I’m back! Last week I took some much needed time off to hang out in New York – and as usual, I completely overdid it. There’s just something about NYC that causes me to fill every waking moment with non-stop action. While I was mostly there for rest & relaxation (which didn’t really happen), I also was there for some music and lutherie business. Here’s what went down:
I arrived at La Guardia at 5pm, and I was in a rehearsal with Mobile Steam Unit at 7pm. I was asked to play with them at their gig at the Trash Bar in Brooklyn when their regular bassist couldn’t make it – so I got a chance to bring a little bit of the New Orleans funk to the scene. I was to get only one rehearsal before the gig on Friday, but these guys are so musical and their rehearsals are so efficient that a single session was enough. It was a little strange for me playing on somebody else’s instrument, in standard tuning (I tune my bass CGDA), but at least if I screwed up I could blame the bass!
The next day I visited my good friend Aaron at Fodera Guitars. Fodera makes some of the best instruments in the business, and I should know – my job is to find flaws, and there just aren’t any coming out of their shop. They build bass guitars for some of the biggest names in music, including Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson, Richard Bona, Victor Bailey, Matt Garrison, Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, and many many more. They’ve also introduced a lot of concepts that bassists now generally take for granted, such as the 6-string bass, singlecuts, and ridiculously figured woods. If you’re not familiar with their work, you really should check them out (and start saving your pennies, as they are NOT cheap!).
Aaron was kind enough to give me an insider’s guided tour. Their shop is located in a non-descript warehouse in Industrial City – you’d never know that some of the world’s finest basses are being built right behind this door:
As Aaron knows me well, he set out to make me feel insanely jealous of all the amazing tools and wood selection they had. Yeah, they’ve got a few $20,000 basses lying around, but what I was really envious of was the 2 meter belt sander:
Garage sales in a giant place like New York must be insane. I was told that this belt sander was picked up at a yard sale for $25:
Here’s some of their old dust extraction systems, which they’ve just recently upgraded. Yes, those bags are completely full of really expensive wood dust:
I’ve often said that one can never have too many clamps, and Fodera seems to know this – there were clamps everywhere! They even had several clamping devices custom designed and built just for them. Badass!
Vinnie Fodera and crew have been collecting and hoarding wood for years. I was told that most of the wood sits in their shop for over 10 years before it gets used, so that it can harden and won’t twist out of shape when it’s turned into a guitar. They had piles of highly sought after wood all over the place – flamed maple, purpleheart, wenge, tulipwood, brazillian rosewood… you name it, they had it.
The shop where most of the work done was actually pretty small – they’ve got about 7 people crammed into around 600-700 square feet of space. I imagine working so close to each other can be a bit claustrophobic, but is also a good way for them to keep an eye on each other and keep each other accountable for high quality work. While most companies as they grow begin to automate more and more processes, Fodera still seems to keep most everything done by hand, with nothing but chisels, carving knives, and rasps to get the job done. It’s damn impressive.
Finally, Aaron showed me a few basses that were almost complete. They build everything to order, so they don’t have any finished instruments lying around. Even unfinished, they don’t disappoint:
I got to see lots more stuff, and hung around for about a half hour watching the men and women working, and even got to see some top secret prototypes and designs that I’m not allowed to talk about. The only disappointment was that I didn’t get to spend much time with Vinny Fodera, as he was late for a meeting when we met. I got a brief (but warm) welcome and a handshake, and then he was off. I guess when you’re the main visionary behind a successful business, you’re time is very valuable. At any rate, it was a very informative trip, and I’m thankful to Aaron and the rest of the crew for being so welcoming.
That night, I continued on with my musical tour of the city by catching my all time favorite band, King Crimson, at the Best Buy theater in Times Square:
Now, I am not one to take pictures at concerts, plus King Crimson is well known for having an aversion to the camera, so I didn’t take any pictures during their two and a half hour set (in fact, I didn’t see a single camera in the audience – a testament to the mostly respectful audience). I did take a picture of the stage before the band went on:
Aaron and I were amongst the first people inside, and I wandered in just in time to witness Mr. Robert Fripp himself wandering around the theater, only a meter away from me. So I did what any King Crimson fanboy would do – I ignored him completely. Mr. Fripp is well known for being shy and apparently doesn’t respond well to being bothered, so I guess I did him a big favor by just walking right past him. This was a great way to start what was to be an epic King Crimson show. They had 3 drummers, 2 guitarists, 1 bassist, and 1 saxophone player, and played a bunch of material they hadn’t performed in over 40 years. They tore apart and rearranged a lot of tunes from their early catalogue that I wasn’t super familiar with, and everything sounded super fresh and new. An absolutely amazing show – the whole trip would have been worth it just for this evening, and this was only day two!
The next night I ended up onstage in Williamsburg with Mobile Steam Unit, at an undeground dive bar. It certainly seemed more of a metal/punk sort of place, even though the three bands that played that night weren’t remotely of the sort. MSU played really well – they sound like a heavy indie Queen, or perhaps barbershop metal. Halfway through their set they invited me onstage, and I got up and trashed around onstage like a Muppet with epilepsy – fun, fun, fun!
After three days of music in New York, I reverted mostly into a tourist. I spent the weekend wandering around New York, stumbling into a couple of guitar shops (Rudy’s and Ludlow’s are MOST impressive), and getting myself lost. Now, I don’t typically take pictures as I’m sightseeing, as I prefer to live in the moment and not get distracted with my devices, but did come across this old firehouse that seemed worthy of a picture. It seemed to me that this building should be condemned…
I spent six days in New York, and I’m beat. My feet are sore, my knees are complaining, and I got barely any sleep (it seems that every citizen of New York must own a jackhammer for their own personal use). Yeah – a great time. A big thanks to my good friend Aaron for hosting me and showing me around. Not only is he an incredibly talented guitar tech and luthier, he’s a fantastic human being. I’m proud to call him a friend.
Ok – enough fun. Time to get back to work.