With a career spanning over 40 years, Vancouver-based Mike Kinal knows a thing or two about luthiery.
Trained as a cabinetmaker, Mike got into building basses early in his musical career and has since made hundreds of instruments. His basses have evolved over the years from following the pattern of large manufacturers to creating his own unique style involving exotic hardwoods and interesting finishes.
In addition to his building business, Kinal has maintained a career teaching high school woodworking. And yes, part of his class includes teaching how to build a bass or a guitar, depending on whatever the student desires.
Kinal builds each instrument by hand. His models range from traditional solid-body basses to a unique chambered body to the Kompact, a 30˝ scale acoustic bass with piezo pickups.
How did you get into building basses?
Guitar building started for me in my junior year of high school. My first guitar was a Telecaster. I was playing drums back then, and one of my band mates asked me to build him a bass. I started doing a lot of [repair work] in the early 70’s, looking at other manufacturer’s instruments until I decided to create my own line of basses. I try to take the good aspects of an instrument and incorporate them into what I’m doing.
What is the concept behind your designs?
My main concept is good balance in ergonomics, tone and ease of performing. I generally look at the successful designs in the marketplace and put my own twist on them.
The basses on your Gallery page all have incredible exotic woods… Do you have a favorite wood?
Over the last 40 years of building, I must say my favorite wood is flame maple. I love the wide range of grain patterns you can get and the color tone of the wood. Maple looks good finished natural or with color tones.
Tell us about your process in creating an instrument for someone.
When I get customers who are interested in one of my instruments, I usually ask them what they are playing presently and what is lacking. Second, I ask them what brought them to me as far as the instrument. I try to get as much information about what tone and aesthetics they’re after. After I receive a deposit, I will then start the build.
What is your opinion of bolt-on versus neck-thru construction?
Both bolt-on and neck through have merit. I have built many neck through instruments which I’ve loved as well as bolt-on versions. Most of my customers in the recent years have preferred the bolt-on construction because of the acoustic and amplified tones they produce.
What is your opinion of active versus passive pickups?
The active vs. passive thing really is based on the type of music you intend to play. Some music needs a punchier sound, so the active pickup and preamp will serve that purpose whereas a bass – such as a Fender Jazz – can record very well with minimal equalization. I believe it really depends on the music situation. I know every serious player has both.
What is your favorite part about building basses?
Finishing a new bass that needs very little adjustment – the woods and electronics are perfect, and you know that this bass is happening.
How many basses have you built to date?
I have built about 700 to date.
How do the more recent ones compare with the first?
The new basses are most consistent as far as construction, sound and playability. I started building when I was 17 years old, and now I’m 59 so knowing what I know now reflects on the basses. I have also been teaching high school students how to build guitars over the past 25 years and this helps with my building chops.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to incorporate in one of your basses?
The craziest thing requested on one of my instruments as to paint on some wild graphics.
What would you tell someone thinking of building his or her own bass?
My suggestion for someone to build their own bass is to read construction and method books on the subject. Talk to professional builders about their building techniques. Get the required tools for the job. You need a lot of patience and be prepared for letdowns along the journey.