A unique-looking bass from the back pages of a familiar family biz.
I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a family business—especially one that focuses on the collective knowledge passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, and so on. I imagine it would be stressful in a few ways, but when I was a kid I had a number of friends who worked for a family business. And man, those kids just seemed a bit more carefree knowing their futures were mapped out.
I was thinking about family businesses this month because of this crazy electric bass guitar hailing from circa 1965 (Photo 1). This old bass carries the “Maxitone” brand name and can be found in catalogs with the model number 481. (There was also a model 482 that featured two pickups.) The reason this bass is connected to a family businesses is because it was made by the Hoshino family operation in Japan. Hoshino may not be a household name here in the U.S., because we commonly know the company by their primary brand, Ibanez. But Hoshino has been around for a long time—over 100 years now. And while Ibanez-branded electric guitars appear in catalogs from the 1950s, it was back in the early 1960s that Hoshino began making guitars and drums specifically at the Tama factory.
I had the chance to meet with two of the family members who were around in the early days of guitar making. Let me tell you, this was a cool family business! And Yoshiki Hoshino—who goes by Joe—and Yoshitada Hoshino had some pretty fond memories of those days.
When the factory first opened in 1962, many Hoshino family members were there to participate in production and design. As Joe Hoshino put it, they basically created guitars that seemed “cool” to them. It’s pretty obvious the Hoshino electrics were influenced by early English guitar brands, like Burns, because the guitars featured similar cues such as exaggerated horns and segmented pickguards. Later on, however, the Hoshino designs became truly gonzo, like something played by a Scooby-Doo cartoon band.
This 481 bass features some of the early Hoshino-build characteristics, like the “skunk” striped neck, a shapely headstock (Photo 2), a trapezoid neck plate, and finely cured wood. As a player, I find this particular bass shows some quirkiness, as did many of the early Japanese electric guitars. The body features a German carve and the overall design is reminiscent of a viola or cello, but the heavy neck makes this model a bit unbalanced, and just about impossible to play sitting down.
The pickup is a whole other story. It’s punchy and powerful, and measures out at a healthy 10.55k. One cool design feature of the pickup is the blue-sparkle pearloid that can be seen through the chrome grilles of the unit. Many of the early Hoshino pickups were designed in-house and featured fancy pearloid and sparkle accents, making use of leftovers from the drum manufacturing that was happening in the same building.
Alas, guitar making by Hoshino ceased in the mid-’60s, and thus ended a cool period in guitar history. Of course, Ibanez guitars were about to be known worldwide by becoming a true force in the 1970s, but by this time, guitar manufacturing was taking place at other factories like FujiGen Gakki. Hoshino continued to make drums at Tama, of course, but I have to say those early guitar-production years were remembered fondly by the Hoshino boys, as well as the collective guitar-playing youth of the 1960s.
Can you imagine designing and making guitars as your family business? I would have found my nirvana.
Muff to the Nth Power!
A vast collection of cool Muff variations.
How do you feel about mini-DIP switches?
Wren and Cuff De La Riva BM20-Ultra
Ease of Use:
You’ve probably encountered stompboxes where the designer lets the user make component choices. There might be, for example, a switch that toggles between a vintage part and one likelier to appeal to modern tastes.
But few have taken this notion to such surreal extremes as L.A.-based pedal builders Wren and Cuff. In some ways, their De La Riva BM20-Ultra pedal is a traditional Big Muff clone that hews to the original circuit’s topology. But here, most of the circuit decisions are multiple-choice. A set of 20 tiny DIP switches (reminiscent of Andrew Barta’s original SansAmp) offers two possible settings for nearly every stage in the circuit.
According to Wren and Cuff, the 20 DIP switches alone will yield over 1 million unique configurations, and if the three toggles are added to the mix, this give you over 8 million combinations. Minds, commence boggling.
The Muff Stuff
At its most basic, the De La Riva is a killer Muff clone. Its three knobs replicate the gain/tone/output controls of the Electro-Harmonix original. Without touching any additional controls, you get stellar versions of familiar Muff flavors, delivered with crackling presence and remarkably little noise. High-gain MPSA18 transistors in plastic housings replace the original’s metal-can 2N5133s, but whatever—they sound great.
Original Muffs used only silicon transistors, but here you can switch two of the four transistors (the ones in the main clipping stages) from silicon to germanium. These germanium transistors have no visible part numbers, but they, too, sound terrific. Differences between transistor configurations are less dramatic than, say, changing from Si to Ge in a two-transistor Fuzz Face circuit. The Muff circuit generates so much gain that subtleties can get flattened beneath the steamroller fuzz.
On the other hand, the dedicated tone-stack bypass switch is drama for days. It helps to know a bit about the circuit’s topology here: Big Muffs build up tremendous amounts of gain across three transistor stages. Next comes a volume- and tone-sucking passive tone control, followed by a fourth transistor stage to restore the level to its former glory. Nixing the tone stage provides thunderous fuzz without the Muff’s love-it-or-hate-it midrange cut. (That’s the first tone you hear in the demo clip.)
So far, so awesome: a killer Muff clone with a couple of cool variations.
Enter the Infinite
The De La Riva manual capably explains the roles of the 20 DIP switches, and it all makes sense if you have passing knowledge of how the Muff circuit works. The switches determine such factors as how the transistors are biased, the amount of low end filtered between gain stages, and whether the clipping diodes are engaged (and, if so, whether they are Si or Ge diodes, and whether the clipping is symmetrical or asymmetrical). The four leftmost DIP switches shape the character of the tone control, providing many alternatives to that signature mid scoop.
But even if you’re an electronics wiz who’s built mountains of Muff derivatives, you probably won’t be able to predict the exact result of every switch change. Experts and ignoramuses alike are likely to employ the same technique: Flick some switches until you hear a cool sound.
Does that sound fun? It was for me, and I stumbled across all the tones heard in the demo clip within seconds. Other players will wince at the sight of those 20 switches and their hard-to-read labels. Your gut feeling here is probably the best indicator of whether the De La Riva is for you. Another factor is whether you’d use the pedal only onstage, where fussy edits are impractical, or when sitting in front of studio monitors, thoughtfully concocting the perfect tone to suit a mix in progress.
The De La Riva is solidly made inside and out. It’s an unusual-looking circuit board, housing both tiny surface-mount components and traditional through-hole parts, including those four transistors. Is there room inside for a battery? Hell no! The pedal runs on standard 9V power. (Adapter not included.)
Wren and Cuff’s De La Riva is one of the most complex and open-ended distortion pedals ever created, right up there with the trickiest gizmos from Origin Effects and Chase Bliss. You should definitely pause to consider whether such vast tweakbility is likelier to feed your creativity or stifle it. Still, while it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen when you manipulate the mini-switches, you’re almost certain to find cool, usable sounds quickly. The De La Riva takes a simple idea to extremes, and does so brilliantly. Verdict? Total success.
Watch the First Look:
The guitarist and bassist discuss infusing Turkish folk with trance and ’70s psych on the Dutch band’s new LP, Gece.
Türk halk müziği—Turkish folk music—is an ancient blend of odd meters, microtonal scales, and unique timbres. To informed ears, it resembles other Balkan and Mediterranean folk styles, Sufi devotional music, and the classical music of the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, its lyrical themes are often ambiguous and interpretable as having religious and secular meanings. But it’s a distinct form, and, depending on your tastes, can be addictive.
At least, that’s what a trio of Dutch musicians—bassist Jasper Verhulst, guitarist Ben Rider, and drummer Nic Mauskovic—discovered during a stop in Istanbul while on tour as sidemen with baroque-pop multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner. That trip wasn’t their first exposure to Turkish folk music, but it lit a spark that soon became an obsession, and when they got back to Holland—and Gardner put his live band on hold—they decided to give it a try.
The result is Altin Gün (Turkish for “golden day”), their post-Gardner, early-’70s-inspired psychedelic take on Turkish folk. To complete the picture, the three bandmates recruited Turkish-speaking vocalists Merve Daşdemir and Erdinç Ecevit Yildiz (who also plays synths and electric saz, a lute-like traditional Turkish instrument) via a Facebook post, added percussionist Gino Groenveld, and released their debut, On, in 2018. (Mauskovic left soon thereafter, and Daniel Smienk is the band’s current drummer.)
Altin Gün’s repertoire is almost exclusively covers drawn from modern Turkish folk masters and centuries-old standards. But their music is also infused with a heavy dose of trippy textures and grooves. It’s those seemingly disparate elements—the quirky feel and non-Western tones of traditional Turkish folk combined with vintage fuzz tones, warm synth sounds, and a dreamy reverb sheen—that give the band its edge.
Gece (pronounced gee-jeh, meaning “night”), Altın Gün’s sophomore release, builds on that concept. The album contains tight unison lines played on guitar and electric saz over a throbbing pulse, like on the opening track, “Yolcu,” but also songs like, “Ervah-i Ezelde,” which features a psychedelic warble in 7/8. But don’t think “7/8” in the Western sense. As we explain in the accompanying “A Turkish Folk Music Primer” sidebar, that 7/8 feels like 2+2+3—one of the quirks that makes it danceable and engaging.
Verhulst and Rider have a deep grasp of Turkish feels, but their approach isn’t schooled. They’ve acclimated to it all completely by ear. “If someone said, ‘Play this in 7/8,’ I would have no idea what to do,” Rider says. “But once I hear it, then I can feel it and do it.”
We recently spoke with Verhulst and Rider before soundcheck for their sold-out show at Barby in Tel Aviv. We talked about their no-frills gear, their strictly analog recording approach for Gece, and the tricks Rider uses to play in tune with an electric saz.
Who were some of the artists that triggered the core trio’s love for this music when you were first playing in Istanbul with Jacco Gardner?
Jasper Verhulst: It wasn’t necessarily that we discovered artists while we were there. I was already listening to some Turkish artists, but after I went there it triggered something in me. I became more passionate about digging deeper into the history of Turkish psychedelic folk music from the ’70s.
TIDBIT: No Pro Tools for Altin Gün. The group’s new album was cut on an 8-track tape machine with a complement of analog gear including old echoes, tape recorders, and spring reverbs.
Ben Rider: We already knew the main artists, like Selda Bağcan, Erkin Koray, and Barış Manço. We had heard those names and their music before, but that trip inspired us to get more into it. We’ve discovered loads of artists since then. The main one is called Neşet Ertaş. He’s a saz player and we play a few of his songs. Verhulst: He’s a folk artist who’s been covered a lot by Selda Bağcan, Erkin Koray, and also by us. He is from the area where our saz player [Erdinç Ecevit Yildiz]’s parents are from.
Is your repertoire mostly traditional music?
Verhulst: It is only traditional music. On the new album, we have one improvised spoken-word thing, “Şoför Bey,” but the rest is all standards and traditional tunes. We play songs by Neşet Ertaş and Âşık Veysel, but also songs with unknown composers.
How do you choose the songs—are you looking for an adaptable melody or a certain type of groove?
Rider: A good melody and something that strikes us, like a passionate way of singing it. But Jasper is the one who mainly does the digging.
Verhulst: Yeah, like a good hook. But it’s me and Erdinç. He grew up with the music and I am a record collector. That, combined, leads to most of the options we present to the rest of the band.
Rider: Sometimes it doesn’t work. We’ll try it and it doesn’t really groove, and then we’ll just go to another song and that will groove. It’s always a process. It’s not like, “This is the song—we’re going to do it, and that’s it.” It’s all trial and error.