Modern Builder Vault: Tom Clement Basses
In the early ’80s, Tom Clement had a friend build him an electric guitar to his specs, long before building an instrument himself even crossed his mind. Fast forward to 2002 when Clement decided to go DIY with his appreciation for handcrafted instruments. He’d been playing in several bands in Florida with his trusty ’66 Jazz, and found himself wanting to add a fretless bass to his arsenal. Rather than buying off the shelf, Clement decided to have one built and left raw so he could do the sanding and finish work. After contouring the body, reworking the control cavity, and reshaping the neck, Clement was hooked. He enjoyed the process so much that he sold the bass for a small profit and began buying more wood and tools.
Clement started building basses in earnest by selling them through eBay. He soon developed a name for himself and was able to raise his prices enough to pay for more than just his next set of materials, and in 2008, he became a full-time builder.
Self-taught Clement cites music as the main influence for entering the instrument-building arena (prior to this, he had no significant woodworking experience). “I am not a good player, but I do enjoy the back and forth of working with other players—especially the magic that can happen when an audience is paying attention and really enjoying the music,” says the builder.
He brings that passion of working with other musicians into his shop, but running a one-man operation doesn’t come without its day-to-day challenges. “Balancing the time I spend in the shop with the time spent on the computer looking at woods and materials while dealing with customers and potential customers is challenging,” says Clement. “There is also trying to have a variety of wood choices for the customers to chose from with a limited budget and space to store the woods.” Clement says his basses are consistently complimented by customers for the feel of the necks and the playability of the machines as a whole. “I have been blessed to have some awesome repeat customers, including one that owns nine of my instruments.”
For custom basses, Clement offers a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, and prefers to use lighter-weight woods including cedars, mahoganies, and limbas. For electronics, he prefers a simple, passive setup, but realizes that players may want something more in a custom instrument and will install as needed. Clement also prefers a preamp that doesn’t have too large a boost or cut, which is why he regularly equips his instruments with Nordstrand and Bartolini products.
Pricing and Availability
Clement builds approximately 40 basses annually, and an average build time ranges anywhere from three weeks to three months. “A 1-piece swamp ash body is going to come together a lot faster than a 2- or 3-piece chambered body with a book-matched top,” says Clement. The base price for a 4-string is $1,450, but because all of Clement’s builds are custom, pricing will vary depending on the myriad of options, which are detailed on the builder’s site.
Clement 175 The redwood-topped, swamp ash body of the Clement 175 features a “Kim” body shape, which is a smooth and streamlined take on a Jazz-style body. This 34" scale, 6-string bass has a bloodwood fretboard topping the maple neck and is outfitted with a pair of active Steve Bailey Basslines from Seymour Duncan for electronics.
Clement 211 Built for the bassist in need of both a fretted and fretless, both of the headless necks on the Clement 211 are constructed from quartersawn mahogany and capped with extra thick Macassar ebony. The swamp ash and mahogany body is topped with highly figured redwood. Clement’s 211 is loaded up with two sets of Nordstrand Big Single pickups paired with a Nordstrand preamp, and weighs in at an incredibly light 11 3/4 pounds.
Clement 217 The body of the Clement 217 features Clement’s heavily chambered “Anne” body shape—a larger, asymmetric style meant for better balance while playing in the seated position. The redwood-topped, swamp ash body is joined by a bolt-on black limba neck, and this 8 1/2 pound 5-stringer is outfitted with a P/J-style pickup configuration from Bartolini, along with a Bartolini piezo buffer for the Hipshot piezo bridge.
Clement 233 The “Jon” body style on the Clement 233 is another heavily chambered design from Clement which helps deliver its 7 1/4-pound weight. The single-cut, mahogany-core body with black limba wings is dressed with a figured koa top and has a single f-hole. Equipped with a piezo bridge from Hipshot, the Clement 233 also features a Stellartone tone control and Graph Tech’s ghost Acousti-Phonic preamp.
Clement 254 From his Ergo Bass line, the Clement 254 features Clement’s “Wide Joan” body style, constructed from limba with a myrtlewood top. Loaded with a Bartolini 59CBJD1 in the bridge and a Bartolini 58CBP in the neck, the pickups are paired with an Aguilar OBP-3 preamp. After a brief residence in Nashville to be signed by various notable musicians, the bass was auctioned in September 2012 with all proceeds benefiting the Ronald McDonald House.
Clement 275 Clement’s Modern Doublecut basses boast a slim body shape that complements a shorter scale length, and this model is highlighted by decorative chamber holes that decrease the instrument’s weight by a pound. The 34”-scale Clement 275 was built using swamp ash for the body’s “Phoenix” shape, figured swamp ash for the top, and Port Orford cedar for the neck. For electronics, the 275 is equipped with a Hipshot piezo bridge, preamp and pickups from Nordstrand, and a Bartolini piezo buffer.