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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 guitar-making process.
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 bass-building career.
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.