We knew it would happen eventually, and that time has finally come. The first fanned-fret Torzal just left the shop, destined for a good home and steady gigs in Florida. This bass is a 4-string, with scale lengths from 34.5″ to 32.5″.
This bass has a 5-piece wenge/maple neck with a stunning Zircote fingerboard. The top and back of the body are different varieties of flame maple (with matching headstock veneers), and a center core of lightweight spalted maple. Again we used the new Toone & Townsend bridges (one of the first production sets), which were perfect for this bass. Nordstrand Fat Stack pickups and an Audere preamp are the perfect complement to the bass.
Luthier Rick Toone has been busy developing some very high quality new hardware for guitar and bass, in partnership with Townsend Machine. He engaged a circle of innovative luthiers to beta test the prototypes before entering into full production. Earlier this year I tested the individual string bass bridges, and while they have made some changes based partly on our feedback, these prototypes are fantastic just as they are. In fact, I was so impressed I asked my next client if I could use them on his bass.
Along with the bass bridges, Rick has designed a very impressive new headless tuning system and an intonation adjustable nut/individual string headpiece for headless guitar. Actually Rick has a long list of impressive innovations and creations which you can read more about at http://www.ricktoone.com/. You can find Rick’s report on this blue Torzal at http://www.toone-townsend.com/2011/04/little-guitar-works.html.
What’s cool about the bridges are that they are lightweight anodized aircraft aluminum, but the saddles have full contact directly to the instrument body. The saddles are machined titanium, which was found to have the greatest musical qualities of many materials tested. There are also many advantages of being individual string units, including string-to-string isolation, and flexibility for a variety of uses (string spacing and scale lengths) including multi-scale designs. (Stay tuned for the first multi-scale fanned fret Torzal with the new production Toone & Townsend bridge, currently under construction).
As for Blue Myrtle, it’s a Torzal Standard 5-string with a maple/wenge neck, wenge fingerboard, swamp ash body with a figured myrtle top. Here’s what her owner had to say: “It is beautiful and is an absolute joy to play. The workmanship is perfect, as I knew that it would be, with you building it.” Thanks Jim!
We have redrawn the classic Fender Jazz bass and of course added a new twist, a 20 degree Torzal ergonomic neck. The body is slightly smaller and more curvy (i.e. sexy), with reduced weight and better balance. The neck features a headstock that is again reminiscent of the old familiar, but the nut is angled down 20 degrees for unparalleled comfort. Like most of our other bolt-on Torzals, the neck is flat (zero degrees) at the end of the neck, and the bridge is angled up approximately 4 degrees. Top notch components complete the package, including Nordstrand pickups and Hipshot hardware. Shown here is an alder body 5-string with a tobacco sunburst, and a swamp ash 4-string. The 5-string is available for purchase!
Here’s a singing 5 string with a slightly shorter 33 inch scale. This bass features a red maple/wenge neck with a wenge fingerboard and an english sycamore body. English sycamore is in the maple family, and although it is hard, it is a buttery pleasure to work. Somehow it sounds the same–articulate, but warm and buttery–very musical.
This bass now resides in Paris, France. I don’t know what it is about those Parisians, but this city tops the list for most Torzals in one city!
This is the second bass with the new “shifted” body style. It also features a one-off set of Little Guitar Works single-string bridges. The client requested single-string bridges and I was in the middle of prototyping some single-string bridge/tuners for a headless bass. I still haven’t achieved a satisfying design with the tuners, but I like these bridge. I appreciate the client’s trust and openness for trying new things. Of course, that should be said for everyone who orders a Torzal!
As usual, I didn’t want to let this one go. The warmth and roundness of the mahogany and quilted maple body, combined with the punchiness of the bolt-on and the snap of the birdseye maple fingerboard…..all brought to life through the Nordstrand Fat Stacks and Aguilar OBP-3 preamp.
Apparently Mark, the owner, likes it too. He shared this little vignette with me:
Just wanted to say again,
I love this bass you made for me!
Superlatives galore! Fantastic, Epic, come to mind.
Almost plays itself.
Called up my Fender authorized dealer here in town, Kelly at Seidel’s Music, and told him I was having trouble with the neck on my Fender bass. He said come on up and he’ll take a look see.
As he vacuumed off his bench and turned toward me, I had my new bass pointing his direction with the head facing him. He almost fell down and said, “oh my gosh, I don’t think I can help that”, and then I started laughing and showed it to him.
He’s quite the guitar player and took my bass and played it without being plugged in, and said several times,
”I’m just floored. I’ve never seen a bass this nice”
“Don’t ever change the set up, it almost plays itself”
Thanks again Jerome!
This Torzal Standard 34″ scale 5 string was built for a gentleman in Glasgow, Scotland. This was the first bass with a modified, or “shifted” body style. Basically I took my standard body shape, and shifted the scale back towards the body about 1″, bulging out the butt end of the body. By doing this, the nut is brought closer to the body, reducing the reach while simultaneously shifting the center of gravity for better balance, both on a strap and on the leg (sitting position).
An interesting feature on this bass is an adjustable strap extension on the upper horn. The client sent me a picture of the contraption he had rigged up on his current bass to extend the strap, and this was my solution to meet his wish for a similar result. The strap button is mounted on a brass rod which can extend about 5 inches out from the horn and is secured by two set screws in threaded brass inserts in the back of the horn.
Other features of this bass include include a mahogany body and a mahogany neck-through with a hard maple center strip. The pickups are my personal favorites: Nordstrand Fat Stacks with switchable single coil/humbucking mode. Inside it has an Aguilar OBP-3 preamp with selectable mid switch and preamp bypass switch. The knobs are volume, blend, treble, mid, bass.
Kevin Alvey from Fat City Reprise at the famous Viper Room on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood 10/1. Kevin is playing a Little Guitar Works 5-string bolt-on bass with a one-piece bubinga body, maple neck and bound ebony fingerboard.
Fat City Reprise has played with/opened for: The Roots, The Wallflowers, Flaming Lips, Fall Out Boy, Goo Goo Dolls, Spin Dr’s, Sister Hazel, De La Soul, Cowboymouth, Seal, Gym Class Heroes, Doug E. Fresh, MC Light, Hanson, Paulo Neutini, Corrine Bailey Ray, Audra Mae, Devo, Locksley. Check out their website at fatcityreprise.net and their label, mikelowemusic.com.
Thanks for sharing some photos, Kevin!
One of the great things about building custom instruments is having a steady source of inspiration from customers. I always have a deep pool of ideas I hope to employ as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and when a customer brings an interesting proposal to the shore of that pool, then it’s the perfect time to dive in!
A recent example is Benjamin LeRay’s Headless Torzal Std. 4-string. His main requests for the bass were that it be headless and as light as possible. The neck is three piece mahogany/maple/mahogany, neck-through construction. It’s actually what I like to call “set-through” because the neck goes through the top of the body but the back of the body is solid across. The body top is spalted maple (very light), and the back is redwood. He originally asked about basswood or balsa for the back, and I talked him into this redwood. Along with being plainly beautiful, it is deceptively light. The fingerboard is cocobolo, and though it’s unbound, it has a thin maple purfling line below it. I carved a volute at the end of the neck, just to let your thumb know it’s at the end of the neck. The headpiece blank is brass and was supplied by ETS. I added the truss rod adjustment in the center of it and otherwise shaped it to fit, then had it nickel-plated.
The redwood has an interesting side story. I got it from my dad Jon, but it was once part of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company water penstock in Northern California. This from Jon: “The current penstock is steel and in the same location as the old redwood one. It feeds the Inskip powerhouse in the Battle Creek drainage. We were told that the redwood penstock was put in around 1915. Back then it would have been the Great Western Power Company, which was later bought by P.G. & E. The redwood was classified as “pipe grade” — the highest grade of redwood. Whether parts of the penstock were replaced over the years I don’t know. Can’t guarantee that all of it is that old, but I think it probably is. I’m sure the redwood would have come from the north coast of California. Humboldt County probably. We still have a pile of the iron bands that held it together and the iron fittings that sealed the butt joints where two boards met. Each board was 20′ long, I believe. They were staggered so that no two joints were together which made it a continuous 6′ diameter pipe. The contractor who removed the penstock cut it every 20′ with a chainsaw then lifted each section out with a crane, so the board lengths are random. You might look on the internet for ‘Inskip Powerhouse.’ There is a big salmon and steelhead habitat restoration project in that area and you should find maps and diagrams of the water systems there.”
Between the redwood, spalted maple, and mahogany, the bass itself was only about 4 pounds. The ETS headless hardware, Nordtrand Fat Stack pickups, and Aguilar OBP-3 preamp added a few more pounds, so the bass overall weighed just over six pounds. Because of the softness of the woods involved, I gave it an epoxy primer, followed by topcoats of my usual finish (Satin KTM-9).
The body is my usual shape, but tweaked to accept the headless tuners, and the upper horn was extended to further improve the balance as well as compensate for some shifting that occurred in making room for the bridge.
Along with this bass I also built a custom Torzal neck for a Tacoma acoustic guitar for Ben. Now that he has been gigging around France for several months with the bass, Ben has recently put in an order for a sister to the bass–similar shapes and wood combinations, but in an electric guitar (Torzal, with a head).
I almost always make my own knobs for the instruments that I build, and I occasionally make custom knobs for others too. This is one of those things that, thanks to my lovely little old South Bend lathe, is a relatively small task which adds a finishing touch that doesn’t compare to anything “off the shelf”.
During my time at Parker Guitars, one of my tasks was to make ebony knobs for the Spanish Fly guitars, which were a classy upgrade to the standard plastic and rubber knobs. Somehow word got out on the forums that I could still make custom wooden knobs, and it became (at times) a regular part of my business.
This time around, as I was making knobs for a new 5-string Torzal bass, I decided to pull out the camera so I could capture the process and share it with the world. Take a look….
Here are a couple of examples of knobs I have made for other guitars: