We are very honored to bring you Hans-Peter Wilfer of Warwick, who is celebrating its 35th anniversary on September 13th, 2017, and 70th anniversary with Framus!
Photos courtesy of Framus & Warwick Music USA, Inc. Opening photo, Hans-Peter Wilfer with Hölderlin 1978.
How did you learn about building instruments?
I am self-taught. I started at the age of 9 or 10 years old, working in the factory of my father’s company. It was more playing than anything since I was a kid working in production. I never had the chance to make an adjunction through the bankruptcy of my father’s company in 1974. I first started working as a sales rep at the age of 18 years (1976) during the day and at night I was working in the workshop of my father’s interim company. At 24 years, I finally founded my own small workshop on the 13th of September 1982. I was a complete entrepreneur in the field and learned what I know all by my own experiences.
When did you build your first bass and how did you come up with the design?
My first Basses in early 1982 were a copy of a Fender Bass, but I stopped building those soon after; only a few pieces were made. My second Bass was the TV Bass.
I made a few more pieces but my real first own Bass Model was the Warwick Nobby Meidel Bass.
Here you can find pictures on our website from it. The Nobby Meidel Bass was the start of my company in the Bass world.
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
In the 80’s the market was influenced by company’s like Steinberger, Status, Modulus and the Bass world was asking for this kind of sound. After thinking about it I thought, I didn`t have a clue how to make Graphite composed products. So, I was thinking about how I could get over this lack of knowledge and what I could. I found my luck, by accident, in Wenge wood.
Wenge is extremely hard, still flexible and for me it was the perfect wood to exchange traditional woods like Maple or Mahagony for necks. Wenge was going in the direction of Graphite with its hardness and stability but it still sounded like wood.
In the same moment, our TRADEMARK SLOGAN, “THE SOUND OF WOOD,” which I invented as well, was born.
Besides Wenge, I discovered Bubinga Wood and made it popular for Instruments alongside other woods like Ovangkol and Zebrano Wood, which nobody was using at all in the instrumental business.
So, after a short while Warwick got know for these kinds of extreme hard woods and it came to be our Trademark and still standing today for the Company.
Many other companies are following me today by using Bubinga, Zebrano or Wenge for Fingerboards. Ovangkol is an unestablished wood. But in the 80’s, I was the pioneer to make this wood known.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
My first big 4 Artists were: Jack Bruce, Jon Entwistle, Stuart Zender and Francis Buchholz.
With those 4 Artists, my small workshop became known and respected outside of Germany. I have to also name Steve Bailey, Mike Inez, P-Nut, Alphonso Johnson, Brandino, Dave Roe, T.M.Stevens, Hand Ford Rowe, Jon B Williams, Wolfgang Schmidt and Jäcki Reznicek, which are all players from the early days. I am still very close with all of them and have stayed in contact even after 30 years.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
Well, this is a very long process for us. I’ve never signed an Artist and immediately started on making them a signature model for the market. Sometimes we are working together for 5 to 10 years before taking such a step, at least 1 or 2 years to start. I like the Artists to know how we work and what makes us tick. If the human component and relationship is working out and the Artist understands 100% of how we operate and what we stand for… then we start to consider it. The signature model, from our side, represents homage and recognition for the Artist.
It is never a sales point for us as we never sell many of any Signature model. It mostly is a “thanks” from our side to a very special relationship.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
We invented the hidden-neck construction and established Wenge Wood and Bubinga Wood in the industry. Warwick stands on its own, I never followed. We always make our own designs, and for this, I am proud. As well as the details like our “Just A Nut” design, the Electronic Compartment we developed, the Warwick Bridge, our own Security strap locks and the I.F.T. (invisible fret technology). Finally, I was the first company that made a natural beeswax surface and after establishing Satin Surfaces in the 90’s in the Electric Bass market.
Warwick stills stands for many innovations in the Bass Market today. We have many young consumers that might not know this.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
I love all our models.
The Buzzard Bass, the Dolphin design, the Corvette design, the Thumb Bass design or even the Infinity or the Vampyre model. I reworked the Triumph Upright Bass which my father made in the 60’s the first time. Still, this Bass was the idea for all other companies today, which do upright Basses.
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
The biggest success for me as a small German custom shop Bass maker is that we have fans all over the world. For this I am so thankful, very honored and I am blessed for it and that we are independent family owned company. This after being in this business for 35 years by ourselves.
Can you give information on Warwick as the first “Green” company in the industry?
Here is a link to our website that helps to explain this.
This gives you all the background information, and yes, we were the first company in the world. Well, today it is normal for many other companies, but it was from the first day for me important to make ssustainable products with a long-term value for my customers.
My plan was never to pump up the production. If you see used value prices for our instruments they increase steadily. The basses from the 80’s are worth much more today than the original cost.
How do you plan on celebrating the 35thAnniversary of Warwick?
Well, we do our Reeveland Festival, we invite fans to the Bass Camp Reunion and we have a special VIP evening with many of our Artists from around the world.
Once per year we do our Camp in September. It is more and more becoming a “get together” celebration with Artists from around the world. For me, it is very important that our Warwick Artists come together once a year in Markneukirchen (where Warwick HQ is located in Germany). We even invite Bass Players, who are not Warwick Players. It is the get together and exchange once a year, without media pressure, easy to cut down and have a good time for a few days.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design?
We do not have many plans for new models. We work on the current range to make them better step-by-step, creating new ideas and to be a step ahead of other makers with quality and unique ideas.
What are your future plans? Expansion?
Our future plans are small. We are not a big “multi” company. We are a small, family owned workshop.
Some months we only do 10 Instruments in our workshop. Other months 50 or 60 instruments. No matter the numbers everything that we do has to be sustainable. I do not have big business plans for expansions. However yes, if some ideas are workable we do it.
Currently we are building up our own Distribution Center in Nashville. This is a huge project for us and I am proud to be in the position to build up a Distribution Network in the USA. This is a 5 to 10 year plan as well and I hope in the long run we can implement some of our ideas in the US market too (let’s hope that we are successful with it). This will help to give better customer service to our consumers and our future dealers.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?
Last but not least… I am happy to have achieved during my entire life, the support of my wife, Florence. She is in charge of our Export business. I also have two great kids, who are already working in the company. My daughter, Estelle, who is in charge of Graphics and Marketing and my son, Nicolas, who is in education as a Guitar builder and he wants to take over the company in the future.
All over I have to say, “thanks” again to our US fans and consumers. I am very proud and happy to achieve them and as a foreign company with so much support and love. For this I am blessed.