The three partners: Vinny Fodera, Jason DeSalvo, and Joey Lauricella.
Left: The Buckeye Burl Monarch’s
matching pickup covers.
Just across the water from the Statue of Liberty
and the picturesque Manhattan skyline sits
an anonymous-looking warehouse where some
of the most prestigious basses in the world are
crafted by hand. At 6,000 square feet, it’s a massive
step up from the 1,000-square-foot shop on
Avenue O where Fodera Guitars was born way
back in 1983, but it does have its drawbacks.
“[Super storm] Sandy hit us hard up here, but
luckily everyone in our factory and their families
are okay,” says Fodera partner Jason DeSalvo.
“We just started production again after a week
without power. Now we have power, but no
heat—it’s 36 degrees outside, 38 degrees inside!”
But neither temperatures nor economic
worries have seemed to slow Fodera. Here,
the priority is art over money, craftsmanship
over numbers, and tone before anything else.
Founders Vinny Fodera and Joey Lauricella
have approached things that way since they
met. Although they’ve been building custom
guitars and basses for 30 years now (they
also do small production batches), they’re
primarily known for their rumble machines.
And for many iconic bassists—including
Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson, Janek
Gwizdala, and Oteil Burbridge—Fodera 4-,
5-, and 6-strings are the bass to own.
Bright Lights, Big City
“My life has been a series of these flash
moments,” says Fodera. “[When I was a kid],
the Beatles on Ed Sullivan hit me like a ton
of bricks and introduced me to rock ’n’ roll.
A couple of years later, I saw a neighborhood
kid sitting on his front stoop, strumming a
red electric guitar. This thing was so cool.
When I held it, something clicked, and I had
to have it. Even though he just bought it for
$15, I convinced him to sell it to me for $20.”
Fast-forward to 1975, when Fodera took
a part-time job as a stock runner back in
the days when physical stock-market tickets
were delivered around lower Manhattan.
While on one of those stocks runs, Fodera
noticed a flier for a 12-week class on classical-guitar construction. It was another light
switch moment. Not long after walking
into the class, he knew crafting guitars was
what he wanted to do.
“I think I was the only student who
really took the class seriously,” he says.
Instructor Thomas Humphrey—who later
built the Millennium guitar that’s now
licensed to C.F. Martin & Co. — could tell
the young Fodera showed genuine interest,
because he was the one who stayed
after class and asked a hundred questions.
Humphrey quickly took a liking to the
aspiring craftsman, who would come to
his shop after hours and on the weekends,
becoming more and more enthralled in the
In yet another twist of fate, one of
Fodera’s school classmates had a friend
who’d just opened a small guitar shop in
Brooklyn. Knowing of Fodera’s new-found
passion, the classmate introduced him to
the owner—who happened to be the innovative
and highly influential bass builder
Stuart Spector. After taking a tour of the
shop, the young (and very nervous) Fodera
humbly asked Spector for a job doing
anything—sweeping, toilet cleaning …
whatever. Two weeks later, Spector called
and asked if he knew how to cut mother-of-pearl
for headstock logos. Though he had
no experience with it, Fodera didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” he replied. He then asked
Spector to cut one so he could observe the
process. The astute future luthier landed the
gig, and the part-time work soon moved
into full-time production. Thus began his
Spector’s shop was part of a woodworking
co-op made up of fledgling furniture
designers and craftsmen. Astonishingly,
under one single roof were such bass luminaries
as Spector, Ken Smith, Fodera, and
a young furniture designer named Ned
Steinberger, who eventually designed one of
the most unique basses of the last 40 years.
In a short time, Fodera became the primary
builder at Spector, making basses for the
likes of Jack Bruce and Gene Simmons.
Eventually, Spector had an offer to work for
Ken Smith, and though it was a difficult
decision he did make the move. He crafted
about 100 basses for Smith.
At the same time, Joey Lauricella, a
professional local bassist and sales rep, saw
someone come out of the anonymous shop
with a gig bag. Out of curiosity, Varicella
popped in, introduced himself, and became
friends with Fodera. In the process, he discovered
that the Ken Smith basses he’d been
selling were made in that very neighborhood.
Lauricella convinced his new friend
to partner up, and before long they made a
deal with Smith to build basses in exchange
for eventual ownership of the tiny Avenue O
shop. Fodera Guitars had spread its wings.