Wood will always be king for bass and guitar construction, and for good reason, but who really knows what’s next?
In the history of bass and guitar building, wood has, of course, been the main material used for the basic construction of instruments. There have always been luthiers experimenting with alternative materials, but often it's a builder simply wanting an instrument to stand out visually. Sometimes, however, these alternate materials were chosen for a good reason.
Wood is relatively cheap, easy to work with, and has good availability, but it also has its share of properties that can be problematic. Sucking up moisture and reacting to changes in temperature are only two of them. Another thing to consider is wood's dampening effect within the audible spectrum, which leads to vibrational, and therefore tonal, losses. Whether these are dramatic enough handicaps or not comes down to individual opinion, but there's no question these wooden instruments have been the tools for some pretty good music over the years.
Let's take a quick look at some of the alternative materials used for builds, and the motivation and goals of the builders who dared to be different.
As the bass and guitar industry took off during the 1960s, plastic and fiberglass took off, too. These materials were simply everywhere, so why not in guitars? In 1962, Hagstrom and Valco began offering basses with fiberglass bodies, but both companies still incorporated wood for stability reasons. Valco did have the interesting idea to color the resin and bring down production costs by saving on finishing. However, the company learned the hard way how elaborate such a build could be, and went out of business in the late '60s.
Then there was Ampeg's Dan Armstrong bass from 1969. With an acrylic body (Lucite and Plexiglas are just trademark names) and a wooden neck, the company was hoping to keep the weight below the early '60s, all-acrylic showpiece Fender Strat, which weighed in at a whopping 18 pounds. Armstrong was also looking for sustain and reduced dampening, and while they might have reached all these goals, the bass output of the instrument was rather disappointing. There were plenty of mids, but that's about it.
Next up on our material list is aluminum, which appeared in John Veleno's guitars in 1972 and Travis Bean instruments in 1974. While Veleno had an all-aluminum approach, Bean used it for a neck-through design with wooden wings. (We should also give honorary mention to Rickenbacker's Frying Pan, introduced in 1931, but we're not talking lap steels here.) The motivation to use aluminum by these builders isn't completely clear, but it could certainly have been for stability, reduced dampening, weight reduction, and moisture and temperature resistance.
The end of the '70s gave us the first carbon-fiber basses by Ned Steinberger. His main goal was to design an extremely rigid, tuning-stable instrument. Steinberger's design offered lots of other innovative solutions, and it was one of the most successful non-wooden builds of the era.
Since the mid 1990s and 2000s, the market has become far more diverse, in large part thanks to new production methods and new man-made materials. The availability of different composites and compositions helped to create a small market that never really made it into the mainstream, but included interesting combinations with materials like sawdust, glass bubbles, foam, hemp fibers, and recycled granulate from yogurt pots to seized pirated CDs.
In 1997, Ibanez introduced a polymeric material called Luthite, which was later used by another company called Vibracell. Although the patent claims the use of glass bubbles or other inorganic fillers to control gravity and provide better density, the Ibanez instruments remained rather heavy, and production was discontinued in 2006.
When the prices of CNC machinery came down, the market began to see a number of different aluminum models appear—and even a 100-percent stainless-steel bass! A similar thing also happened when 3-D printing hit the mass market, because the technology can work with a huge amount of different basic materials, including all sorts of plastics and metals.
Most of the motivations behind all these alternative-material builds were moisture and temperature resistance, weight relief, and cost reduction, but often were simply attempts to stand out—rarely for any sort of tonal improvement, except maybe the ever-so-important sustain. In my opinion, it seems as if there was a clearer plan behind the early builds with wood alternatives. Today, at times, it appears to have turned into more of a “because we can" attempt, without a clear concept in sight.
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.