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Luthier Spotlight: Kevin Butler, Rockhewer Custom Guitars

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Luthier Spotlight: An Interview with Kevin Butler from Rockhewer Custom Guitars…

How did you get your start in music?

My older brother is a drummer, so growing up I had rhythms “pounded” into my head from the adjacent bedroom. There was also a bunch of cool music I discovered because of his record collection…. Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, etc. This 70’s era fusion/prog remains my favorite music, and represents to me a standard of excellence far beyond the mediocrity of the mainstream – Standards that I try to reflect in my work.

As far as influence… Stanley Clarke was definitely influential in my being drawn towards the Bass.

My brother had played briefly in a band with Greg Chaisson, who went on to play in Badlands. I bought my first bass from Greg in about ’79 or ’80… a heavily modded 70’s Telecaster bass. It had a Precision neck, and P/J pickups in addition to a Bill Lawrence humbucker at the stock Tele bass neck position. Cool bass. Wish I still had it.

Model: Rockhewer Tribute? Devastator inspired “Arachnophilia” – Red Mallee burl, Maple, RedHeart, Ebony, Birdseye Maple

Are you still an active player?

Not really “active” no. I was in a few average level garage/bar bands in the late 80’s. But nowadays, I really only play when I am testing & setting up a new build.

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

I built my first bass in ’83 as a senior in high school. I was a huge “shop hound” (back when schools still had extensive industrial arts programs). I have always had a burning desire to build things… since I was 5. Building my own bass felt completely natural.

Model Rockhewer Tribute build, Alembic inspired – Walnut, Wenge, Bubinga, Maple

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

How long can this interview be? Haha!

Very early in my career, I took a job at a woodshop for a few years. I was fortunate to have a bench next to an “old timer” who taught me a lot about woodworking in general. Also the finesse of a perfectionist, a tendency we both had.

But after that job I found another “calling” in the stone countertop /furniture fabrication business; my relationship with rock and wood as artistic building materials is very similar. I have always gravitated to the artistic side of manufacturing. So I taught myself to carve/sculpt marble. I was super passionate about it. That’s where the whole “Rockhewer” moniker actually comes from. But about 10 years ago, prompted in part by back issues, I got back into woodworking.

When I decided to start building basses in earnest I first spent about a full year studying, every spare moment, anything I could find on the web & books etc. on the art & science of Luthiery. I became literally obsessed, I couldn’t get enough.

There is a LOT of info available out there but my proficiency at woodworking allowed me to discern which guitar building “tutorials” were valid & worth learning from and which ones were just kind of “hack”.

As far as a Luthier mentor… I really liked Randall Fullmer’s (Wyn Guitars) bass building video series. He’s a great guy and builds a fine bass. We have since become friends, corresponding by email, and I have visited his shop. Another friend I have made and visited is Neal Moser; a true legend in this business. His shop is about an hour north of me. We have actually discussed collaborating on a few guitars in the not too distant future.

Often I have called upon these two gentlemen for questions/advice. And they are both an inspiration to me in different ways.

Model Rockhewer Tribute build, Alembic inspired – Walnut, Wenge, Bubinga, Maple

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

All my basses have multi lam. through-body necks, and I am very particular as to their construction. I use woods that is notoriously stable for their core. For instance, Rock maple, ebony, and bubinga get used a lot. And the grain structure needs to be appropriate, so I try to source most of that locally. If I feel a need to buy neck wood online I will ask the seller to shoot me a picture of the endgrain.

I keep the wood I will use for necks, cut to slightly oversize blanks, stored in my shop for at least 6 months ahead of a build. These are all carefully matched pairs, for proper grain orientation, and checked for moisture content.

For figured tops, I keep some stock, but I will often source this wood per client’s wishes upon receiving deposit on a commission.

Model Rockhewer Custom “Andromeda” (L.Townsend sig.) – Spalted maple, CurlyMaple, Ebony

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

I like EMG active. They also make a great EQ/blend circuit (BQC system) I use on each build. I am however, willing to deviate, if a client is adamant on using something else.

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

Paul Ranieri, (Mark Wood Experience) played one of my basses on a summer tour a while back. We have started design work on a custom for him. Andy West (Dixie Dregs) recently came by my shop and played a couple. We discussed designing one for him but he is super-busy with preparations for their reunion tour, so that’s on hold.
R. Michael (World Divine)-(repeat client), I am working on his second. B. Devlin and M. Rubin (repeat clients) are fantastic veteran players, and both VERY prominent collectors. Their patronage & enthusiasm speaks volumes.

Model Rockhewer Tribute build, Alembic inspired – Walnut, Wenge, Maple

How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?

A lot of communication, concerning fundamentally what they are looking for. Obviously, what configuration & dimensional parameters, but also desired tonal qualities. Wood species choices do affect this. So they are discussed as part of that recipe.

Then basic design. I will both submit and receive drawings, to be potentially further modified to their taste, as long as they are feasible, and then back and forth until the client is happy.

I am willing to build complete one-off designs, with as much or as little input as a client desires. Some have said, “I want this and this, otherwise I trust your judgment.” Some have much more detailed ideas. Both are fine with me.

Bespoke basses and guitars… not just a limited menu of offered designs & features.

Model Rockhewer MythosX Custom “Divine” – Quilted Maple, Ebony, Birdseye Maple

What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?

I am proud of the fact that several of my repeat clients, are bonified serious collectors, and have owned very many top-shelf, high-end basses. They have ALL stated that they are *extremely* happy with my work. In fact, preferring their Rockhewer basses above most all other higher priced, high-end models they own or have owned.

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

If STUDYING the craft is not EXTREMELY enjoyable… If you are not completely thrilled & obsessed with learning how to do it right… then don’t bother.

Model Rockhewer MythosX “Brunhilde” – Walnut, Curly Maple, Bubinga

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

For a recent build I asked Michael Harwood (Melodious Resonance Constructs) to develop and create pickups I could embed under topwood. This obviously cleans up the aesthetics of a gorgeous bookmatched top, without having to rely on piezo’s. He nailed it & they work great! We need to test this on other configurations but it looks promising as a new development.

I also have a couple of new design options in the prototype phase.

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

If a “young” musician is first learning… play what you can afford. But when you get a little bit of competency under your belt go and try a bunch of different basses to see what works best for you.

But in that search, try to find independent guitar shops that actually keep their basses set up properly. (Not GC) Take note of what differences about a bass feel good to you. Maybe even keep a little ruler in your pocket to note exact neck dimensions and string spacing. Then as you advance, you will have a better idea what to spend your money on that will help you play better.

Some say, “an expensive bass won’t make you play better, and I would basically agree to a point. But if a bass is “tailored” to your every preference? If playing is as effortless as possible because it was impeccably built & set up? If the tone is sweet, bright, yet punchy… powerful and harmonically brilliant? If it is just so damn gorgeous and sexy that you beam with pride when you pull it from the case, and strap it on? You cannot say that all this combined will not have a positive effect on a live performance!

Model Rockhewer Mythos “Hreidmar” – Bubinga, Curly Maple, Wenge

What are your future plans?

Continue building a reputation for fine, quality boutique instruments. I am also working on a couple of guitars as well as my bass commissions.

Where as this year I have too much going on I do plan on exhibiting at NAMM in Jan 2019

Follow on Facebook @Rockhewercustomguitars

 

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Bass Videos

New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

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New Gear: Spector Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II

Spector Launches Woodstock Custom Collection Volume II…

Spector Musical Instruments expands their celebrated Woodstock Custom Collection with the Volume II series – a breathtaking series of 12 handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bass guitars, each one masterfully designed by members of the Spector team. Crafted in the Spector USA Custom Shop in Woodstock, New York, these works of art go beyond musical instruments and expand the boundaries of Spector Bass design.

Spector’s iconic design lays the foundation for the Volume II collection. Each bass showcases a unique vision, including the selection of tonewoods, electronics, captivating finishes, and intricate design details. The collection highlights Spector’s commitment to craftsmanship and artistry and the individual people and stories that make up the team.

“The Woodstock Custom Collection was such a huge success, and we had so much fun with it that we couldn’t wait to do it again,” said John Stippell, Director – Korg Bass Division. “With Volume II, we’re expanding on everything we learned from the first collection, as well as pushing our design and Custom Shop team even further. These basses are a testament to the inspiring talent, creativity, and skill of every person on the Spector team. I’m excited for all of these basses and love how they tell the unique stories of all involved.”

Visit online at spectorbass.com/

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Bass Videos

New Gear: The Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model

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New Gear: The Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model

Dingwall John Taylor Signature Model…

After playing a limited edition Dingwall live with Duran Duran, John Taylor has launched his
Dingwall Guitars production model, loaded with a Rupert Neve Designs preamp and
Rio-inspired graphics.

Dingwall’s major launch for 2023 was the limited edition Rio Dream Bass, featuring an
innovative Rupert Neve Designs onboard preamp. A year later, the range has been bolstered
with the Canadian company now offering unlimited access to its continued collaboration with
John Taylor of Duran Duran.

Dingwall CEO Sheldon Dingwall says the basses are a response to Taylor’s upfront bass style.
“John’s bass playing with Duran Duran really imprinted on me how a bass should fit into a band mix. The combination of tastefully busy syncopation, his punchy tone, and tight performance immediately drew my ear. His basslines have always had a special combination of energy and elegance.”

The John Taylor Signature model follows the formula of the limited edition Rio Dream Bass,
combining a lightweight Nyatoh body with three neodymium pickups to produce what Dingwall deems “wonderful playability and tones that display a rare clarity and refinement.” The JT Signature model also updates the Rio Dream Bass with a range of new colors; Metallic Black, Primrose, Cranberry and Seafoam Green, as well as a new 5-string variant.

Other specs include a bolt-on Maple neck, a Pau Ferro multi-scale fingerboard with the ‘Rio Eye’ inlaid at the 12th fret, and Dingwall’s new ‘Minimalist’ bridge. The headstock sports lightweight tuners and a Rio-inspired graphic that complements the body stripes, designed by longtime Duran Duran collaborator, Patty Palazzo.

Finally, an onboard preamp designed and configured in collaboration with Rupert Neve Designs, whose studio consoles have long represented the pinnacle of high-end audio engineering, promises a clear voice that balances punch and sustain. “Duran’s breakthrough single, the title track from 1982’s Rio, was originally recorded on a Neve console, so the history was already there,” says Sheldon. “But the team at Rupert Neve Designs absolutely nailed the tone.”

Like the Rio Dream Bass, the JT Signature has also been configured to Taylor’s own personal
specifications. “It all started when I was in Toronto about six years ago,” says Taylor. “A friend
showed me a Dingwall bass on his phone. I loved how it looked and immediately said to my
tech, ‘You’ve got to reach out to these guys!’”

For further information on the range options, head to dingwallguitars.com

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Bass CDs

New Album: Killing Bees, Racing Towards Ruin

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New Album: Killing Bees, Racing Towards Ruin

Killing Bees Racing Towards Ruin out May 10th via Tonequake Records.

There are some records where the first note grabs you and doesn’t let go. Before the first lyric is sung, Killing Bees pull you into Racing Towards Ruins via the sheer power of TONES, MAN, TONES. Brown-note bass reverberations and gut-punch kickdrum snap the listener out of daily reverie instantaneously. Together, bassist/vocalist Nic Nifoussi and drummer Ray Mehlbaum (both of Automatic 7) and producer Andrew Scheps (Mars Volta, Audioslave, Adele) have crafted a piece of art that fuses low-rock minimalism, post-hardcore aggression, and SoCal throttle rock urgency into, well, a real ass-kicker. 

The bones of Killing Bees began their calcification when Nifoussi started a high school punk band called Automatic 7. They signed to BYO Records upon graduation and soon found themselves in need of a new drummer. Enter Ray Mehlbaum. Tours with Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Face 2 Face, Bouncing Souls, Suicide Machines, Unwritten Law, Youth Brigade, DOA, and others followed, as well as a deal with A&M Records. A&M got bought by Universal, the band moved to Vagrant Records, cut a new record, toured, then broke up. 

“Eventually, Ray and I decided to start a two-piece band” explains Nifoussi. “I was trying out a new sound using 2 amps and an A-B switch. Overdrive through one amp and playing a lot of chords to get a guitar-like sound. After years of playing together, we were already tight and used to writing together. The songs came quickly and easily.”

Via Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, the band had come to know Grammy-winning producer and engineer Andrew Scheps. Though originally recommended as a producer for Automatic 7, when the band played him the Killing Bees songs, he loved the concept and the trio got to work on their self-titled debut. Following the record’s release on Guano Loco/Loose Fang Records, “we played a bunch of shows and eventually started writing the new record in our North Hollywood lockout” says Nifoussi.

Recorded once again at Scheps’ studio, drums and bass were recorded live, the only overdubs being vocals and some bass and accordion textures (Nifoussi is an accomplished accordionist). “We tracked the two together over 4 or 5 days and everything you hear was played live by talented humans, not put together after the fact.  I think that live energy is what makes the record so compelling!” says Scheps. “Andrew wanted to challenge us. We came in wired towards traditional songwriting – he wasn’t interested in that” explains Mehlbaum. “He encouraged us to think about instrumental bits that would drive the tune, as opposed to the sing-along chorus of a traditional song. As a drummer, he kicked my ass. I remember him saying “we’re gonna turn the click off. I want you to go completely ‘out of time’ then come back in.” That’s some crazy shit! But I fucking loved it.”

Thematically, the record deals with the dangers of love and politics in equal measure. As Nifoussi puts it, “if there’s a takeaway, it’s to be careful with who you love… and vote into government.” So, Racing Towards Ruin. A concise, compelling listen, arresting at first blush, and deeply moving upon completion. A modern rock record (not a modern-rock record), unrelentingly heavy and sonically immaculate. And loud. Super loud.  

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Gear News

New Gear: Nembrini Launches Bass Hammer Plugin

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New Gear: Nembrini Launches Bass Hammer Plugin

Bass Hammer Plugin…

Nembrini Audio launches the Bass Hammer plugin which is engineered for advanced bass tone sculpting. Modelled on the Aguilar Tone Hammer* which is renowned for its tone shaping flexibility, the Nembrini Bass Hammer features Adaptive Gain Sculpting, comprehensive EQ adjustments and versatile cabinet simulations.

The Nembrini Audio Bass Hammer plugin has been designed to infuse discerning musicians’ digital workspace with the legendary tonal characteristics and dynamic versatility of its hardware counterpart. The new plugin delivers all the distinct organic warmth, detailed midrange control and adaptive tonal shaping the Tone Hammer* is famous for in a flexible digital format.

Bass Hammer features Adaptive Gain Sculpting to transform a signal’s EQ curve and gain structure and alter the behaviour of the MID parameter.  The Graphic EQ has six bands enabling nuanced shaping across the bass frequency range. Plus, the four selected bass guitar cabinets, four carefully selected microphone emulations and a parallel D.I. signal with console compressor offer users plenty of scope to explore ambient reverb blending.

Introductory prices of $29.99 for the Desktop version (regular price $137) and $9.99 for the IOS form (regular price $19.99) are available until 30th April 2024. Bass Hammer is PC and Mac (VST2, VST3, AU, AAX) compatible and requires a FREE iLOK account.

To find out more and download the Bass Hammer plugin please go to nembriniaudio.com/products/bass-hammer-bass-amplifier or
apple.com/us/app/bass-hammer/id6480058361Video

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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore…

I am always impressed by the few members of our bass family who are equally proficient on upright as well as electric bass… Edmond Gilmore is one of those special individuals.

While he compartmentalizes his upright playing for mostly classical music and his electric for all the rest, Edmond has a diverse musical background and life experiences that have given him a unique perspective.

Join me as we hear about Edmond’s musical journey, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Photo, Sandrice Lee

Follow Online

facebook.com/EdmondGilmoreBass
instagram.com/edmond_gilmore/
youtube.com/channel/UCCYoVZBLXL5nnaKS7XXivCQ

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