Custom Shop: Roks Instruments
Earlier this year we featured the Roks Instruments Futura bass as a bass of the week. It garnered so much interest that we decided to get the inside scoop on the company with luthier Axel Roks.
Based in the Netherlands, Roks describes his basses as “tools for musicians created in the twilight zone between craftsmanship and artistry.” One look at his lineup of instruments will prove his point. Each bass has lots of character while maintaining a focus on playability.
How did you get into building basses?
When I got into building I was studying mechanical engineering and learning a lot about construction methods and material properties. I was frustrated with the basses I was doing my local gigs with and I began to think about building one of my own. I always had a great passion for design, craftsmanship, engineering and music and in this new profession I found a way to express all of these things.
What is the concept behind your designs?
The general concept is to create a bass guitar that encourages you to play. The continuing struggle a musician faces, trying to find your voice trough a musical instrument, is already difficult enough.
How does your bass playing affect the way you make basses?
A lot of luthiers build bass guitars while they aren’t bass guitarists. In my experience bass frequencies should be treated differently from the one’s guitars produce. For example, bass frequencies are a lot more prone to interference by the room you are playing in. I try to put my experience of playing gigs into my bass building.
Do you have a favorite wood to use for tops?
Not necessarily a favorite. Some woods are super expressive and some have a more subtle beauty. It’s actually pretty funny that we lustre after certain anomalies in wood. Bird’s eye figure, for instance, is a sign that a tree has had a very difficult life.
Tell us about your process in creating an instrument for someone.
I strongly believe in that an instrument should inspire you to play. Not just by flawlessly translating your ideas into sound but also tingling you senses on an creative level. That’s why I always try to create an instrument in close collaboration with its future owner.
Describing sound using words is very difficult. Therefore I always ask for some reference. For instance, if someone likes the sound of a Musicman Stingray very much I already have an idea what wood to use. When the more technical stuff is dealt with I try to strike a balance between pretty and practical. A lot of the wood I use for tops would be way too heavy if used as a body. Because pretty much all of my instruments are custom order every single one can be slightly altered to the specific person.
What is your opinion of bolt-on versus neck-thru construction?
In my experience, a bolt-on neck gives a tighter low frequency response. This is especially apparent if your strings aren’t really new anymore. A bolt-on asks for some ergonomic solutions if you want to reach the high frets without trouble. I’ve experimented with set necks, through necks and bolt-on’s and the bolt-on’s gave me the results I was after.
What is your opinion of active versus passive pickups?
Active pickups tend to be more quiet than passive ones, especially when you are sharing your stage with a neon beer sign. In my experience you trade some of the dynamic range of a passive pickup for the lack of noise. I’m nit-picking of course, the passive pickups I use are extremely quiet. Therefore the difference is only noticeable in extreme situations.
What is your favorite part about building basses?
Wood is an incredibly responsive material. I wouldn’t trade the feeling you get when you plane a piece of wood and feel a shaving being separated, or using a razor sharp gouge and feeling the fibers being cut, for anything in the world. I enjoy a lot of the different steps of building basses but adding a finish and seeing the figure come alive is always a spectacular moment.
How many basses have you built to date?
+/- 20 basses excluding the prototypes.
How do the more recent ones compare with the first?
The first ones disappeared in the fireplace. To produce heat was a dignified ending for them. Early on in my bass building career I adopted the philosophy “aim high, don’t accept compromise”. It puts a lot of pressure on your learning curve, I have had times where I seriously wanted to quit. Just because I wouldn’t want to accept anything except perfection. Building basses was/is sort of an obsession. When my skillset was further developed I was slightly more comfortable to let other people play my instruments.
I reached out to several professional bass players to ask them for feedback on my basses. Their response was extremely positive. It was great to receive such positive feedback, it really showed me I was on to something.
The deeper you immerse yourself in a certain subject the more the details begin to matter. Right now I can get obsessed by trying to remove a little imperfection that no one will probably ever notice.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve been asked to incorporate in one of your basses?
I’m currently building a bass that is inspired by a chair. It sounds a little denigrating when phrased like that but it is the truth. Legendary designer Arne Jacobson designed a chair which won the great prize of the Milan design show in 1957. I don’t want to let you in more on this because this modernist bass will make its first appearance in a little while. It certainly is one of the most unconventional basses I even made.
What would you tell someone thinking of building his or her own bass?
Just do it, buy some wood and go for it. It is truly incredible to watch and hear someone creating music on something you created with your own hands.