Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Marco Cortes, Marco Bass Guitars
Meet Marco Cortes of Marco Bass Guitars…
How did you get your start in music?
I started to take acoustic guitar lessons when I was 16 but after a year or smy church needed a bass player and I switched instruments from guitar to bass.
Are you still an active player?
Yes, I continue to play bass. It’s for sure one of my passions, and especially with my type of work. I play it every day, one way or another.
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
When I started to play bass, I didn’t have money to buy a good one. I was about 17 when I decided to build a bass for myself..
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?
I pretty much learned by myself. I went through several magazines, books and had to do a lot of trials and errors. In Brazil, at that time, the resources were very scarce. It was very difficult to buy tools, and I had to rely on some woodworking shops for the initial cuts. I had to do a lot of the work manually, with very few tools, which also forced me to learn how to make my own tools and develop the whole process literally from scratch. At some point, I was making everything – not only the woodworking part, but also the hardware – tuners, bridges – and that’s how I started to make my own pickups too.
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
Usually, I select the wood by weight, species and sound. I buy it already pre-dried and finalize the drying process in my shop, kind of seasoning the wood for my specs. But I have fun in doing so. I live in an area that has beautiful types of wood, and every time I go to the suppliers, I select them personally, already envisioning the next instrument.
How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
I make my own pickups, which helps me, since I can play with them and have a greater variety of tones.
I have used all kinds of brands in the past – EMG, Bartolini, DiMarzio, but since it was too expensive and very difficult to buy them in Brazil, when I started making basses, I had to learn to develop and make my own pickups. I guess that the difficulties at the beginning of my career forced me to learn all kinds of trades in this profession, including making pickups.
Regarding the preamps, I have also used most of the ones in the market, but recently I have been using more Noll Preamp because they are very clean, not very voiced. Because I use my own pickups, I can develop my own tones for the basses. I don’t want an overly voiced preamp as to not clash with the unique sound of my pickups, but, I am always trying out different preamps.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
The very first one was Nico Assuncao, one of the greatest bassist in Brazil, a true legend, and Claudio Beltrami, also in Brazil.
Here in the America, one of the very first ones was Abraham Laboriel.
I’m very blessed to have a great variety of talented musicians that play with my basses, like Matt Kirkwood, Chuck Jacobs, Dwayne Mono Neon, Ariel Garcia, Chris Mercedes, Todde Funk, Nick G, Pepe Bao, Claus Nauer Reher-Langberg, Caleb Gonzales, etc., just to name a few. There are so many good players and I truly appreciate all of them for their artistry.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
First of all, I listen to the artist; he or she needs to be the first one to be in love with the bass, otherwise, they won’t play it. So, I try to get all the details, tones, preferences, etc., and from there, we go together in this building process, which is a partnership.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
One thing that always concerns me the most is the action – and my basses have a really good action, but also my pickups – they are pretty unique.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
I think my favorite one is usually the most recent I build.
But, there is a specific model, called VD (Victory Day), which is a model that I’ve put my heart and soul on it, meaning that it incorporates the best of the best that I have learned about the art of building basses all these years… all the aspects of the best characteristics from wood selection to the architecture of the construction of the blanks, how to position them with the right combination of each wood, to get the best reverberation, the best sound. Every single detail was meticulously thought through. I don’t even build them commercially, because they require a lot time and effort. I just use them to exercise and improve my techniques, and what I learn from these models, I apply in my other models, that are more commercial.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
Yes, my advice is don’t build instruments for your own taste, but listen to the musicians and what they want. However, take some time to develop your own style, exercising your creativity.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
First of all, you need to find a bass that will be an extension of your voice as an artist. Sometimes, people go just for the looks, the visual, but you need to feel the instrument, if the action is good, if it feels comfortable and can help you to become a better artist too.
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
My biggest success is building basses that everyone else in the entire world are building, which are the classic J and P basses models. Those are my forte. They are very successful and everyone that buys one of these bases, they always come back to buy a second or third bass.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design?
I am always trying something new. I have that “craving” not only for continuing to improve my work, but also to continue to be creative. Right now, I am doing some basses, which are a variation of the J Bass model. I am also going back to making my own designs as well and I’m in the process of developing some signature basses for some musicians. I have an extensive line of instruments with single cuts and high-end models, however the market requires the more affordable ones.
What are your future plans?
I just want to continue to establish what I have already been doing but also having my instruments in the hands of more musicians. I also want to move forward with my line of electric guitars.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just to thank all the musicians for all the support. I couldn’t do anything without them. In this journey of making basses, I am blessed for having made great friends. Most of my clients become friends and some I can even call part of my family too. It has been a great and rewarding ride. I enjoy what I do, but especially for being able to hang out and chat with great people from all over the world. I love what I do!
Visit online at marcobassguitars.com