Meet Stephen Sukop of Sukop Basses
How did you get your start in music?
I started playing bass at 10, began playing in clubs with some local groups at 15.
Are you still an active player?
Still playing bass a bit, but now I’m doing a solo acoustic guitar gig, country!
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
I always felt that if you played guitar and worked with wood, guitar making was a natural curiosity and I fell in the middle. I was 16 when I made my first bass, a fretless acoustic made from the wood of an old TV console. The sides were plywood and I soaked it in a tub to bend into a frame. Incredibly crude, but it worked! I still have it here at the shop.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?
I’m self-taught as a builder; trial and error, I love to experiment! I think if you learn from sombody else, you may just continue to do it that way; I want to see every avenue/option. I feel there’s always one best way to do anything. I definitely borrowed some ideas from basses I liked and fused those influences into what I do today.
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
Certain woods have been used since the beginnings of Fender. Hard maple for necks, and alder bodies have a definite familiarity with players, but as a custom builder, guys can choose whatever they like. Main thing is that the selected timbers have lots of time to season and relax.
How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
I’ve been using Bartolini pickups and preamps for a long time; I view these as very high-quality, industry standard. I remember a guy asking me at a show what I though about this or that pickup or preamp. I told him, “I can’t really have an opinion on every new thing that comes out, I have a life! If you think one thing is better for you than another, just tell me and I can put it in your custom build order.”
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
The cool thing about builders is we are all so different. In the end everyone’s work will be their own interpretation of what they have as an ultimate vision. I put great emphasis on the feel of the instruments, I believe this is most important, and tone will follow. How good could anything sound if one must struggle to play it? A unique feature I am very proud of is my custom bridge, which I designed several years ago. Made of brass, they are independent saddles, which allow for varying string widths, along with a very close profile against the body. The ball end is also set in a notched brass sleeve in the face of the instrument, giving tight string through body-like contact, but is still quick release.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
I don’t think I really have any favorites, I love all my children equally – LOL! The design needs to be the customer’s favorite, thus the reason for many different model styles. My job is really to give them exactly what they want; I don’t like to steer the project too much during a custom build, I think it’s better they decide the directions.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
A famous bass builder I won’t name here told me, “If you were smart enough, you wouldn’t be in this business…” HA! That said, there are easier ways to earn money. I do realize I am incredibly fortunate to have anything to show for what I chose to do for a living, but mostly a lot of hard work, overcoming failures and perhaps a bit of luck led to what could probably be termed a success. I feel I was born to do this. Follow your heart if you think this is really what you want to do, try not to be discouraged especially in the beginning.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
Go with your gut. There are so many possibilities to choose from it’s mind numbing. Basses are like the musicians that play them, none are really better than the next, mostly just DIFFERENT. What works for one person may not work for another. You’ll know when you feel and hear it. I like to think as builders we definitely have more control over the physical aspects of the design than so much the tone; I say if it feels right you’ll get the sound. How good could something sound if you had to struggle to play it? In the end I want my basses to be sort of invisible, that the sounds just come out of your head. Looking at the Mona Lisa, you don’t see the brush!
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
There’s a lot of ways success could be measured. For some it’s about the number of instruments produced and the revenues gained. For me it’s about making the best product I can possibly build and having extremely happy customers. Again, I’ve been lucky enough to “make it “. If I never made another bass I’d be happy with what I’ve done, I have competed at a world-class level.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design?
I still want to do a piezo bridge option, it’s been on the table for a bit now. Thinking about also doing another retro-version, maybe like a Jaguar bass, as I do love certain shapes for their timeless Americana appeal. My thanks to the customers, who always push me to try something new. It’s healthy growth to be tossed outside my comfort zone, and I’m always going to try to give them exactly what they ask for. I just did my first neck with inlaid graphite!
What are your future plans?
For the future I’d love to simply continue what I’ve been doing, to keep refining the process and grow as an artist. It’s important for people to know there are alternative choices among instruments out there, not just the stuff you see at your local music store.
Thanks for the opportunity to showcase some of my work here.
Visit online at sukop.com