out!

What are your future plans?

Plans?! I never planned on being here to start with! But I love what I’ve stumbled on to here, and I plan to keep working hard to make my instruments something desirable for any musician to own. I plan to do whatever I need to do that makes owning a LedBelli Bass Guitar something special. If my clients fall in love with their new bass, then I’m the happiest of all.

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

I love my dog!

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Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Exploring the Joyo Gloam – Sub Octave Fuzz Pedal for Bass



Gear Review: Exploring the Joyo Gloam - Sub Octave Fuzz Pedal for Bass

A review of the Joyo Gloam – Sub Octave Fuzz Pedal for Bass

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinions or the content of our reviews. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

Introduction: The Joyo Gloam is a sub-octave fuzz pedal specifically designed for bass players, combining modern sub-octave effects with rich fuzz tones. With two independently controlled circuits, the Gloam aims to provide a versatile range of sounds, from deep, aggressive fuzz to Moog-like synth effects. This review will explore the Gloam’s specifications, controls, and overall performance, highlighting both its strengths and areas for improvement.


  • Dimensions: 130 * 110 * 50 mm
  • Weight: 403g
  • Working Voltage: DC 9V
  • Controls: The Joyo Gloam features a comprehensive control set designed to provide bassists with a wide range of tonal options:
  • Dry Tone: Adjusts the tone of the clean signal.
  • Dry Volume: Controls the volume of the clean signal.
  • Sub Octave Volume: Adjusts the volume of the sub octave signal.
  • Gain: Controls the amount of gain in the fuzz circuit.
  • Fuzz: Adjusts the intensity of the fuzz effect.
  • Bass: Controls the bass frequencies in the fuzz circuit.
  • Treble: Adjusts the treble frequencies in the fuzz circuit.
  • Fuzz Mode Switch: Switches between two different fuzz modes.
  • Dry Tone Frequency Switch: Selects between two different frequency points for the dry tone.

Performance: The Joyo Gloam excels in its dual-circuit design, offering both a sub octave and a fuzz channel that can be controlled individually. However, it’s important to note that the octaver cannot be used without the fuzz circuit activated; the only way to solo the octaver is by turning down the fuzz while both channels are engaged.

Fuzz Circuit: The fuzz circuit includes standard controls such as gain, volume, bass, and treble, along with a fuzz mode switch that toggles between two distinct fuzz modes. While one of the fuzz modes is highly usable and delivers a rich, aggressive tone, the other mode falls short and is less practical for most applications.

Octaver Circuit: The octaver circuit features controls for sub octave volume, clean volume, and clean tone, along with a dry tone frequency switch that provides two different frequency options. This allows for significant tonal versatility, enabling bassists to fine-tune their sound to match their preferences. Despite its limitation of being tied to the fuzz circuit, the octaver produces a deep, balanced sound that stands out.

Combined Effect: When used together, the fuzz and octaver circuits create a wide range of sounds, from classic, aggressive fuzz to synth-like tones reminiscent of a Moog synthesizer. This combination makes the Gloam a powerful tool for bassists seeking to experiment with their sound and achieve unique, textured tones.


  • Versatile Controls: Extensive control options for both fuzz and octaver circuits.
  • Rich Tones: Delivers deep, aggressive fuzz and balanced octaver sounds.
  • Sturdy Construction: Durable build quality ensures reliability.
  • Wide Range of Sounds: Capable of producing everything from classic fuzz to synth-like effects.


  • Unusable Fuzz Mode: One of the fuzz modes is less practical.
  • Dependent Octaver: Octaver cannot be used independently of the fuzz circuit.

Conclusion: In conclusion, the Joyo Gloam sub-octave fuzz pedal offers a versatile and powerful option for bassists looking to expand their tonal palette. Despite some flaws, the Gloam delivers impressive sounds and flexibility. Its combination of rich fuzz and deep octaver tones, coupled with a sturdy construction, makes it a valuable addition to any bassist’s pedalboard. For those seeking a modern bass distortion with the added depth of sub-octave effects, the Joyo Gloam is a compelling choice for a very compelling price.

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July 22 Edition – This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram



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 @ramabass.ok @adamovicbasses @mgbassguitars @marleaux_bassguitars @overwaterbasses @mauriziouberbasses @elrickbasses @zemaitisguitars @sandbergguitars

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Gear News

Behind the Strings: D’Addario’s Story Comes to Life in “Jim’s Corner” YouTube Series



Behind the Strings: D'Addario's Story Comes to Life in "Jim's Corner" YouTube Series

Behind the Strings – Jim’s Corner…

D’Addario & Co. proudly announces the launch of “Jim’s Corner,” a captivating new YouTube series telling the 400-year-old story of the D’Addario family creating the world’s largest music accessories company. This series features Jim D’Addario, Founder and Director of Innovation at D’Addario and Co., sharing his family’s remarkable journey from 17th century Italy to a 21st century global enterprise. 

In the first four episodes now available, Jim D’Addario takes viewers back to the beginning, making strings from animal guts and knotting ukulele wire as a family around the television. Countless generations carried the passion forward until the 1970s when the company made it official and never looked back. Jim recounts the creation of strings that inspired legendary riffs, including one by The Who, the launch of Darco strings, the merger with Martin Guitars and the company’s humble beginnings with his wife, Janet and brother, John. Jim D’Addario’s firsthand accounts provide an intimate and personal perspective on the milestones and challenges that shaped D’Addario into the revered brand it is today.

Episode Highlights:

  • Episode 1: The Early Days in Italy and the Move to America
  • Episode 2: Inspiring Iconic Riffs and Legendary Partnerships
  • Episode 3: Launching Darco Strings and Merging with Martin Guitars
  • Episode 4: Building the D’Addario and Co. Legacy

Watch & Subscribe Now:

Join us in celebrating this incredible legacy by watching the first four episodes of “Jim’s Corner” on YouTube. New episodes will drop every month so please subscribe to our channel to ensure you don’t miss any future episodes and exclusive content from D’Addario & Co.:

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Gear News

Gear News: Aguilar Amplification Unveils Limited Edition NYC Gold Skyline Tone Hammer Preamp



Gear News: Aguilar Amplification Unveils Limited Edition NYC Gold Skyline Tone Hammer Preamp

Aguilar Amplification announces the release of the Limited Edition NYC Gold Skyline Tone Hammer Preamp pedal. Hand serialized 1-100, this exclusive edition celebrates Aguilar’s deep roots in New York City with a tribute to its iconic landmarks and vibrant spirit.

Born in the heart of NYC and raised on the road, the Tone Hammer Preamp DI has been an indispensable tool for bassists seeking inspiring tone and versatility. The new Limited Edition Gold NYC builds on this legacy with striking custom graphics encapsulating the essence of New York City. Featuring iconic landmarks from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building, this pedal is not just a tool, but a piece of art embodying the soul of the city. Each unit features a sharp platinum silkscreen over a stunning matte gold sparkle finish, that is as visually captivating as it is sonically powerful.

The Tone Hammer is an essential preamp/direct box for every bassist’s toolbox. The Tone Hammer features fully sweepable midrange frequencies in addition to bass and treble controls. With the Tone Hammer’s pristine D.I. players are set for either studio or stage. To give this tone shaping unit the ultimate flexibility we introduce our proprietary Adaptive Gain Shaping circuitry (AGS). AGS allows the player to kick in an additional gain structure and EQ with the “stomp” of a button. You can go from modern slap sounds to vintage or overdriven. 18-volt operation gives the Tone Hammer plenty of headroom to reproduce the most dynamic playing styles. Separate gain and master controls allow players to dial in just the right gain structure for any instrument.

Aguilar Amplification’s Jordan Cortese adds, “With only 100 hand-numbered units available, this third iteration of our NYC edition Tone Hammer is a collector’s dream. “It’s a homage to our city’s monumental influence on music and culture and celebrates the craftsmanship and the story of Aguilar”. 

Street price: $299.99 For more information, please visit

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Bass Videos

Gear News: Spector Launches Euro CST and Euro LX Basses



Gear News: Spector Launches Euro CST and Euro LX Basses

Spector, a leading authority in bass guitar design, unveils new additions to its product line: Euro CST, Euro LX and Euro LX Bolt On basses.

Euro CST:
The Euro CST introduces all-new tonewoods, electronics, and finish combinations never seen in the Euro Series, drawing inspiration from Spector’s Woodstock, NY-based Custom Shop. Each Euro CST instrument is meticulously crafted using premium materials, featuring a striking, highly figured Poplar Burl top, a resonant European Ash body, and a 3-piece North American Maple neck paired with an Ebony fingerboard adorned with laminated Abalone Crown inlays.

Euro CST basses are equipped with a lightweight aluminum bridge for precise and reliable intonation. Premium active EMG X Series pickups deliver the exceptional clarity, attack, and silent operation that defines the Spector sound. These basses also feature the all-new Spector Legacy preamp. Developed in collaboration with Darkglass Electronics, this preamp captures the classic “Spector growl,” heard on countless iconic recordings, with added versatility.

Euro CST basses are available in 4- and 5-string models in four distinct high gloss finishes: Natural, Natural Black Burst, Natural Red Burst, and Natural Violet Burst.

Euro LX and Euro LX Bolt-On:
The Euro LX offers all the features that have made the Spector name famous around the globe. Inspired by the iconic NS-2, Euro LX basses feature a fully carved and contoured body, high-grade tonewoods, and professional-grade electronics and hardware. For the first time ever, players can now choose between neck-thru and bolt-on construction in the Euro LX range.  

Each Euro LX bass, regardless of construction, is crafted using premium materials, including a European Alder body, figured European Maple top, and a 3-piece North American Maple neck combined with a Rosewood fingerboard for strength, stability, and sustain. Euro LX basses are then outfitted with a lightweight, aluminum bridge for spot-on, reliable intonation. Premium active pickups from EMG provide the exceptional clarity, attack, and silent operation that Spector is known for. Like the Euro CST basses, these instruments also feature the all-new Spector Legacy preamp.

The newly revised Euro LX range is available in four distinct, hand-rubbed stains, including Transparent Black, Natural Sunburst, Haunted Moss, and Nightshade. Each of these colors features a durable and comfortable matte finish.  

John Stippell, Director, Korg Bass Division, remarks, “I’m thrilled to announce the latest additions to the renowned Euro Range. The CST Series, our new premium offering, features new and unique wood combinations and unprecedented features. The beloved LX Series is now better than ever with the introduction of Bolt-On models, vibrant new color options, and the all-new Spector Legacy Preamp, delivering the classic Spector tone with unmatched precision.”

For more information, visit

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