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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

Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

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Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

Bassist Adam Sullivan…

Hailing from Minnesota since 2012, By the Thousands has produced some serious Technical Metal/Deathcore music. Following their recent EP “The Decent”s release, I have the great opportunity to chat with bassist Adam Sullivan.

Join me as we hear about Adam’s musical Journey, his Influences, how he gets his sound, and the band’s plans for the future

Photo, Laura Baker

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IG &FB @bythethousands
YTB @BytheThousands

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Bass CDs

Album Review: Mark Egan, Cross Currents

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Album Review: Mark Egan, Cross Currents

Mark Egan, Cross Currents…

It is exciting every time I get a new album from Mark Egan as he is such an amazingly versatile player and I never know what to expect (except for excellent artistry!) In his latest release, Mark has teamed up with Shawn Peyton on drums and Shane Theriot on guitar to bring us “Cross Currents”.

This collection of eleven tracks transports me to the Gulf Coast (New Orleans specifically). Mark’s fretless basses lay down a solid groove and lots of juicy solo work for this rootsy collection of funk, ambient, swamp-rock, second line, ballads, Cajun and even Indian Raga.

This trio is super-tight and the musicianship is flawless as each member has ample opportunity to shine. Even though each player is very talented in their own right, I feel that the collective energy is greater than just the sum of the players on this album. Each musician contributed to composing music for this project but the lion’s share are Mark’s original pieces.

I spent the summer of 1981 in New Orleans and this wonderful music takes me back to those fond memories. I participated in a wacky raft race on Lake Ponchatrain and this opening track elicits images of fun, sunshine, music, and great food.

This is another superb album that everyone will enjoy. Get your copy today! Cross Currents is available online at Amazon.com. Visit Mark online at markegan.com.

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Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

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Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp: A Tribute to 90’s Iconic Sounds

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

In the realm of bass preamp/DI pedals, capturing the essence of iconic tones from the 90s can often feel like an elusive pursuit. However, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp emerges as a great option for bass players seeking to replicate the signature sounds of that era, particularly the revered tech21 SansAmp. With its robust feature set and compact design, the Tidal Wave offers a faithful homage to classic rock tones and low-gain distortions, all while providing modern conveniences for today’s bassist. Let’s delve into why the Joyo Tidal Wave stands out as a versatile and budget-friendly tool for both stage and studio.

Specs:

Measuring at 130 * 110 * 50 mm and weighing 442g, the Joyo Tidal Wave strikes a balance between portability and durability, making it ideal for gigging musicians and studio enthusiasts alike. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Tidal Wave ensures reliable performance in a variety of settings.

Controls:

At the heart of the Tidal Wave’s versatility lies its comprehensive control set, allowing bass players to sculpt their tone with precision. Key features include:

– Level: Sets the overall output volume of the pedal.

– Blend: Blends the dry signal with the cab-emulated signal, offering seamless integration of the pedal into any setup.

– Presence: Controls the dynamics of the high upper-mids, crucial for shaping drive tones.

– Drive: Introduces low-gain distortions and classic rock sounds into the clean tone.

– Treble, Middle, and Bass: Provides a 3-band EQ with frequency selectors for bass (40Hz – 80Hz) and mids (500Hz – 1KHz), offering ample control over tonal shaping.

– Middle Shift and Bass Shift: Allows for further fine-tuning of midrange and bass frequencies.

– Ground Lift: Helps eliminate ground loop noise in certain setups.

– DI Attenuation Switch: Adjusts the level of the DI output signal.

– LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal.

Performance:

True to its inspiration, the Joyo Tidal Wave excels in delivering classic rock tones and low-gain distortions reminiscent of the tech21 SansAmp. Whether you’re seeking gritty overdriven sounds or pristine clean tones, the Tidal Wave offers unparalleled flexibility and sonic versatility. The inclusion of a headphone out, XLR DI out with cab simulation, and throughout for the original bass sound make the Tidal Wave a versatile tool for both stage and studio applications. From practicing silently with headphones to crafting quality recordings in an ampless setup, the Tidal Wave delivers on all fronts with clarity, definition, and unmistakable character.

Pros:

The Tidal Wave boasts an array of advantages that set it apart from its direct competitors:

– Headphone Out: Transforms the pedal into a convenient practice tool.

– Size and Weight: Compact and lightweight design for easy transportation and setup.

– Rugged Construction: Durable build quality ensures longevity and reliability.

– DI and CabSim: Offers professional-grade direct recording capabilities with authentic cab simulation.

– Familiar Tones: Faithfully replicates the classic rock sounds of the tech21 SansAmp.

Cons:

While the Tidal Wave excels in many aspects, it does have a few drawbacks:

– Plastic Knobs: Knobs may feel less premium compared to pedals with metal controls.

– Cab Simulation Only on XLR Output: Limited cab simulation functionality may require additional routing for certain setups.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of classic rock tones from the 90s. With its faithful homage to the tech21 SansAmp, comprehensive control set, and modern conveniences like headphone out and XLR DI with cab simulation, the Tidal Wave offers bassists a versatile  tool for sculpting their sound with precision and finesse. Whether you’re seeking to replicate iconic tones from the past or forge new sonic territories, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp is sure to inspire creativity and elevate your playing to new heights.

Available online at Amazon.com

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This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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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 @cb_basses @alesvychodilbasses @odiengcustom @ramabass.ok @mauriziouberbasses @mgbassguitars @capursoguitars @thebassplace @adamovicbasses @ishguitars

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Bass CDs

New Project: NEMESIS CALL Announce “Kingdom of Shred” Album

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New Project: NEMESIS CALL Announce "Kingdom of Shred" Album

ALBERTO RIGONI’s New Project NEMESIS CALL Announce “Kingdom of Shred” Album, Feat. Super Talented Guests Such as Mike Terrana, Alexandra Zerner + Many Others

Worldwide known Italian bassist and composer ALBERTO RIGONI (soloist, BAD As, Kim Bingham, Vivaldi Metal Project, etc.) announces the new album “Kingdom of Shred” of his new project NEMESIS CALL. 

Alberto says: 
“Even if my latest album “Unexpected Lullabies”, dedicated to my newborn Vittoria Parini Rigoni, was released on June 4th 2024, I felt the need to compose new music (yes, I really can’t stop!). This time will be quite challenging because I’m willing to release an instrumental shred/prog/rock/metal/melodic album, that will feature many talented top-notch musicians such as drummer Mike Terrana, Alexandra Zerner, Alexandra Lioness, Aanika Pai (11 years old!), Keiji by Zero (19 years old!), SAKI and many others TBA/TBC). It won’t be easy to manage all such great musicians but I will make it! Are you ready to face a new prog experience? The album will be released in Digipack CD and in high-quality digital format approximately at the beginning of 2025 or maybe for Christmas!.”

As an independent artist, Alberto Rigoni has launched a fundraising campaign to support the project. Support at www.albertorigoni.net/nemesiscall. 20% of the income will be donated to Lega del Filo d’Oro (www.legadelfilodoro.it/it), an Italian association that helps deaf and blind children!

Visit online at www.albertorigoni.net | albertorigoni.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/albertorigonimusic | www.badas.rocks

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