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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 NAMM 2013.
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 the preamp.
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 constructed.
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,” he says.
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.