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