Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Commissioning a Bass: Engaging with a builder.

I thought it might be nice to write this one up, and I'll start from the beginning. Remember, this is a personal story: yours might be radically different. But if anything, it proves that some old adages are true...

Background: I've been modding basses recently...

If you take a look at some of the earlier posts here, you'll see I've been tinkering with the basses I already have:
  • Tobias Toby Pro-6 - got a local luthier to fit an OBP-3 and GK-3B mini pickup kit (nice job, too)
  • Hohner B-Bass V - fitted an OBP-3 myself (good fun)
  • Self-assembly fretless (OK, the body is an Allparts one from someone else's project and it's already loaded... but hey) - giving a beautiful neck a better home
I enjoyed the mods I did, and I've been thinking about why I was tinkering: I've got some great basses, and I think the sonic deficiencies (and in the case of the poor Tobias, the bloody great strap-on bracket with a full-on GK-3B strapped to it) eventually showed themselves.
Maybe 10 years ago, I considered purchasing a Sei bass - their basses are just beautiful - but the ones I had always fitted what I needed to do (and I didn't have the resources to commission one). I think additionally I didn't have an appreciation back then for the different sounds which woods and electronics bring to a bass - I've now got passive Japanese basses, active Warwicks, the Tobias - and the recent quest to upgrade these opened my eyes to the potential of a truly "personal" bass from a luthier.

The London Bass Show 2014

Checking bas to the abbreviated post I made about it, and remembering (it's a diary, after all) I recall being very impressed by several bass manufacturers - Eve from Scotland make lovely basses, also caught sight of some of the exotica on sale from the US, but ultimately I appear to have fallen for Rikkers - and a particular bass too, their Olive top bodyline:
"tried out a Rikker bass, an utterly stunning olive top 5 string fretless with Piezo in individual bridge saddles - gorgeous tone, setup perfect, ~£2100 worth if heaven! Turns out it uses the same Aguilar OBP-3 as I'm having fitted into the Tobias, so I'm hopeful the boost and control will give me something great. The Rikkers guys talked with me for more than half an hour on the Metaphysics of Quality and how they make the guitars: they wind their own pickups, meditate and use Zen breathing, I love their approach. The basses just ooze the results of it. I will be saving up for one."

I remember walking around the show, drinking in amps (I took a Warwick with me), enjoying sitting down with a few custom made basses and playing some different styles, trying pickup combinations and tone settings.

But I really remember that olive top bass: the attention to detail, the story of how they fit the microswitches into the pickups on their switchbuckers (an inspired idea), the excellent detailing on the bass, the solidness of it: I wished I'd had more time to explore it in more detail: the grain of the wood was stunning, and it wasn't a lacquer top: I love waxing basses to clean them: oil and wax gives a feel from the moment you pick up the bass: before you strap it on, it already tells you something from that touch.

Their calm, happy stand actually felt like an oasis (apart from when some guy spent 15 minutes cranking out the worst slap I've ever heard on a P-bass!) - I spent 10 mins just watching the video of them using hand tools, and wrapping wire for pickups.

The upshot.

Around September / October / November 2014, I worked hard to accumulate some cash and decided I had enough to commission a bass: I had no problem deciding where to go - as much as the bass itself, the approach taken by the Rikkers guys just oozed attention to detail. So I got in touch with them and we set up a meeting to talk about what was possible...

Next time, I'll talk about what we talked about. Until then!

Funny thing - I grabbed brochures from other places, but the only "selfie" from the show is me, with that olive top bass.