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.