Interview with Parizad Hatcher
Thank you to Holly Bergantino of Bergantino Audio Systems, who brought Parizad Hatcher to our attention! She is the latest addition to the Bergantino family of endorsing Luthiers and Holly has graciously allowed Bass Musician to include this special interview in our Luthier Spotlight.
By Guest Contributor, Holly Bergantino
Meet Parizad Hatcher. She immigrated from Iran at the age of 18 and has a very interesting story to tell. She is quickly becoming well-known for her incredible work in this latest class of up-and-coming bass luthiers.
[Holly Bergantino] Where did you grow up, Parizad? And we love your name![Parizad Hatcher] Thank you so much. I grew up in Tehran, Iran. I moved to the United States when I was 18 to attend college at Georgia Tech.
When did your bass building journey begin?
The journey really began for me when I met my husband. I was a student at the time, studying particle physics, and the first CD he gave me when we started dating was Pat Metheny’s “Bright Size Life” with Jaco on bass. I didn’t even know what instrument I was hearing, but I was enthralled by it.
Jaco’s playing was so melodic, it reminded me of Bach’s inventions in the way he weaved these counter-melodies underneath the soloist.
It was years later when I started building classical guitars that I made my first bass, but I didn’t take much convincing, and it was fretless! After that, I switched to building almost exclusively basses. I’ve made a few jazz guitars but basses seem to be my niche.
What originally inspired you to start building bass guitars?
I apprenticed with a wonderful guitar builder named Keith Vizcarra in Santa Fe. Before Keith, I knew nothing about building instruments. I had done some intricate woodworking but nothing related to instruments.
Keith is a very good teacher, and he understands science, so he was able to figure out my learning style and teach me in a way that made sense. Being a math person and having a background in science, I tend to want to quantify everything, and I feel like there is a formula for everything. With instruments, it’s not that binary. Once you get to the point of building a high-quality instrument, then it’s about the preferences of the players. Wood combinations, pickups, etc… Oops, sorry—back to your question. I was building classical guitars, and my husband wanted to buy a very expensive electric bass. I told him, “Give me the specs and a picture, and I’ll make you one.” I didn’t have a lot of respect for solid-body instruments at the time.
But that changed (and he bought the bass anyway). I built him a bass, and I think the result surprised both of us. Everyone who played that bass really seemed to like it, and shortly after, I got my first order for a bass. I’ve really just been filling orders since then.
Eventually, I had to start turning down orders for guitars because they take so much longer to build, and the rest is history.
What instruments do you play?
I am a classical pianist, albeit a very rusty one, as I don’t have much time for it these days.
We know you received your bachelor’s degree with a dual major in physics and mathematics. Can you share with us how your studies inspired you?
I don’t really know how to answer that. I guess I feel like there are math people and there are writing people. Math people look for the one right answer to every problem and writing people just make up their own answers or keep rephrasing the question until it fits their answer. I’m a math person by nature, and I’m a perfectionist, so I think once I set my mind on building basses, I’m always just looking for a solution. The basses are just the byproduct of my failed research.
It’s like Plato’s forms. There is a conceptual paradigm of a “perfect bass” or the perfect essence of “bassness” that exists in my head, and I’m trying to make that manifest.
We know you developed a passion for carpentry. Can you share with us how this led to being a luthier?
That’s all my husband’s fault!
He loves instruments, and he is an avid collector. He infected me with his love of beautiful instruments. Having lots of nice instruments to look at for inspiration has been a great help to me. Sometimes, I might take out a Benedetto archtop guitar or an old Austrian violin that we have and just look at them and hold them when I’m feeling uninspired.
I’m very lucky to have access to such nice pieces.
What is your favorite bass that you have built so far and why?
The Butterfly bass that I built for Kai Eckhardt is definitely my favorite for lots of reasons. It’s sort of the culmination of everything I’ve learned about building basses combined with my love of pretty woods and intricate patterns. Combine THAT with the love I have for Kai and his artistry, and it’s just something I’m really proud of.
Is there a specific tone you strive for with your design or is your philosophy to give the player a blank canvas in which to create?
Not a blank canvas. I think that most players are looking for specific tones or a specific range of tones, and I try to give them what they want. Sometimes, communicating with the musicians and translating their language about what they want into my math can be the toughest part, which is where my husband excels. When someone comes in and says they want a “rich” “full” sound that isn’t too “honky” or “bright” but still “cuts through,” my husband can ask them who they listen to and maybe find a few songs that demonstrate that tone, and then he translates for me what the client wants.
What are your greatest challenges as a luthier?
I think to deal with clients that think they know what they want, but I can actually see that something else will work better for them. They want a certain scale length or spacing or specific electronics or wood combinations because some bass player they respect has the same thing, but it doesn’t really line up with their (the client’s) anatomy (in the case of dimensions) or with what they say they need the instrument to do.
Can you share with us a little bit about your lightweight modern basses in 32” and 33” scale-length designs?
Yes! Basses by and large (pun intended) are bigger and heavier than they need to be, in my experience. I prefer a lightweight, medium scale (32 or 33 for 4 string; 33 or 34 for 5 and 6 string) bass. I like to keep my basses less than 8 lbs for 4 strings and less than 9 lbs for 5 and 6.
Also, the center of gravity is very important. I want the bass to balance in such a way that the player can hold the bass both sitting or standing with a strap without using the left hand to support the weight of the bass neck. There is a whole formula for this that involves three points of contact and an angle of 45 degrees off the body, but it’s a bit long for this platform. The main idea is that the shoulders should stay relaxed and down, and the wrist shouldn’t need to bend too much when playing. The elbow should track behind the wrist, preventing some of the common overuse injuries that players suffer from. When players are relaxed and not tense, they can play better and for longer.
My basses are designed to be lightweight and ergonomic for these specific reasons.
What are your favorite woods to work with and why?
I’ve experimented with lots of wood combinations for tone.
For tops, I like woods that are pretty. Lots of maples, spalted, flamed, quilted. I like redwood burl a lot. It’s a very deep rich color with swirling randomness that’s just beautiful. I’ve used lots of different woods for tops, and there are so many pretty ones to choose from. I find maple, mahogany and ash to be best for necks. I prefer ebony or rosewood fingerboards; I find them to be very balanced.
For bodies, I like ash and mahogany. I have had good results with walnut, alder and sapele for bodies, but when you get a good piece of ash that’s the right weight, it’s tough to beat.
We are thrilled you are using the Bergantino forte amplifier. Can you tell us your experience thus far with Bergantino?
My first thought when I plugged my bass into your amp was, “This is how I want my basses to be heard.”
What I look for in an amp is a transparent signal with a low noise floor and a pragmatic, utilitarian preamp that works intuitively. I don’t want to read a book to learn how to use an amp. And I don’t want to spend my time with a customer explaining an amp to them. I want them to hear my bass without a lot of coloring from the amp and then be able to make minor adjustments with the preamp to get the frequency spectrum dialed in.
That to me is the Forte in a nutshell. It’s has a very pristine sound; it is a great preamp with lots of headroom.
What are your future plans?
As far as bass building goes, I plan to continue with what I’m doing now. I build each bass myself one at a time. I haven’t given much thought to increasing the rate of my production. I like doing it myself, and I enjoy the process. Unfortunately, as the demand increases, so does the wait time, but for now, it’s not too bad I hope. Maybe someday, when I retire, I will go back to building some classical guitars or try my hand at arch tops just for fun.
What strings and preamps do you use?
Besides building bass guitars, what do you like to do?
I spend a lot of time with my family. I have two sons who are both musicians, and they keep me busy. I also enjoy training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; it’s like chess with your body, and there are no excuses on the mats.
Lately, I’ve been reading Stoic philosophy a lot, which I find to be very relevant and helpful for outlook and perspective, especially Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca.
Ryan Holiday has some great books on the topic as well.
Thank you again to Bergantino Audio Systems for allowing Bass Musician to re-publish this Luthier interview with Parizad Hatcher.