Bass Gear Issue 10 : Page 20
“Garrison’s weapon of choice” The Fodera Matt Garrison Standard By Vic Serbe The Company Line and Model Origin Fodera was founded in 1983 by Vincent “Vinny” Fodera (luthier) and Joey Lauricella, a professional bassist. Their goal, as explicitly stated in many cases, is to build an instrument someone would pick up and find very difficult to put down... one that would truly inspire them to create and cross boundaries. While Vinny Fodera is a true artisan in the instrument-building business, his father was actually in the suit business and made custom suits. He used to watch his father do a lot of preliminary cutting and marking, which initially didn’t look like much, but then, like magic, it would come together into a beautiful  �d;�f; �c;�e;�f;�a; suit, and look fantastic on the new owner. Witnessing that magical transition is where Vinny’s passion was born. Whenever I’ve seen custom instruments made, I’ve always felt the same way. In the hands of the true artisan, chunks of what would typically be described as “kinda’ cool looking” raw pieces of wood are transformed into something that provides a truly extraordinary experience for the new owner. Looking at their shop, you won’t find a lot of large automated machines and coves of technology. Instead, you’ll find some hard-working luthiers – likely using hand tools – and a large archive of exotic woods, acquired over many years of collecting the finest examples of billets from various suppliers. It’s almost like walking through a time portal to be in their shop. But one thing hits you hard as you look at the work they do and the end result. That’s an absolute dedication to art, quality, and function. A couple examples are their strings and butterfly logo. They make all their own strings “in house” (they actually used to be made on site at the Fodera factory, but are now made in rural Pennsylvania... in fact, by the same people, they simply moved). The butterflies are all hand-matched, typically by Jason DeSalvo and his wife, Deborah. As such, they are unique to each instrument, literally like a fingerprint. From a humble shop in Brooklyn, New York, this passion for magnificence is the
Fodera Matt Garrison Standard 5-String Bass Guitar
The Fodera Matt Garrison Standard<br /> <br /> The Company Line and Model Origin <br /> <br /> Fodera was founded in 1983 by Vincent “Vinny” Fodera (luthier) and Joey Lauricella, a professional bassist. Their goal, as explicitly stated in many cases, is to build an instrument someone would pick up and find very difficult to put down... one that would truly inspire them to create and cross boundaries. While Vinny Fodera is a true artisan in the instrument-building business, his father was actually in the suit business and made custom suits. He used to watch his father do a lot of preliminary cutting and marking, which initially didn’t look like much, but then, like magic, it would come together into a beautiful suit, and look fantastic on the new owner. Witnessing that magical transition is where Vinny’s passion was born. Whenever I’ve seen custom instruments made, I’ve always felt the same way. In the hands of the true artisan, chunks of what would typically be described as “kinda’ cool looking” raw pieces of wood are transformed into something that provides a truly extraordinary experience for the new owner. Looking at their shop, you won’t find a lot of large automated machines and coves of technology. Instead, you’ll find some hard-working luthiers – likely using hand tools – and a large archive of exotic woods, acquired over many years of collecting the finest examples of billets from various suppliers. It’s almost like walking through a time portal to be in their shop. But one thing hits you hard as you look at the work they do and the end result. That’s an absolute dedication to art, quality, and function. A couple examples are their strings and butterfly logo. They make all their own strings “in house” (they actually used to be made on site at the Fodera factory, but are now made in rural Pennsylvania... in fact, by the same people, they simply moved). The butterflies are all hand-matched, typically by Jason DeSalvo and his wife, Deborah. As such, they are unique to each instrument, literally like a fingerprint.<br /> <br /> From a humble shop in Brooklyn, New York, this passion for magnificence is the foundation Fodera’s business is built upon. Like with Vinny’s father’s business, each bass they build is custom tailored to fit each customer, and the elated feedback that invariably results from their first experience with their new instrument is as satisfying for the people at Fodera as the instrument is for the new customer.<br /> <br /> As you can imagine, with as much going into each instrument as it does, and with as much being done by hand as it is, the selling price reflects it. While it’s justified by the end result, the people at Fodera still want to appeal to a wider budget range. The idea behind Fodera’s Standard models is to get all the Fodera tone and quality, but get it at a lower price, and get it to someone faster than a full custom order. This is basically the same business model as any other luthiers that would build “stock” instruments for dealers based on the most popular configurations specified on custom orders. For example, the average wait time for a custom Fodera is around 14 months for a bass from order to completion. It doesn’t take that long to build the bass; the first 8 months is basically just waiting for a production slot to become available. The Standard models not only reduce the cost, but also often mean one is available for purchase either immediately from a dealer, or already being built, resulting in shorter delivery period. Was this particular model a success story? You tell me. They planned for an initial run of 31 Matt Garrison Standard instruments, and all of them were sold at the 2012 NAMM Show where the model was introduced.<br /> <br /> What makes this particular Standard model not so “standard” is that it’s based on a custom instrument made specifically for Matt Garrison, a premier bassist born in New York, and the son of John Coltrane’s bassist, Jimmy Garrison. Matt has a bio that reads like a who’s who in the music business, but relevant to this bass, he’s developed his own pizzicato style utilizing a “four finger” technique with his right hand. This gives him the ability to play very quick nimble lines, and this bass was designed specifically to facilitate that. If you’re not familiar with this man, a quick search on YouTube will quickly yield a long list of videos that will make his abilities and style abundantly clear. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.<br /> <br /> Field Stripping It <br /> <br /> The first thing that’s interesting about this bass is that it’s not just a standardized version of the current Matt Garrison Imperial model (which is based on Matt’s original Fodera from 1995). This model is actually a new iteration model based on a conversation Matt had with the folks at Fodera back in 2010. The biggest difference is the move from the standard 19mm string-string spacing to 17.5mm, by Matt’s specific request. Other changes are substituting a 5-piece ash neck for a 3-piece maple neck, using box elder burl instead of buckeye burl (or chestnut) and replacing the ebony fingerboard with pau ferro. But in the end, the tonal goal was to remain as consistent with the original as possible.<br /> <br /> The headstock veneer is box elder burl to match the top. The body is a single cut-away design made of walnut, with an alder “tone block” (which is actually a function of the fact that this is a neck-through model) and an especially deep lower cut-away. The neck is a 3-piece maple neck with a pau ferro fingerboard and 26 frets (all fully accessible via the deep lower cut-away). Fodera builds basses with three types of necks: bolt-on, “dovetail” using a form of tongue and groove mating technology, and a neckthrough with a “tone block” glued to the back (the neck billets are not thick enough to “complete” the back of the body on the neck-through model so an additional piece of wood, or “tone block” is added). Their necks are highly touted for their stability, due in part to a couple things they do in the build process. Neck billets are stored for around a year after being glued. They build their necks using multiple pieces – typically three from the same piece of maple – but they rotate the outer “wings” of the neck from the center piece to counteract any natural tendency of movement, resulting in greater stability. I’m sure there is much more to it as well, but these are good indications for the meticulous process involved in making an instrument of this caliber.<br /> <br /> The bridge on the Standard models is slightly different than the custom models, which contributes to the cost reduction that’s passed on to the customer, but it is designed to fully preserve the Fodera tone standard, and is just as fully adjustable. The tuners are Gotoh, and the low E string has a detuner to extend the low range of the instrument. The nut is brass. The strap locks are Dunlop, embedded in the body. This is a nice touch, but it does mean you have to have locks in your strap to hook up to the bass... you can’t just borrow any strap if you forget yours.<br /> <br /> The electronics are the Fodera/Pope three-band custom shop version with the Matt Garrison control layout. The controls (in clockwise order) are volume/passive-tone (stacked), pickup blend, treble, mid, bass, active/passive (switch), single/dual coil (switch), and mid frequency (switch). Interestingly, this bass is also the first of Fodera’s Standard models to use the newer version of the Fodera/Pope custom shop preamp, which makes some signal/tone quality improvements over an already great design. The pickups are Fodera/Duncan (Seymour) dual coils with coil tapping capabilities. There’s also a wood “ramp” between the pickups, which lots of players prefer as a consistency aid.<br /> <br /> Fit and finish <br /> <br /> First word that comes to mind is “superb.” I feel fairly safe in saying when it comes to attention to detail, fit and finish, this instrument may have peers, but no superiors. I can’t imagine a better specimen. Even upon close scrutiny, every glue joint is essentially invisible, every sanded edge and corner is perfect and consistent. The body shaping does not look like it was done by hand, since it seems to be missing all the little imperfections that usually go along with a hand-tooled job. The skill and experience required to do this kind of work by hand is staggering and a testimony to how Fodera has absolutely achieved its goals for magnificence – and to why these instruments are priced where they are. This particular model is also designed very specifically to take the lowest action imaginable. It’s all about ultratight tolerances, which is essential for the especially narrow string spacing on this bass.<br /> <br /> On the firing range <br /> <br /> I played this bass with both my worship and my cover band, as well as a good amount of time really scrutinizing its sound with tracks. This involved live onstage amp configurations, as well as in-ear type experiences, both with DI boxes as well as a Café Walter practice amp.<br /> <br /> While this bass is among the very finest I’ve ever had the privilege to play, I struggled with it on the gig simply because it was designed for someone with very, very different goals in mind than what I go for. I’m not a sixstring or E-C player. I’m not big into chording and feature soloing. I’m also used to the more traditional string spacing of 18-19mm. But I will say this, despite the fact that this bass was designed so specifically for someone with very different preferences from mine, I found it very hard to put the bass down. The neck profile just felt perfect in my hands and the action was so low, I essentially just had to think about playing the note and there it was. The fundamental is strong with this bass, and I could find little or no dead or dull spots anywhere on the neck to speak of. And that’s without engaging preamp features.<br /> <br /> The passive tone on this bass is great as it is, but once you dig into the preamp, it’s hard to imagine a sound this bass can’t cover or a bass tone for a genre of music it couldn’t achieve. It’s all there, and I love the fact that they stacked the passive tone control under the volume control. It may seem odd to some, but I found it very intuitive to operate. The preamp is very clean. The EQ is totally usable, and inspires one to explore, despite the fact that the base tone of this instrument really doesn’t lack anything. It does the uber-burpy bridge tone to the 9’s, it’s got a very fat neck tone, and the funk just oozes from every pore in blended mode. It does slap, tap, fingerstyle, and palm mute all equally well. I just can’t find anything to criticize this bass about other than maybe to say it’s a little heavier than I personally prefer, but that’s also a preference, not really an issue, because with weight comes compression and sustain, which is a tonal goal of this instrument (and also a function of the type of bridge they use). No free lunches. The other thing is, this bass has so many controls, and some players could be a bit overwhelmed... at least in the beginning. The tonal variations available are staggering.<br /> <br /> The Bottom Line <br /> <br /> This bass is incredible. I wish everyone could own an instrument of this caliber. I find it very difficult to not call Fodera tomorrow and put an order in for a model more my style, because I know it’d fire on all cylinders like a top fuel dragster. Fodera is a small shop, so it’s probably good that the price dictated by this level of instrument will keep demand within their production capabilities. I hope every one of our readers gets a chance to at least spend a little time with a Fodera someday. Even if you can’t afford to own one, I guarantee it’ll be worth the time spent.<br /> <br /> BASS LAB<br /> <br /> The Fodera Matt Garrison Standard<br /> <br /> This bass is simply outstanding. I should stop the review right there.<br /> <br /> Nah, I’ll go on a bit. Everywhere you look on this bass, it’s done right. Every single detail, even the smallest of joints and corners, was done with an obvious attention to its aesthetic and function. There is not one spot where someone “let it go” or said “that’s good enough.” The peghead joint is uncommon and very nicely executed. I really like the attention to round vs squared corners in carve and sanding, especially in the back of the neck as it transitions into the body. This Fodera is a beautiful execution of the intersection of wood-working function and art.<br /> <br /> I really can’t find much of anything to complain about. Okay, well maybe machine screws and inserts rather than wood screws for the battery/control cover, and I’m not a fan of brass nuts, but both choices are made by intention that can be debated. So I guess that’s my point, there is no default here; everything is considered and then perfectly executed. The joinery is complex and flawless. The wood choices, the cuts, the instrument’s finish… everything makes sense and is beautiful at a level of execution that is intended to function and impress the detailed eye. The Mike Pope preamp is top of the line, whisper quiet and clean, with great EQ points. The circuit is perfectly installed and shielded.<br /> <br /> This particular bass has some idiosyncratic design elements, presumably for the player it was targeting. The shorter 33” scale is notable, the high C rather than low B, the small fretwire (which I prefer too), all are departures from the usual and expected. What I find interesting is that it plays and sounds even everywhere, except for the unavoidable thinning as you play up the C string. Make no mistake, this is no Fender Bass. This is entirely different animal. It sounds like a Fodera. Everything they make does. That’s a good thing. They have positioned themselves with a clearly defined spot in the market that very few builders can match. Now that I’ve played this, I really want to drive a low B 5-string Fodera. It takes a lot for me to get GAS these days, so that’s saying something.<br /> <br /> My GAS stops at the $8,750 price tag though. This is not for someone banging out Brown Eyed Girl for $50 at a VFW. This bass is expensive. I think it might be worth it. There are very few people working at this high a level in construction. Of the basses we’ve seen, the Dingwall and MTD come to mind. And yet maybe this is even better still, mostly because it sounds amazing, even more so than the others. Like, drop dead in your tracks amazing. Pure, long notes that are fat and clear, with punch and girth. If you can really play, this bass is as good a palate as I’ve seen yet.