The Buckeye Burl Monarch 4 Deluxe
Today, Fodera is known worldwide as a
premier builder of fine basses considered
Holy Grails to a lot of discerning players.
Although the prices—$4,750–$20,000—may
initially raise eyebrows, many happily pony
up the cash for what they consider to be the
best basses they’ve ever held. Each custom
instrument is handmade and tailored to the
customer in every way, down to playing style
and technique. The intense building process
assures that the bass is as individual as the
player, and as masterful as a piece of rare art.
There’s no secret formula to building the basses,
but Fodera says every nuance—from wood
to electronics and hardware—is pored over.
Naturally, the luthier’s products have
evolved over the years. In fact, Fodera’s
first project was a 6-string guitar. He and
Lauricella built Fodera #1 as a custom order
for a friend. It was loaded with intricate
inlays and featured a body with flamed and
bird’s-eye maple. In retrospect, Fodera says
he would use different woods if he were to
build that guitar again today, but experimentation
and evolution have helped define
his instruments over the years. Besides,
that first guitar was more of a showpiece
to drum up orders for the fledgling company.
It turns out that lots of orders came
in—but for basses, not guitars. There wasn’t
much of a boutique-guitar market then,
so Fodera became known as a premier
bass builder. Today, roughly five percent
of guitars made by Fodera are 6-strings,
but they’re hoping to change that with
the introduction of a guitar line at winter
Although Fodera has crafted more than
3,000 instruments, his most popular bass
is the Monarch, which is based on Fodera
#2—the bass that launched the company
into folklore. Fodera recalls that the instrument
was made of bird’s-eye maple with
an ebony fingerboard, and that it served as
the basis for the Yin Yang bass (see the sidebar
“The Yin and Yang of It All”).
He now offers an extensive line of basses,
split into the Standard and Custom series.
Some feature more traditional lines like the
Monarch and Emperor, and others resemble
works of fine art, like the Imperial and
Matt Garrison Signature, which feature a
unique single-cut design that was originally
intended to stabilize the neck on a 36"-scale
bass. But though its origins were in function,
not form, the modern appearance of
that single-cut has attracted even more fans.
As far as electronics, pickups are chosen
according to what will sound best for each
instrument. For example, the Yin Yang
Standard uses EMGs, while the Emperor
and Monarch Standards use locally wound
pickups. Custom Fodera basses use 99
percent EMG or Seymour Duncan pickups,
as well as some Kent Armstrong and
Nordstrand units. The preamp used in the
Standard basses is a Mike Pope design that’s
based on his Flex Core technology. Hours
of collaboration based on player feedback
went into the Fodera-requested tweaks of
Whether it’s the Custom or Standard
Series, the build process begins with wood
selection. Every shipment brought in to
Fodera is tap tested and kept in stock based
on weight, look, grain pattern, and, most
importantly, sound. Between 20 to 30 percent
of wood is sent back, and the rest is
stored for up to two years (depending on
build orders) in the Brooklyn warehouse.
From there, the mosaic composite is carefully
Necks, bodies, and fretboards are all tone
drivers and are therefore carefully matched
for tonal characteristics and aesthetics.
Brighter woods are matched with warmer
necks, and vice versa, to create tonally balanced
basses. Although Fodera says they try
to find the nicest pieces of wood for every
build, once again, tone trumps all.
In working with exotic materials, there is
always the ethical question about its origin.
The CITES (Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora) agreement ensures that materials
come from sustainable sources. While
there will always be unscrupulous wood
dealers who don’t provide proper CITES
credentials, Fodera is adamant about using
sustainable resources and non-endangered
hardwoods. But DeSalvo says the process of
verifying this isn’t always easy.
“The last batch of Brazilian rosewood
that came in was a 19-month process from
the first phone call to the actual shipment,”
When someone places an order with
Fodera, they call the shots from start to
finish. An outline of the bass build is established.
After choosing a body style comes
wood selection, and the options are virtually
limitless. You can even come in to select
your own wood—some Fodera customers
have spent as much as 20 hours picking
through materials to find the perfect foundation
for their dream build.