Custom Shop: Ansir Music
Ansir Music is a custom shop based out of Ohio, consisting of the team of founder Jody Michael and artist Deric Smith.
Jody, who has owned and operated a high precision tool and die shop, began to mix his bass-playing hobby with work, designing and creating basses. In turn, his business partner Deric, a self-taught artist with 20 years of experience, also turned his creative passion towards building hand-crafted instruments. Together, the two form Ansir, an acronym for “Angled Neck Stringed Instrument Resource”, which is a design feature included in all their instruments.
We caught up with Jody Michael to get the scoop on his shop and his views on design.
How did you get your start building basses?
I reached a point in my life where I wanted to be in a business that I love and enjoy. Building bass guitars is a passion for me and what better way to earn a living than building basses and helping artists create music in a win-win situation. I have to admit, it is by no means an easy career choice, but the challenges provide the excitement to keep us persevering forward. Making instruments that are unconventional is a major challenge, but as our fan base and acceptance of our instruments grows, it provides the synergy that drives Ansir Music. Just wait until you see what we have in store for 2011!
What is the concept behind your designs?
The concept behind the designs is actually two fold. First I have the luxury of having an amazing artist for a partner. Second, when designing instruments with an angled neck, the bodies need to be designed around the angled neck and also each player’s specific angle of play. We try to take bits and pieces of all the beautiful instruments on the market and add our own nuances’ to them. It’s kind of like writing a song. You begin with a melody and then you add the dynamics to form the song. These dynamics are what separate each and every instrument. We also use what we call functional designs. In other words, we do various carvings (all by hand) to accommodate thumb rests, arm clearance, belly contour, cutaways for slapping and extended range cutaways near the upper register of the neck. With the angled neck, the upper section of our instruments has more mass than conventional instruments. This extra mass is in the perfect area near the lower string. This is one of the many inherent qualities of Ansir Technology.
How did you come up with the “perfect playing angle” idea, and what led to your decision to develop the angled neck technology?
Many years ago, when I was a wanna be rock-n-roller, I was auditioning for a local Cleveland band. It was a fairly big audition with a lot bass players trying out. As I was sitting there awaiting my turn, I noticed every time a bass player sat down or strapped on their bass they lifted the neck up to get their instrument into a comfortable position, player after player. So I thought, why isn’t the neck manufactured into the instrument on an angle? It seemed like a logical idea. Well off I went with this amazing idea that I had. I went home and grabbed an old Fender and had at it. Using whatever tools I had, which weren’t much, I got that neck into that body on an angle. I set the bridge, wired up the bass, and to my amazement it worked! I was going to revolutionize the music world! Well… reality hit me when I went to the patent attorney and he told me how much it would cost. I was a working musician and not making much money and knew I would never come up with the cash. At the time, there was no internet, so there went my dreams of revolutionizing the musical instrument world and my rock- n -roller dreams. Until now, that is.
Describe the patenting process you went through with the angled neck technology. Have you licensed this technology to any other manufacturers?
The patenting process is an amazing process, and not what you might think. The complexity of designing, writing and developing the patent, or as it is called, your “Artwork”, takes months to create and design. And then there is the waiting and responding to the patent office, including various actions and claims, until one day when your Artwork is accepted or denied. I have the honor of being accepted and granted a US Patent across the entire stringed instrument family, and I proudly display my gold seal and patent in my test studio (a copy of course). I am very proud of this accomplishment, as not many people hold an actual patent to date. I currently have eight patents pending. One of newest endeavors and also patents pending is called the “Musical Bridge”, which is an apparatus combined with Ansir Technology. The Musical Bridge is designed to help those whom have physical ailments and are unable to play their basses. It will enable them to be able to play again. We are working with a few manufacturers on the licensing agreement, but that’s kind of like picking a date for your daughter.
Tell us about your process in creating a bass for someone.
I can assure you a custom build with Ansir Music is a fun and exciting journey! Every one of our clients has become a friend. We spend a large amount of time discussing tone, body shapes, woods, electronics, music and our families. You get the idea. We have had clients stop by the shop and watch us carry out different operations on their bass. We upload pictures and videos for them and as much as they want to get involved are all good by us. I have actually been at the exotic wood supplier and taken a picture of two pieces of wood and emailed the samples to our client for them choose on the spot. Then on the other side we had a client (actually one of our endorsees) tell us to surprise him!
The whole building process should be memorable experience. I feel people are spending a lot of their hard earned money on these instruments and we are going to deliver. Heck I always say “We build basses that I can’t afford (not on a builders salary)”
Some bassists have dismissed the angled neck technology, saying you can achieve the same thing with a strap adjustment. Is there a difference?
I completely understand them thinking that, and yes some angle can be achieved by moving the strap button. We use that for fine tuning the angles, but there is a huge difference (why else would we have been given a US Patent?) The body is designed on the horizontal and we set the angle askew of center and angled upward. With the neck askew from center or askew of horizontal, the neck is angled. This is the hardest point to get across to players. We have had our instruments in hundreds of player’s hands and when they sit the instrument on their lap, or strap the instrument on, the reaction is always the same “I can’t believe this has never been done before!” It’s almost like that they can’t believe something so obvious hasn’t been done. It is what we at Ansir Music deemed the “light bulb moment”. No matter what, there will be people whom think this is a gimmick and that’s great because they don’t have to play an Ansir instrument, but I think they should at least try one.
How do you respond to people who find the shapes of your basses disagreeable?
That’s easy: Give us your own design and we will build it. We are the ones getting covered in wood chips every day, so if you have an idea, let’s build it. We also lend guidance and help with their designs as needed.
What is your opinion of bolt-on versus neck-thru designs?
I am old school! Bolt necks in our opinion provide a more responsive playing surface. No dead spots, very hot neck. We feel bolt-on’s really respond to a players attack and again offers more dynamics. We have built a few neck-thru designs, but are not happy with them. We came up with something that has been working out very well and call it our “Bolt-Thru” system. We take a solid piece of say Wenge’, Bubinga or Padouk, depending on the players tone requirements, connect the neck to the solid center piece, then glue the wings of the bass on the sides of the center to create the instrument. We have had great success with this design.
This leads me to another topic of passive or active (kind of like Democrat or Republican). We are firm passive believers. Tone is a byproduct of the player’s fingers and we provide them the pallet to form them to create their artwork. I personally believe that there is an over conditioning of tone on an instrument. If you think about it, there is an overlapping of tones on “Modern” instruments. Some of the same tone can be reproduced with different control settings. The first bass I built only had a volume control. But when you form a relationship with your instrument and learn its nuances’, you can achieve many tones from it. We have been adding pickups and electronics options, but still ascribe to a very simplistic tone system.
We have spent countless hours testing potentiometers, capacitors, wire gauges, jacks, electronic values of components, coil combinations, pickups, and strings to get to where we are now. We are trying to design our own tone and look. We have built many basses for some very discerning Gospel bass players and they all said “I got to have an active bass or our music director will not let us play!” Like I said, we sell passive basses to a lot of Gospel players, who usually react in disbelief that these sounds are coming from a passive bass.
How many basses have you built to date?
We are a young company (only 18 months old) and have built about 30 instruments. 2011 is starting out very strong and we will be adding more machinery (still no CNC’s) and reaching out to stores. So we are very excited about the coming months.
How do the more recent basses compare with the first?
Considering the first instruments that I built consisted of hand tools, sweat, and a little beer, a very long way technically. But the old school ideals stay the same. We build tools for the working musician and pallets for the artist.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to incorporate in one of your basses?
Coming to Ansir Music is kind of like going to the store to buy bread: tons of options! At the beginning, I warn our clients that they are going to change their minds many times through the course of this build and not to worry. This is what a true custom build is all about. You came into the store for white bread and you left with a marbled rye and Italian with basil bread. If you don’t, go to another store.
What would you want to tell someone thinking of building his or her own bass?
Well, that depends on what you mean. To actually go to the garage, grab some tools and start building a bass, I would say “do it!” Build something that people dig! You will never stop building, because it is kind of like writing music. You poor your heart and soul into creating a song (or instrument) and you lay it out for the public’s scrutiny. When they accept it, you feel so good and the buzz you get is very addictive. When they beat you up, you take it so very personally.
Building non-conventional instruments and claiming what we claim gets us beat up a lot. Once a very wise and successful friend told me “When they stop beating you up or stop talking about you that’s when you need to worry”.
If you are talking about going to a builder and getting a custom build, my recommendation would be to ask the builder the following questions:
Do you build everything in house?
Do you build the necks or do you order them from someone else?
Do you actually glue and cut the body or do you have parts CNCed somewhere?
Do you wire up the instruments and actually solder components?
Did you test the components, and if so, can you give details of this testing?
Where do you purchase your exotic woods and have you tested their tone qualities? If so, can you supply me with the results, which includes strings, tuners, strap locks and every neck screw.
I can continue on this topic for a long time. I guess my biggest fear would be having a client like myself.
Check out Ansir Music at ansirmusic.com.