Custom Shop: An Interview with Grant Freifeld of Grant Bass
Armed with passion and determination, Ontario-based bassist Grant Freifeld got his start building instruments after becoming disgusted with “cheap painted plywood guitars” and basses that are “someone else’s idea of custom.”
After apprenticing with Joe Kovacic of Lado Guitars, Freifeld created his own brand, Grant Bass. His humility allows him to be more open to ideas, citing that expanding his horizon can only help him to become a more well-rounded luthier.
We reached out to Freifeld to find out more about his craft and inspiration.
How did you get into building basses?
I built my first one with the dream that I could make a bass that I could never hope to afford. Turned out, it cost me two of my basses on top of a whole summer’s wage just to build an instrument I could barely play! It still sits on its shrine back in my parents’ den. It was because of that project that I was introduced to local luthiers who shared what I thought was a considerable amount of personal knowledge. They were Paul Saunders, Fred Gabrsek and George Furlanetto. I’m sure they could tell that I had no idea what I was doing, but I had a passion to begin with. They turned me on to Joe Kovacic’s (Lado) School a few hours out of town, as a way to fill in a lot of the blanks.
After the classes, it was a stubborn addiction, and I am still chasing the dragon as much as my schedule allows.
What is the concept behind your designs?
I use hardware and electronics from a number of reputable, well-known companies, and I don’t stray too much from your typical “modern” bass. There are some things I believe every stringed instrument should have: easy access to every fret, good weight, and all hardwood construction. (I’m not a fan of ply or composites, though I understand their acceptance).
The most important thing I learned in the design phase is that comfort is very personal, so spend the extra time really learning how a client plays and what he needs. No one is going to spend the money on a custom if the guitar hanging on the wall downtown works just fine for them!
So, make something for your customer, don’t just sell them on something you think is great.
How does your bass playing affect the way you make basses?
I’m a hack when it comes to playing, but I love being the center of attention, so I will always try to add a little inlay there, or a veneer here… just to try to get whoever is looking at it to look a second or two longer.
Tell us about your process in creating an instrument for someone.
It all begins with a phone call or e-mail. It will either be that the customer is interested in something they have seen or they had seen something of mine that told them I could build the design they have in their head.
Everyone has the invite to a consultation, where we meet, talk and rummage through lumber (not always possible, but it’s the way I prefer). If it’s a design they have created, I usually cut out a cardboard version of the body for them to hold and begin to pick apart any foreseeable issues.
Then we would discuss all the options available to them, and what I would suggest based on our conversations. If the wood has not been settled on already, it is by now – either picked from my overflowing collection (I’m a wood hoarder) or they join me on a trip to one of the local suppliers. I am very lucky to have three providers of both domestic and exotic stock. It isn’t hard to find a great piece of whatever species the client is looking for by myself, but I have never been told “no” when I’ve offered to take them along.
At that point I explain what I am using as my standard hardware and why. I also explain that they are free to have a preference, but any changes – even if market values are the same – is an upcharge. It’s a way I encourage my basses to be outfitted with what I believe to be the right setup, without it becoming a “model”.
If they are satisfied with that, they get a quote. A deposit of 50% is required, and I get right to work; the other half is expected upon completion. The longest build I have had in recent history was six months, an average waiting time for the finished bass is four months. This is with my standard hand-rubbed finish of oil or poly.
Custom finishes, such as nitro and other high gloss/solids finish are at the mercy of an outside finisher’s schedule, but it rarely adds more than a couple of weeks.
Tell us about your new shop.
I just built my new shop with my own two hands – a 500 square foot metal pre-fab building. Because of the look of the insulation, I affectionately refer to it as the “asylum.” It is still a relatively small place to work, but I’m just so happy it is out back of my own home, which is much nicer for visitors and my work schedule.
What is your opinion of bolt-on versus neck-thru construction?
I like both for different reasons. Neck-thru basses are just damn sexy. Seeing the laminates run from head to toe was one of the reasons I began paying attention to high-end instruments in the first place, and playability is increased with more neck available in the higher registers.
Now, I’m not sure if it’s “mind over matter,” but they always feel like a much more sturdy instrument as a whole. As a builder, they are fun to make, but when the instrument is one four foot piece instead of a body and neck, your work space gets even smaller very quickly.
I find that bolt-ons always have a stronger variety of sounds and a faster “attack” to the note, which I like when I play because of all the different genres I have to cover. Repairs and maintenance are easier for myself, as well as the average player. I also find that sourcing some amazing lumber for necks is a lot easier. Finding a flawless stable piece that is 30 inches long is a cakewalk compared to finding 48 inches of the same quality.
Grant Bass Photo Gallery
What is your opinion of active versus passive pickups?
My preference is a passive pickup with an active pre-amp. To my ears, active pickups sound like a computer making bass sounds. Active definitely has its place, and I have no problem installing them. In fact, I think to get a real even sound across the board on extended range basses with five or more strings, you have to have them.
What is your favorite part about building basses?
The woodworking in general is my favorite part. The rest is just par for the course. Optimally, I would like in the future to partner with a setup and electronics whiz. I don’t so much enjoy that part, because that’s the only part that feels like work at all!
How many basses have you built to date?
I am somewhere around 25.
How do the more recent ones compare with the first?
In the beginning, it seemed I was more interested in trying to copy techniques, successful steps and so on instead of spending time really understanding what was going on in the construction. So I guess the main difference is the attention to detail and the experience to make informed suggestions for a clients dream “tone machine.”
What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to incorporate in one of your basses?
Well, there are always the phone calls about building a bass with a double-digit number of strings, but one request that sticks out in my mind: a “bong” bass. The request was for a fully functioning electric bass that would double as a four foot, stand up, wooden bong. The drawings and templates were mocked up, but after some discussion, the project was dropped because of too many compromises that would have had to been made on both sides.
What would you tell someone thinking of building his or her own bass?
It can be a big investment of time and money. Play a lot of basses, take measurements, learn terminology, and know what you want. Artistic freedom when you’re building for someone else is unneeded and unwanted pressure during the project. You don’t have to know everything from day one, but when a question is asked about preferences on your instrument, take a minute and actually think about it.
The same can be said while building your own. Make every step and decision count, and take your time. I gladly answer a few emails a week from people just looking for basic information, and I’m sure everyone else in this line does too. If you have a favorite builder or someone that inspired you to build, write them. I’m sure they would love to hear from you. Some may be busier than others, but it’s usually a great way to start getting inside answers.
Also, don’t forget the great forum sites such as Talk Bass and Project Guitar.