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.
R.I.P. Bill Conklin, Conklin Guitars and Basses
Updated: Oct 29, 2021 – It is with a heavy heart that we share the passing of Bill Conklin, beloved Luthier and industry friend to many… may you rest in peace.
Interview: Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Bill Conklin, Conklin Guitars and Basses
Meet Bill Conklin of Conklin Guitars
How did you get your start in music?
My interest in music started at a very young age and was influenced by my parent’s listening preferences, my older brother’s record collection and eventually my friends who convinced me to be the bass player in the band they were forming when we were all in the range of 10 to 12 years old. My first bass was a Kay that I played through a tweed guitar amp from a company called Earth.
Are you still an active player?
I have played on and off throughout my life, performing in cover bands and original bands, most recently with my business partner Mike Apperson, covering modern rock and progressive material. I have always enjoyed writing lyrics and playing but never took it too seriously or pursued it on a professional level. One of the goals on my bucket list is to record a CD of 10 to 12 songs of my own original music and lyrics; not to necessarily sell or profit from, just to enjoy and say, “Yeah I did that”.
How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass?
At the same time my love of music was brewing within me at an early age, so too was a love of art and design. Naturally as I entered my teen years I began to merge the two mediums and quickly filled my sketchpads with drawings of wild looking guitars. It was just about that time (1977-80) I started seeing ads for Ibanez, Dean and Hondo that featured uniquely shaped guitars and then it hit me that I could possibly turn this passion into a career.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider a Mentor?
Without any woodworking experience, no family members involved in manufacturing and no one to mentor me in my small Midwest resort community, I did the only thing I could at the time and built my first guitar in high school woodshop my senior year 1981. I had designed a machine gun shaped guitar and thought it lent itself perfectly to my rock-n-roll mindset. The guitar turned out so well that I ended up playing it in my first semi-professional band after graduating from high school.
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
We have a few favorites that we like to work with such as Maple and Purpleheart for our multi-laminate necks, but when it comes right down to it the customer is free to choose their own woods. Of course if they don’t have a preference or if they are unsure about a certain application we are happy to make suggestions or recommendations.
How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?
Just as with the woods, we encourage the customer to select their favorite pickups and electronics. On occasion they may request certain components that don’t necessarily work together as well as they should so we will suggest alternatives that we know from experience will perform as expected.
We have been offering Bartolini and EMG since our start in 1984 and more recently have been doing quite a bit with Delano, mainly because they have been so willing to make custom pickups for our extended range basses, not to mention that they sound incredible. We have also been recommending Lundgren pickups from Sweden to our 4 and 5 string bass customers and are extremely happy with them. We were the first dealer for Lundgren pickups in the USA and have them available on our website for anyone wanting to do upgrades on any brand of bass.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
Our association with Bill Dickens has been pretty renowned. We have been working with him since 1998 and his signature model 7-string bass has been a key fixture in the popularization of extended range bass. In addition to the BD-7 we also built several custom ERB’s for Billy including the world’s first 9-string bass tuned from low F# to high Bb. (View Bill Dickens ERB Legend Interview in Bass Musician Magazine in the December 2016 Issue)
It was a great pleasure and a real honor to work with the incredible groove legend Rocco Prestia for so many years. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing your unique instrument in the hands of such a stellar talent as he performs his unique style for fans all over the world. (View Rocco Prestia Cover Interview in Bass Musician Magazine in the February 2015 Issue)
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
It all starts with the artist. It is virtually the same thing we do for any player wanting a one-of-a-kind custom instrument. They have an idea, or often times several ideas that they want to incorporate into a bass. It could be something as simple as a tone that they are after; maybe it’s an aesthetic or a certain feel, some specific woods, hardware or electronics or possibly a combination of all these things. We have them make a wish list of desired specs for their dream bass and then we discuss it with them, make recommendations, offer suggestions, and answer questions until they are completely comfortable with their choices. Once the work order is in and the build is on we develop 3-D drawings that are emailed to the customer for approval. If everything looks good, it’s off to the woodshop and we start making sawdust.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
When I first started the company I had several unique and/or innovative ideas on how I felt guitars and basses could be improved, simplified or otherwise given a ‘Conklin’ twist. One of the first things I designed was a bolt-on heel that was completely carved and molded right into the neck. There are quite a few manufacturers nowadays that bevel or carve their neck heel in some fashion in an effort to make it more comfortable, but as far as I am aware, Conklin was the first to do this and still one of the only companies to really blend the two pieces, almost like a neck-through-body.
I also thought it would be a good idea to place the position marker dots on the very edge of the fretboard. During installation they actually hang over just a bit so that when they are sanded flush you get a top dot and side dot all in one…we call them “off-sides dots”.
Another thing we started doing right from the start was leaving the covers off of the truss rod slot and the tremolo spring area on our guitars, an idea that is now quite common.
Finally, we developed an entirely new approach to making exotic wood tops, fingerboards and headstock caps. Instead of the traditional bookmatch we joined several contrasting species of gorgeous woods into a twisting, wavy, flowing organic graphic that we call “Melted Tops”. Of course we don’t do these on all of our instruments; they are reserved for those customers wanting something extremely exclusive and extra special.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
Right now I am really jazzed about our Sidewinder 4 and 5-string Classic models; they incorporate retro era styling with modern refinements.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
This may not be the most pc thing to say, but quite honestly you might want to plan on working for one of the established companies because this has become one of the most competitive markets on the planet. When I started Conklin back in ’84 you could count the number of custom shops on one hand. Now I’m not sure you could not count all the custom builders. This type of work is like music itself; it gets into your skin and it is extremely fulfilling. I totally understand why so many people aspire to do it. Just give it some serious consideration.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
Email us your wish list…lol!
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
It kind of relates back to your earlier question; I had a dream about building guitars and basses back in the early1980’s; back when it was unheard of for a kid in Missouri with no previous experience and no recognized name to start a custom shop and think anyone would buy one of my instruments, sight unseen and un-played. Keep in mind that this was several years before the Internet. But with undying determination, passion and spirit I did just that and 32 years later here I am… not necessarily living the dream, but living MY dream.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.
We are… several new models and designs actually. Starting with a new website in 2017, we are planning to release our Classics and Cutting Edge series, which will include the retro-inspired pieces I mentioned earlier along with some state-of-the-art models like our Wiggle Stick, which is a headless multi-scale 5-string and our Funky 5; a highly carved, fine-tuned little funk machine.
What are your future plans?
Funny you should ask. For almost as long as I have been designing and building innovative instruments, I have also been designing and planning to someday build innovative and unique furniture, accent pieces, jewelry and guitar related accessories. I had made up my mind that I wanted to get this new venture rolling by the time I turned 50. Now, at 53, I just recently have begun creating some prototypes of what I hope will eventually become an entire line of my ”other” ideas. Look for these products to begin showing up on our website in the next year or so and our name to change from Conklin Guitars and Basses to Conklin Custom Shop.
Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?
Yes please… I want to say thank you to all of our loyal fans, friends and customers that have put their trust and confidence in us over these past 32 years, and given us the opportunity to make a living making guitars. We hope you’ll stick with us for the next 32 years. Also, I can’t heap enough praise on those gentlemen that have literally stood beside me and believed in me these past three decades. From the early years with Brent Frazier, Jim Cox and Brad Bembry through the 90’s with Phil Goschy and finally these past 16 years with Mike Apperson. Without each of them being in the right place at the right time with such incredible dedication and work ethic for this brand, none of this would have been possible.
Visit online at conklinguitars.com
Luthier Spotlight: Jon Maghini of Maghini Guitars
Luthier Spotlight: Bjoern Kroeplin, Plankton Basses
Meet Bjoern Kroeplin, Luthier and owner of Plankton Basses…
In this issue, I have the honor of interviewing Bjoern Kroeplin, Luthier and owner of Plankton Basses.
How did you find your way into music?
I am now 53 years old and come from a musical family. Even as a child I regularly received promo singles from our neighbor who worked at the WDR Radio in Cologne.
I first played the piano and then joined my first band when I was about 15. There I played percussion until the bandleader got a gig in our school. We didn’t have a bass player, so I agreed to learn bass and within a month, bought one in Lübeck and quickly taught myself everything I needed to cut a good figure in front of the 400 people in the school’s sports hall.
Later in the 80s, I discovered Stanley Clarke, Mark King, Marcus Miller, and Defunkt with Kim Clarke. But my favorite bassist is Hellmut Hattler with his virtuoso plectrum bass playing. This is not least because he has bequeathed me his two Glockenklang Boxes, with which I can put all basses through their paces after completion.
I am also self-taught and have always taught myself how to play instruments, including the entrance examination for bass studies in Cologne. I also had piano lessons as a child. What I could advise today would be in any situation: listen, listen carefully, and stay on the ball.
Are you still an active player?
I have a small studio and compose mostly with the bass and then play all the other instruments – visit TRICKYPONY. I am booked as a session bassist here in northern Germany for funk, rock, and jazz.
Tell us about building your first bass…
I’ve had many a bass, but I didn’t like any of them particularly in terms of sound and certainly not in the classical form. So after a long accident with a fractured heel, where I couldn’t walk for a long time, I decided to build my first fine bass at home on a barstool. I bought all parts and tools on the internet and they were delivered to my door.
That must have been about 10 years ago. The result was absolutely sensational in terms of sound and appearance.
This was followed by an electric double bass similar to the one made by the well-known electric double bass player Eberhardt Weber with the Jan Garbarek Group. Here I chose practically only the middle section in the extension of the neck but without the charming, massive, sweeping curves of a babushka like in the Kate Bush video.
The body is made of maple with a neck that you can unscrew. This way you can transport the huge device relatively easily. It sounds like a classic double bass, so everything as it should be.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier? Who would you consider as a mentor?
Wood is a fantastic material to create sculptural objects. My talent and pleasure has always been design, so it is always easy for me to realise my initially fictitious idea. As a mentor I have the philosophy of Bauhaus and Luigi Colani in mind. The European Nordic designers have created great stylish unique pieces. But also always a bit ahead of the times, such as the case of the Braun Phonosuper SK 4, the Snow White coffin, which was sensational for its time. It was designed by Hans Gugelot and Dieter Rams in 1952, when there was only phono furniture available worldwide. Carl Thompson in New York was the closest to the signature of the new design for basses that I like. How do you choose the woods you want to build with?
I have tried out many things! Just drop different pieces of different woods from a height of one meter onto the floor. Then you will get a first impression of what it means to perceive differences in the wood.
The topic of wood selection resembles a myth deliberately created by the producers called: Tonewood. I can immediately think of the following amusing anecdote that explains a lot; I quote and it was like this: “Taylor builds good guitars because we know how to do it. And to prove it, we built an acoustic guitar out of an old, rotten pallet from the rubbish. The top was made from a wasteboard whose wood type could not be determined. It was glued so artfully from 6 boards that you can hardly see it, and the nail holes … were highlighted with inserted aluminum discs. This Pallet-Guitar was a most acclaimed guitar of the Winter NAMM Show”. Taylor, ISBN 3-932275-80-2.
Let’s talk about pickups…
I have tried American pickups, like the ones in the Fender basses. I have found a great liking for the Bartolini PU’s and have used them. Currently, I work mainly with the DELANO PU’S and the NOLL Electroniks from Germany. I have no comparable electrical solutions at hand. Alembic and Bartolini would be in the USA the closest to my sound ideas; an extremely broad frequency spectrum.
Who were some of the first known musicians who started to play your basses?
None yet, because my basses have only now seen the light. I studied electric bass in Cologne in the 90s and recorded everything on my website myself. You can play the classical styles of your idol with your instrument. However, an instrument would be great, with which modern creative young musicians can start to develop their own sound and their own “handwriting”. I build such basses for you at the Baltic Sea with PLANKTON BASSES, Germany and combine tradition with modernity.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
By having a clear idea of the sound you want to achieve. Then you look inside yourself and think about the materials you want to use to achieve the desired result. I have another company that designs and produces floating pods and rooms. In all my design and creation work I always start by looking at the state of the art and with this knowledge I put myself into my floating tank. There I let the ideas flow and usually quickly arrive at a great experience and start.
What are some things that you are proud of that you would consider unique in your instruments?
In one sentence: The joy of playing… every time I think of something new. The bass himself composes here, just let it out I think every time.
Perhaps in all modesty, the first bass I designed myself was better than any other I have ever held in my hands. Maybe it’s because I’m very open to art, beautiful things, feminine curves and culture. Therefore I know no limits to allow ideas.
Which of the basses you build is your favourite?
Always the one that is still in my head and wants to be built AND then exceeds my own expectations.
Can you give us some advice to young luthiers who are just starting out?
Yes, of course. You have to make it clear to yourself what you want. If you are looking for large quantities, the only thing you have left is industrial production. You will soon notice that you have produced dozens of soulless things that somehow produce sounds. But if you play a precisely handmade instrument, you will soon notice the difference. You feel the love of detail that has been invested. That is the dilemma because every beginner would need a good instrument from the beginning so that the joy of practicing is maintained.
We must not confuse acoustic instrument making with electric instrument making. Physics has its natural limits. Copying a Stradivarius wood by means of artificial aging is quite possible today. In guitar building, it is the symbiosis of the individual components that has a decisive influence on the sound. Generally 50% electric, plus 50% wood selection including all other hardware and construction.
Often underestimated, half of this is the neck construction that gives the sound. That is my opinion, but here everyone has his own philosophy and that is good.
What advice would you give to a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
The perfect bass does not exist. There is the perfect bass, the perfect instrument just for the musician and his or her individual ideas. There is definitely no such thing as the legendary wollmilchsau.
What is the greatest success for you and your company?
The joy. The joy of the ability to diligently create a finely crafted instrument from the talent of a log.
Are you preparing something new?
Yes, I have only just begun to put all my passion for music into my Bass Boutique Plankton Basses.
Next up is a project with a special material mix. For example, underwater woods from the jungle of the Panama Canal will be used. These timbers were cleared with the permission to widen the channel’s shipping channel for larger container ships. So a diver has to saw off the tree underwater next to alligators using a high-pressure saw. The wood is of a Fanta-layered texture with very high density. I use this in thin strips in the bass necks. An absolute novelty in terms of attack and sustain.
I would also like to contribute to the discussion about carbon in instrument making with one sentence: Carbon fibre is a natural product like wood, but many years older than wood and therefore a fantastic component for my instruments. You will be the first to hear about everything new from me.
What are your future plans?
I would like to find a balance, to introduce my instruments to many musicians, to build up a reasonable distribution network and at the same time keep enough time to experiment creatively for the good cause. The design is almost a pretty dress by itself, but it’s the ingredients that count. I would be delighted if there were a demand in the USA, the country of origin of the electric guitar, for people who want to go my way.
What else would you like to share…
Do not emulate others, find your own style. Stay curious and above all healthy. We can end the interview with Victor Wooten’s sentence: Factor number one for your good tone is always your own fingers first.
Visit online at plankton-basses.com
Luthier Spotlight: Maurizio Caduto of Maurizio Über Basses
In this issue, I have the honor of interview pre-eminent luthier Maurizio Caduto of Maurizio Über Basses (MüB).
His gorgeous original designs, exquisitely crafted and great playing basses came to my attention a couple of years ago. As a result, I have always been curious about both the man who builds these world-class basses, as well as the MüB brand.
Bass Musician Magazine (BMM): Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your basses and background. I know you are very busy in the shop with new builds, so I will take as little of your time as I can.
Maurizio Über Basses (MüB): My pleasure! It’s very kind of you to take an interest in what I do. Talking to you and to your readers it exciting and an honor.
BMM: Thank you. You are an elite luthier who builds some amazing custom basses. I have been fortunate enough to see and play one of your basses you built for Chicago bassist Jauqo III-X. That bass was exquisite and the playability was phenomenal. It is the reason I wanted to know more about you and your company, Maurizio Über Basses.
Can you briefly talk about your philosophy as a bass builder?
MüB: Thank you! We have been quite lucky actually, with professional bass players supporting us quite early on – Jauqo III-X obviously being one of them. I am glad you liked Jauqo’s bass – the J5 Funk Machine. Working with Jauqo was fun. He’s a great bass player with an unusually deep understanding of the instrument. Some of the ideas we came up with have become an integral part of my building style. Jauqo and I are currently working together on his 8 string headless bass and a few other projects. He’s a good friend and a great guy. I was lucky to have met him.
MüB’s vision – I should say, mission – can be summed up by four words: Personal, Ergonomic, Surprising, Affordable. As you might notice Tone is not one of them. To us, great tone is both a given and a personal thing.
At its core, a MüB always sounds articulate and even across frequency range, with great attack, sustain. With that as a starting point, we then tweak the inherent voice of the bass to suit the owner’s preference. That, plus a unique look developed around the owner’s likes, dislikes is what Personal stands for. We want to build for you a bass that makes you want to pick it up and play every time you look at it.
A MüB is always ergonomic. We take great pride in modifying the design to build a bass that fits its owner like a glove – weight, weight distribution, neck profile, angles at which the bass is most likely to be played. Little tweaks to facilitate whatever playing technique one uses, however unique. Countless details that make a bass feel right from the get-go.
Surprising: each MüB must have the Wow factor, otherwise, it’s not a MüB. It could just a simple detail, a little tweak no one has thought of, a very complex inlay. Sometimes it’s a detail only the owner is aware of. That’s true even for our entry-level bass, the MüB Classic.
Finally, Affordable. We are on a mission to make true custom basses available to real-world musicians. Not everyone can afford a bass that costs many thousands of dollars. We keep our prices as low as we can afford while still opening the shop in the morning. If one compares apples with apples it should be pretty evident that a MüB often costs 30% to 40% less than another bass at the same level. Many ask how do we do this. It’s actually deceptively simple: we make less profit.
We honestly believe that, doing something that gives us so much pleasure every day is also profit. Some have suggested that building basses in Asia is cheaper. Actually, if one wants to build high-end instruments the opposite is true. Our hardware, pick-ups, electronics, finishes, many of our woods and most of our tools and machines are imported. Each bass costs us almost twice as much to build as it would if we were based in the USA or Europe. But the cost of living here is lower and that helps. We do not cut corners. We simply can’t afford it, And we would not build basses any other way.
BMM: Your mission or vision is admirable! Bass players all over the world will be grateful to know that a luthier of your stature is working hard to build high-quality instruments that are well within reach of the working players. Can you please talk a little bit about how you started as a luthier?
MüB: My way into bass building has been perhaps a bit unorthodox. Typically, I suppose, builders come from either the repair or the woodworking end. Instead, I studied visual art, worked as an advertising creative director, then as a commercial film director. No wood, no power tools there.
But I’ve been a bass player since I was a kid and that is an integral part of who I am. At some point, I started toying with the idea of building basses one day. I built my first bass many years ago, out of a broken Telecaster body a luthier in Milan gave me. I still have it: a barely playable piece of junk my band vetoed right away. But it was fun.
When one of my basses needed re-fretting I took it to a local shop. The owner turned out to be a very well known luthier – Jeffrey Yong, who makes phenomenal acoustic guitars.
I must have had a light-bulb moment when I asked him if I could instead pay him to teach me how to do replace the board, insert carbon fiber spars, glue on a new board, add an intricate inlay and fret it. To my surprise, he agreed. Jeffrey then became my mentor and today we’re good friends.
This first project was tough. I knew nothing! But had my introduction to tools, woods and leaned two things: that I liked it, and that I could do it.
So I went back and built my own bass: a headless bass with a headstock filled with all my likes, dislikes, ideas and everything I had learned as a bass player and observed from a visual art, design angle. I took the Jazz Bass as a starting point, called my project ‘The Über-Jay’ and started a thread on the bass forum Talk Bass. To my surprise, the thread was quite successful. I received a lot of comments, constructive criticism, words of encouragement. It was wonderful and I am so grateful to all of those kind people.
It took me eighteen months to finish it! Well, I had a day job, I was new to tools, process, woods, and I had to design and prototype the string anchors which were not available. It took me forever. But it was fun and I learned a lot. That rather crude early string anchor design eventually evolved into what we use today on our Headless-Hybrid model.
The first Über-Jay looked OK and sounded fine. A few flaws here and there, mostly in the woodwork department. But the idea worked. So, I built a second bass. The Über-Jay Eldorado looked better and sounded great. It’s still my main gig bass.
While building the Eldorado, I received my first order: it felt amazing and terrifying at the same time. I put all the budget into woods, parts, third party cost. I probably lost money too. But I couldn’t care less. It was my first build for a paying customer and it had to be the best bass I could build.
It took me about eight months to finish The Über-Jay5 Ragnarök – which is still faster than the twelve months it took the Eldorado. And I was doing everything by hand in my spare time. The bass turned out pretty good actually. I was really proud.
More orders followed. I introduced a new design, the Über-Groove. Soon enough I had to make a choice. I loved film directing. But I loved building basses more. So I kissed advertising goodbye, started MüB and never looked back.
If I do look back though, I can’t believe how fast this whole thing went. I have been incredibly lucky and I am grateful to those who chose to trust a nobody with their dream bass and their hard-earned money. Thank you guys! You know who you are.
BMM: Your story is nothing short of amazing! Your woodworking skills must have grown exponentially because your workmanship is world-class. It comes as no surprise that you are also a bass player. Also, your strong design background shows in your gorgeous and original designs. Who are some of the players that are playing your basses?
MüB: We work with a few high profile artists in Asia. One of them is Andy Peterson, rightfully considered a point of reference for bassists in the East Asia region. Andy was a first adopter of the MüB Airborne, a model we developed together to make his life easier – Andy is on the road most of the time with some of the biggest names in the Asia music industry.
In India, which as you probably know is big on music, we work with quite a few professionals. One of them is Sheldon D’Silva, who’s very well known and active in the Jazz scene. Sheldon is a fantastic musician who has played with the likes of John McLaughlin, Tony Banks and many more.
The MüB Sheldon D’Silva signature is the result of one year of collaboration, exchanging ideas, learning the way Sheldon plays. His technique is pretty unique and complex, both melodic and percussive. The SD’S had to be rethought from the group up. We are very proud of the result. Some extremely talented musicians we work with are becoming increasingly successful. The fact that there is a MüB in their gig bag makes us proud.
Besides that, we stay in touch with most of our customers. You could call it, post-sale service. But we actually love doing that! We are all bass players, after all. And since our clientele is scattered all over, we get in return precious feedback from diverse environments, music cultures, industry standards and last but not the least, climates. You won’t believe how challenging humidity levels can be for a bass in some regions. All we learn finds its way in our R&D.
It is also interesting to note that, our clients play a rather broad range of music styles – jazz, metal, funk, gospel, pop, electronic, rock, Latino. And they are both touring and studio artists. A confirmations that each MüB is both fully tailored to the specific needs of our clients, and in itself a versatile instrument.
BMM: Your “post-sale service” idea is wonderful! I’m sure your customers feel like they belong to the MüB family. Recently you added a new bass model – The Uber Compact. It is a gorgeous headless compact bass that looks like it can fit into a backpack or messenger bag. How did this new model come about?
MüB: That’s the Miezo. Glad you like it! Basically, the Über-Compact series expands on our goal to create a MüB ecosystem, so to speak. The Ü-C family is made up of the Airborne and the Miezo, and it puts the accent on portability. I knew I wanted to do this since day one – I travel a lot and always wanted this kind of bass.
We did not invent the wheel though: the Ashbory De Armond in the 90s, the Kala bass, more recently the Wing Basses and a few other brands, each has come up with their unique take on a compact instrument. Even though we might have taken a different approach I wish to credit all of them for having inspired us.
The first Airborne for Andy was built in 2012: a 30” scale bolt-on, headless bass that is easy to disassemble and reassemble. It’s been a pretty successful model since inception. Shortly after we added the single-cut option which makes the Airborne even shorter once disassembled.
We have recently launched new options to complete the Ü-C family. The Airborne can now be ordered in a variety of scale lengths: 30”, 25.5”, 22.7”, 16”. The beauty of this is that each neck fits the same body and bold-on system with all parts being fully integrated.
Say, you order your Airborne with a 30” and a 16” scale neck because you are a touring musician who spends long hours commuting to venues. On the bus, you could bolt the 16” scale neck onto the body and play while listening through your headphone, Then, at the venue, you replace the 16” scale neck with the 30” one and head to soundcheck. It really takes two minutes as both string and intonation are locked. You just have to tune the bass.
Now, all this addresses the practical side of things. But when you look at the impact it has on the instrument’s voice, then it really gets interesting. Different scale lengths sound and feel inherently different – which is a great thing! When you throw at it variables such as open tuning, string type and gauge and – quite crucially – the native scale length of the string being used, then permutations become virtually infinite. Imagine what a studio artist could achieve with such a broad tone palette in just one instrument!
It’s not over: based on our client’s preferences, we will fine-tune the wood choice of your Airborne so that, each body/neck combo complements or enhances a specific aspect of its scale length character. This is our approach to each MüB we build. On the Airborne, it really takes off.
As a bass player, the one thing I like the most of the Ü-C family is that it frees up creativity. In my mind, portability is a great by-product.
And then we have the Miezo – a16” scale instrument, like the Airborne, but carved out of a single body billet. It is very compact: a 6 stringer weighs about 5lbs, is 21 1/4” long, 11 1/2” wide, 1.57” thick including the knobs.
One of MüB’s main design imperatives is ergonomics. A MüB must fit like a glove and feel right from the get-go. The Miezo recreates the feeling of our full-length basses – same body/instrument contact points, same playing position both sit and strapped on. Transitioning between Miezo 5 and, say, the 34” scale G5 feels pretty seamless.
Much like for the Airborne, with each string gauge, the Miezo gives you a different voice, tuning range and string tension which you can use creatively. I approach it as a different instrument because in a way, it is.
It is also a great way to let beginners into the world of bass playing and our entry-level Miezo is pretty affordable for a handmade instrument – which is an integral part of MüB’s vision.
That being said, each Miezo is crafted by the same people, with the same tools, care and custom approach we put in our high-end custom MüB – including all the bells and whistles one might desires.
BMM: Wow! What a fantastic idea! Your interchangeable necks on the Airborne makes it an incredibly unique and versatile bass! Traveling bassists all over the world will want to know about the AirBorne MüB. One of the more challenging aspects for traveling musicians is having to deal with traveling with a bass through airports all over the world. Your Airborne model solves this challenging problem.
Considering when you established your shop, you have come a long way in a very short time. As a luthier who is firmly in the upper echelon of bass builders, your exceptional designs, workmanship, and affordable pricing are amazing. And your consistent innovation will always keep you among the bass builders that are moving the bass guitar forward.
Thank you so much for taking valuable time away from your shop to talk to our readers.
Interview with Stonefield Musical Instrument Company’s Tomm Stanley
Tomm Stanley with a Winter NAMM preview…
We have a special treat for our Bass Musician Magazine readers to start 2020 out just right. Here is a sneak preview of the Stonefield Musical Instrument Company’s product line, before the Winter NAMM Show!
Check out all the amazing basses, mini-cabs and the passive effect pedals that Tomm has to offer, as well as information that is sure to prove useful for some of the bass musicians out there.
Without further ado, direct from New Zeland, here’s Tomm!
Visit Tomm Stanley online at stonefieldmusic.com
Latest2 months ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram
Latest4 weeks ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram
Latest3 weeks ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram
Latest1 month ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram
Latest2 months ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram
Latest1 month ago
Check Out Who Made This Week’s Top 10 Basses on IG
Latest2 weeks ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram
Latest1 week ago
This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram