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R.I.P. Bill Conklin, Conklin Guitars and Basses

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RIP Bill Conklin

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

bill-conklin-bass-musician-mag

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.

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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)

bill-dickens-with-custom-prototype-bd-7

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.

conklin-sidewinder-classic-421-bass-mus-mag

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.

conklin-wiggle-stick

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

Bass CDs

New Album: Ben Mortiz, MORENO

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New Album: Ben Mortiz, MORENO

The Chilean bassist, producer and sociologist, Ben Mortiz, celebrates the launch of his latest studio work, “MORENO” an album that mixes jazz, soul, and funk following the characteristic Latin style of  Mortiz. The artist completely produced the album under the label “Fallen Lab Records” in the south of Chile.

“MORENO” brings deep and smooth sounds, expressing a sophisticated and elegant Latin vibe. You will find meditative harmonies and joyful melodic voices. The record’s core is the human vibration that Mortiz feels from the Latin American music. The Caribbean rhythms and strong Latin percussions are the musical glue in every song that emerges with the force of the electric bass.

“MORENO” creates a real connection between corporal reactions and mind sensations, always in reference to the originality of Mortiz to fuse modern and classic Latin sounds.

For more information, visit online at danielbenmortiz.com/

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Gear News

New Gear: Phil Jones Bass X2C Dual Compressor/Effects Loop

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New Gear: Phil Jones Bass X2C Duel Compressor/Effects Loop

Step Into X2C With Phil Jones Bass Dual Compressor/Effects Loop…

Phil Jones Bass latest pedal innovation is the X2C Dual Compressor with Dual Effects Loop for performance and recording. The X2C incorporates advanced compressor circuit technology and provides comprehensive tone control with a dual crossover feature which divides the signal into frequency bands ranging from 100Hz to 500Hz, ensuring exceptional clarity and dynamics in tone refinement. 

With insert jacks on each band, the X2C unlocks limitless creativity, enabling players to use various FX pedals for custom tone sculpting. Additionally, it functions as an electronic crossover, ideal for driving high-performance, 2-way bass rigs.

PJB’s Dual-Band compression design is more flexible than standard single-band compressors and provides a more natural and transparent sound. It also provides greater control over shaping and managing dynamics where standard compressors affect the entire frequency spectrum of an audio signal.  

PJB’s dual compressor enables the player to shape specific frequency ranges of an audio signal which allows for compressing the low frequencies while preserving the high frequencies, or vice-versa. Treating the low-end with a dedicated band also allows for heavy compression without affecting the midrange frequencies, which carry the attack of the sound. 

Effects can be plugged into the insert jacks on the X2C and controlled separately. As an example, the lows can be adjusted separately for an overdrive pedal while the highs can be controlled for a chorus. 

Dividing the audio spectrum into fundamental frequencies and harmonics is also effective in the enrichment of slapping techniques. The low frequencies can be compressed without changing the dynamics of the “slap”. By controlling the low frequencies and focusing the attack on the slap the amplifier will sound louder while avoiding overloading of the amp or speakers. The low band can be compressed without the harmonics being affected. In addition, the send jacks can go to different amplifiers/speakers for a bi-amplification set up.

Compact and potent, the X2C embodies studio-grade excellence, setting a new standard for dynamic processing in an uncompromising, portable pedal. The street price is $359.99.

Visit online at www.pjbworld.com

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Bass CDs

New Album: CATTANEO, Tim Lefebvre, Andrea Lombardini, Hypersphere

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New Album: CATTANEO, Tim Lefebvre, Andrea Lombardini, Hypersphere

CATTANEO, TIM LEFEBVRE AND ANDREA LOMBARDINI PRESENT ‘HYPERSPHERE’ EP
The members of Buñuel, David Bowie’s band and a prominent electronic artist are united and have releases their first collaborative release via Freecom Hub.

Hypersphere is an EP created by CATTANEOTim Lefebvre and Andrea Lombardini. Following their conceptual milestone, a dream team of bass players and multi-instrumentalists created fragments of music, coexisting and complementing each other individually and altogether. Having been playing with CATTANEO since 2016, Andrea Lombardini describes the process of their work as “strong musical connection”. Starting with the fully improvised set featuring drum-machine and pedal effects. “Some of Paolo’s keyboards are homemade and he has very unique sounds” – explains Andrea. Getting Tim Lefebvre to produce the EP, the duo simultaneously started another vehicle of their collaboration.

Moving their work organically, three extraordinary musicians managed to reach an almost-perfect balance between sounds of guitar and bass with electronic instruments. Morphing together, numerous guitar riffs, loops of synthesizers. Dominating electronic sounds get united with a rock take, depicting dark moods and ethereal landscapes. All these elements work in tandem to create something new each time.

Order Hypersprehere here.

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Bass Events

Milt Hinton Institute for Bass Summer Camp in New Jersey

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Milt Hinton Institute for Bass sSummer Camp in New Jersey

Milt Hinton Institute for Bass Summer Camp in New Jersey…

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) will host the Milt Hinton Institute for Studio Bass, an exceptional summer music education program for teens, in residence at Montclair State University, in July 2024. Unique among music camps, the Hinton Institute is designed to support intermediate and advanced bass players ages 14 through 18, for a week of expert classes, performances, ensemble work, studio sessions, lectures, workshops and more. The camp will run from July 14 through July 20, 2024Registration is open December 16, 2023, through  June 7, 2024for more information on applying to the Milt Hinton Institute, please visit njpac.org/hinton. Student musicians will be required to submit a video of themselves playing two performance pieces during the application process. Need-based tuition scholarships are available.

Peter Dominguez, acclaimed bassist and Professor of Double Bass and Jazz Studies at University of Wisconsin–Madison, will serve as the Institute’s Artistic Director.  An extraordinary faculty of professionals from the music world — including Rufus Reid, Ben Williams, Luis Perdomo, Jeremy Smith, Sam Suggs, Martin Wind, Marcus McLaurine, Bill Moring, Mimi Jones, Emma Dayhuff, Diana Gannett, and Bill Crow — will  focus camp instruction on bass performance techniques and ensemble playing in a range of musical genres including classical, Latin and jazz. 

The camp is named for Milt Hinton (1910-2000) a prolific jazz bassist, studio musician and photographer whose career intersected with many of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. The Institute has been held biennially since 2014. It joined forces with the Arts Center this season in part to draw a larger faculty of professional bass players from among the many musicians living and working in the New York City area. Notable guest artists from the region are expected to visit with campers as well.    

“We’re very pleased to have this program be part of the larger vision of NJPAC and its extensive Arts Education offerings. The work being done by the Arts Center has a significant social impact” said David G. Berger, a lifelong friend of Hinton’s, whose Berger Family Foundation helped support the camp.  “That would have been extremely attractive to Milt. He wanted everybody to be involved with music — old and young, men and women, all colors, all creeds. Long before it was popular, that’s the way he lived his life — he welcomed everyone.”

“I grew up in the jazz festival business, and there was no one whose artistry matched his heart  better than Milt Hinton,” said John Schreiber, President and CEO of NJPAC. “He was a brilliant bassist and he also was a brilliant human being. He was the heartbeat of any band he played in and he exuded a kindness that to me exemplified the spirit of jazz.”

Known as “the dean of jazz bassists,” Hinton played with jazz greats from the early 1930s on, performing with Jabbo Smith, Eddie South, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Erroll Garner, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and many others. Hinton also recorded with pop superstars including Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler and Willie Nelson. Hinton also toured extensively, and in 1993, he was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship. He was also well known for his photography, through which he documented seven decades of jazz history. Hinton was renowned for his willingness to mentor young players; a scholarship program in his name was established by his friends and admirers on his 70th birthday. After Hinton’s passing, the Institute was conceived as a way to continue his work in supporting younger bass players. “Two of Milt’s favorite words — ‘cohesiveness’ and ‘sharing’ — are at the core of this week-long Institute that brings together emerging bassists who often are the singular players in their own community and school ensembles,” said Artistic Director Dominguez, (whose own career was advanced when he became one of the first winners of a Hinton Scholarship Competition  in 1981).  “To be a bass player is often to focus not on being a soloist, but on musical collaboration — making other musicians in an ensemble sound better. Bass players are the soul of ensemble playing, and to develop these young souls through arts education programming at NJPAC is both an honor for us and an important responsibility,” said David Rodriguez, NJPAC’s Executive Producer and Executive Vice President — and himself a well-known professional bass player.

The camp will be housed on the campus of Montclair State University in Montclair, where students will live, study and have the opportunity to take part in multiple performances. “Bringing the prestigious Milt Hinton Institute for Studio Bass to the campus of Montclair State University marks an exciting chapter for the College of the Arts, reinforcing our commitment to providing exceptional opportunities for young musicians,” said Daniel Gurskis, Dean of the College of the Arts. “With NJPAC as our partner, we look forward to creating an environment where passion meets skill, fostering a new generation of accomplished and versatile bassists. We are confident that the Institute will become a beacon, attracting talent from diverse backgrounds who are the future of bass music.”

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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 @astluthier @bqwbassguitar @foderaguitars @ramabass.ok @s.martyn_custom_basses @anacondabasses @capursoguitars @sireusaofficial @atelierz1988 @doctorbassburgos

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