Bass Gear — Fall 2013
Change Language:
The Making Of The Fodera Presentation II
Jason DeSalvo

One of my first full days here at Fodera – long before I had become a partner and a daily part of running the business – underscored just how intensely focused Vinny Fodera and Joey Lauricella are at “getting things just right” for the people who play their instruments. To this day, this ethos drives all of us here at Fodera and is a very big part of making an instrument like the Presentation II possible.

The Perfect Setup

It was the middle of 2008, and I had just started spending Wednesdays at the shop to learn about the innerworkings of Fodera for a book I planned on writing about the company. Generally jovial towards me, Vinny seemed a bit tense when he first greeted me that morning. Both he and Joey were always intense, but it had been rare up to this point that I observed either one of them showing any outward anxiety about their work.

When pressed, Vinny said simply, “Anthony is coming in today to work on his setup. Joey and I are completely behind in the back of the shop and going through a proper set-up with Anthony generally takes us the better part of a day. It’s both a privilege and a joy to work with Anthony, but today we are just feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

Anthony, of course, meant Anthony Jackson – in my personal opinion (and one that is certainly shared by Joey and Vinny), one of the very finest players to ever pick up the electric bass guitar and someone well-known for a near fanatical attention to detail about virtually every nuance related to the design, construction and set-up of his instruments.

I, too, am a perfectionist, and some would even say that I am also fanatically obsessed with details. However, even though I have been playing bass since 1979 and have long prided myself on doing my own, very high quality, set-up work, I thought for certain that Vinny couldn’t possibly be serious. To complete a really thorough set-up on my own 4-string instruments would usually take me less than thirty minutes, so even allowing for Anthony’s reputation for perfectionism and two additional strings, I was having trouble understanding why it would take an entire day.

When Anthony first arrived at the shop shortly after ten in the morning, Joey and Vinny introduced us. Anthony was pleasant, brief and obviously eager to get to the task at hand. I pulled up a chair in the corner of the room and watched as Anthony and Vinny went about installing and customizing a new nut on Anthony’s Presentation (referred to by Anthony as “Number 10,” because it was the 10th iteration of the contrabass guitar that had been built for Anthony).

The process took well over four hours for the adjusting the nut alone! There were times where Anthony would ask Vinny to remove literally just “one or two grains” of brass from a given nut slot as he was closing in on the perfect feel for that string. Through all of this – and with the many other responsibilities that needed tending to – Vinny remained completely focused and thoroughly unhurried as he and Anthony methodically worked, until Anthony finally declared, “It feels as good as we can get it without playing live.” Next, Joey and Anthony began working on string spacing, saddle height, pickup height and intonation. This process also took nearly four hours.

While Joey was working with Anthony and both were out of earshot, Vinny shared that early on in his working relationship with Anthony, he was somewhat incredulous when he was first asked to “take just one or two grains of brass off with the next pass [of the nut file].”

“How could anyone be that sensitive?” Vinny thought to himself. And so, with his back turned to Anthony, he merely pretended to take a light pass at the slot he was working on, but actually did nothing. When he handed the instrument back to Anthony, his face looked perplexed – like something didn’t quite make sense. He turned to Vinny and stated flatly, “I must have been wrong, please take off another couple of grains of material.” This time Vinny did just that – exerting the absolute minimal pressure he could on the nut file and removing literally only several grains of brass. When he handed the instrument back to Anthony, this time his face brightened and he announced, “That’s it.”

Over the subsequent years of their working together, Joey and Vinny (and now me, too) have come to realize that not only is Anthony capable of discerning the finest level of detail, but that far more often than not, his determination to spend the time necessary to get things as close to perfect as humanly possible produces truly outstanding results.

When Going to 11 Isn’t Quite Enough

With this history as a backdrop, you can imagine our sense of both extraordinary excitement and profound dread when shortly after sharing some holiday cheer at the shop in December of 2011, Anthony walked over to Joey, Vinny and me and announced, “I think that it’s time to use the Hybrid construction you have been working on as the basis for a new instrument. It is time for Number 12.”

For those of you who don’t know, Number 11 was a failed attempt at going back to a 34-inch scale version of the Presentation. Anthony’s hope was that with all of the advances that had been made since they began working together on the Presentation series of instruments back in 1988, a 34-inch scale version would now be possible – an instrument that would have outstanding tone and be physically easier to play than the 36-inch scale instruments that Anthony had been using for so long. Within minutes of playing Number 11, Anthony strongly suspected that this hope was in vain. His suspicions were confirmed during the one three-hour concert for which Anthony played Number 11 live – months of painstaking work simply did not make the cut.

Shortly after Christmas in 2011, work began in earnest on Number 12. We were in the middle of building our second Hybrid prototype for a long-time customer and friend, Wayne Pryor. The Hybrid construction concept was something that Vinny and Joey began working on in early 2006, after discussing with Matthew Garrison his desire to have an instrument with all of the ergonomic characteristics of an electric bass, but with a bit more of an acoustic quality to its tone. The first working prototype of this Hybrid construction was delivered to Matt during Summer 2007, and Fodera received a U.S. patent for the design in 2012.

We were fortunate enough to be have been given virtual carte blanche with the specifications for the second Hybrid prototype. This instrument was under construction from roughly June 2011 until early May 2012, and we explored several of the design elements that we would revisit and refine on Anthony’s Presentation II. Principal among these was a 3-piece red oak neck, mated to a four-inch-thick hollow-body, using our Hybrid construction. The overall shape was based on Number 10 – with its hand-carved top. However, the top in this instrument was carved both on the outside and the inside.

At its core, our Hybrid design (as we have explored it, thus far) allows for combining characteristics of both acoustic and electric solidbodied instruments into one instrument whose tone can be shaded towards either end of the spectrum, depending on what choices are made during its design and construction. Notably, unlike traditional hollow-body instruments, Vinny developed a unique (and patented) way of attaching the neck that allows for removal of the majority of the heel material, so that a player’s fretting hand can gain access to the upper register of the instrument in much the same way that he or she would be able to with a solid-body electric instrument. Of the three Hybrid instruments we have built thus far, although all of them have been shaded toward behaving like solid-body instruments, each one has moved further toward the acoustic realm, with Anthony’s Presentation II exhibiting the most acoustic characteristics.

Over many meetings during early 2012, Vinny, Joey, Anthony and I slowly worked through all of the broad permutations of what the Presentation II might ultimately become. These discussions generally took place at the end of the workday; often with Vinny, Joey and I sharing a bottle of wine to get the creative juices flowing. Lest it sound too much like play, oftentimes all of us stayed late into the evening, after already working eight to ten-hour days in the shop. I almost invariably had a pen and paper in hand to make certain that I captured the ideas that everyone decided were “keepers.”

Vinny tended to think and speak about shapes, geometry, measurements and wood. Joey was focused on how all of these ideas might go together sonically and how the instrument might balance and feel. Anthony would ask hundreds of pointedly excellent questions, trying to compare the hypothetical instrument that we were creating with the one he knew so very well (Number 10). My role was mostly to keep the discussions moving forward and to balance what we’d like to do with a degree of what would be practical to accomplish in a single lifetime. Also, having recently reorganized all of the wood in the back of the shop, I was able to share our best tonewood options for this build, based on what material was ready to use.

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

By mid-Summer of 2012, Anthony had had the opportunity to play the second prototype Hybrid instrument, which was invaluable to solidify in our collective minds that continuing to pursue the Hybrid construction for Number 12 was the right way to go. We knew that we would again be working with 36- inch scale and a three-piece red oak neck. We all were very interested in the added warmth and percussive nuances that this material (red oak) added to the tonal mix. True, it was more complicated to work with (than maple) from a carving and finishing and standpoint, but the tonal contributions to the mix were well worth it.

We also knew that we would be building the body shell out of alder. This is the same body material that was used for Number 10, and the warm, rich, low-end heft that this material provides is an essential component of Anthony’s tone. We would again build the internal braces and structural support for the bridge, pickups and top from oldgrowth mahogany. The material we would use was very dry, strong and extremely resonant, but not so heavy as to add unnecessary weight. As large as the Presentation II is, through proper design and material choices, it was our hope that the final results will weigh right around 11 pounds.

The fingerboard material was something we spent a tremendous amount of time with. We pulled out every piece of ebony and Brazilian rosewood that was both ready to use and large enough for a Presentation fingerboard (we require starting dimensions of 4.25” x 30” x 0.375” piece) – well over 100 pieces of exceedingly rare material, in all. Vinny and I then spent the better part of a morning tap testing every board. In so doing, we narrowed down the choice to just three that were sonically best matched with the body blocks and neck billet we planned on using. Incidentally, all three were ebony… not because ebony is inherently “better” than Brazilian rosewood, but rather, for the tonal blend of this particular instrument, we felt it was the best choice.

The top and back remained in play right up to late Spring 2013. We were all intent on choosing the bestsounding pieces of wood that we had available. I personally spent well over 20 hours identifying possibilities just for the top and back woods, alone. We had already determined that our best options were flame walnut or koa. This was based on the overall tonal mosaic we were trying to achieve, and since we knew that we would be building with an ebony fingerboard (and the resulting brightness that it would bring), we wanted a top and back wood that would not make the instrument overly bright.

After looking through somewhere between 50 and 60 possible pieces of wood, we had selected a stunningly beautiful and sonically gorgeous piece of flame koa that was to become the outward face of Number 12. However, in the weeks after we shared this selection with him, Anthony started to become uncomfortable with the way the instrument would look; he is not a huge fan of koa. Anthony asked if there was any other material available that would blend well sonically with the rest of the woods already selected for his instrument, but look different than koa. He offered that he thought the look of holly would be gorgeous. It was actually very endearing on a human level to see that even a great virtuoso goes through the same angst that us mere mortal players do about what their instrument will look like. That said, Anthony made it abundantly clear that if we felt changing the top to holly would in any way compromise the sound of Number 12, that we should use the koa that had already been selected.

In the end, we were able to find a fantastic-looking and sounding piece of holly that, when paired with the warmest sounding of the three possible ebony fingerboards, sounded so good that we could comfortably say to Anthony that the resulting instrument would not be compromised in any way if we were to build with the holly.

By early summer, construction of Number 12 was well underway. The body blocks had been glued up and the complex set of internal braces and support structures were ready to go. These were significantly modified and refined from those that were used in earlier prototypes. The neck billet and selected ebony fingerboard had been glued together with its offset titanium trussrod safely encapsulated within, and the 17-degree back-angled peghead had been glued into place.

The titanium locking Fodera bridge and titanium tuners were all back from being PVD-plated black. Both were completely fabricated by hand by a Fodera player and friend of ours from Sweden. And our custom Fodera/Duncan dual-coil pickup was on hand and ready to be placed into Number 12 when the time came.

To get to this point had already taken well over two hundred hours, and final carving had yet to begin. Between the middle of August and the end of September, while the instrument was being carved on a regular basis, Anthony would visit the shop several times each week. This allowed him to make decisions in real time about every nuance of the instrument’s shape. There were days where Vinny, Joey, Anthony and I spent several hours each on discussions and work related to the shape of the neck, the way the top and back would be carved or how the instrument should ultimately balance and sit on Anthony’s lap.

The Final Tally

All totaled, we lost track of the number of hours that went into Number 12 somewhere after two hundred and fifty; this was long before she was finished. But then again, I should have known that this would be the case if a set-up could take an entire day. And, now that I have been involved with creating an entirely new instrument as part of the Fodera Team, I cannot imagine Fodera doing it any other way.