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  #21  
Old 11-28-2008, 04:23 AM
Mike Jenkins Mike Jenkins is offline
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I've been to the shop in PA and enjoyed meeting you and taking the tour. I love my BSR Elite 6. (1) Did you ever have formal luthier training, if so from where and if not how did you get he courage to try building your first bass? (2)Can you tell us where you built your first bass and what you had available such as tools/woods to do the building? (3) Can you tell us the story of how you moved from where you first started building to where your shop is now? (4) Please tell us what led you to try various building techniques such as multiple piece necks, multiple piece sides and body shapes (BT, BSR, Fusion)
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  #22  
Old 11-28-2008, 07:37 AM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Cool 4 questions?

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Originally Posted by Mike Jenkins View Post
I've been to the shop in PA and enjoyed meeting you and taking the tour. I love my BSR Elite 6. (1) Did you ever have formal luthier training, if so from where and if not how did you get he courage to try building your first bass? (2)Can you tell us where you built your first bass and what you had available such as tools/woods to do the building? (3) Can you tell us the story of how you moved from where you first started building to where your shop is now? (4) Please tell us what led you to try various building techniques such as multiple piece necks, multiple piece sides and body shapes (BT, BSR, Fusion)
Well, we might run out of ink here so I will keep brief what I can.

1) No, just working on my own Basses since I was a teen. Made plenty of mistakes, asked a zillion questions and got to where I am today. Still learning..

2) The first one was glued up at Carl Thompson's shop and left mainly un-carved but cut out and made to the Specs of the Pine Demo I made. I carved the body in my lap sitting on a chair next to my bed in my 13th street apartment in NYC about 1976 or so. I had some tools as I had also been restoring Double basses for some years by then as well. I bought some old maple to make the neck and in later years made a few more necks from that same chunk of wood. The body wood was Birdseye maple and I may have gotten that from Carl, can't recall 100% now.

3) Moves.. wow.. well my first shop was in Brooklyn in mid 1980 a few blocks from Vinne's parents house (Fodera) where he lived then. Just prior to that between Spector where Vinne worked prior and a wood dupli-carving place in Brooklyn we made two runs of 16 Basses each. The second run was around the time Spector was moving after selling his company to Kramer then. I don't recall if we made the entire run there because I remember re-carving at least one of the bass bodies afterwards. Some carving at my place and some at Vinnies house.

Vinnie always wanted his own shop and I was at that time a fairly busy freelance studio musician. I was only wanting to design my bass in the beginning, not build a company. It came to this by the needs to continue the initial dream of having my Bass out there on the market. You know the saying, "if you can't get it done right, do it yourself". Well, what started out as a good looking arrangement, wasn't! In 1983 I sold the Shop to Vinnie with all the tools and some woods for his own basses which he promised would not be in competition with me at all. Well, we all know how that turned out. The exception being that a Coke in NY is 2x the price as in PA, so it would seem.

By 1985 I had sought out a shop in Pa that had done some contract work for Martin Guitars when they went into making solid bodies. Using a Bass I had completed in the Dovetail style model (hidden mortise actually, as made decades earlier and still today by Gibson and others) I tooled up in PA to make a run of maybe 20 or 40 Basses, I can't recall the number. I sold a bit of the wood I had in NY to Fodera but had already used quite a bit of it on my own Basses there the last 2 years in the sub-contract phase. When I sold the shop to Fodera, the building owner asked him to move a half block down because his son was taking this corner location for a Pizza shop. They had to tear down and re-build the shop all over again a few doors down the street.

We had dozens of Necks glued up before this all happened and quite a bit of body parts as well. Fodera mainly completed the work I had already started in the other shop. After working in the Studios some mornings or on days I was free, I would drive to the shop in Brooklyn and make the Neck and Body parts myself. Vinnie did the carving and the basic oil finishing. I would complete the Oiling in my apartment in NYC and do all the set-up work.

In case you are wondering, the total number of Basses made in NY (many or most of them carved by Vinnie but NOT all of them) we made just about 200 Basses, The first serial # for a PA Bass was #201. We are now approaching 5,800. Actually, we are over that with the stock I have but have not numbered them yet as I only do that during the final set-up. So the score is PA 5,600+, NY 200.

In PA we moved a few times looking for better space and then I personally took over running the operations in 1991. I was commuting to PA and bringing the Basses back to my apartment in NYC (till 1987 or my office from '87-95) to do the set-up and shipping. In 1994 I bought a house in PA with plans to move out of NY for good when the school year ended in June of '95.

With building code problems concerning my building which I was renting I was forced to find another location. The owners would not bring the building up to code externally so we had to look elsewhere. I put about $60k into the interior of the building and both the Local and State inspectors as well as the Fire Marshal said what I had done was fine. It is the building that is not up to code, not the interior.

I found a new building in 1997 and placed a deposit on it to purchase. I tried purchasing the old building but the owner would not sell. As soon as they heard I was moving, they sent in some home improvement handy man and his schlock crew and brought the building up to some level of code but only after 2 years of state violations and a Court hearing in which they were fined. By this time I was already making other plans and stayed there only long enough to get the other building ready. We moved in the new place at the end of June, 1998 and turned in the keys to the old place.

Having ownership of a building allows you to do things you might not do in a rented space because all the improvements are yours to keep.

4) Ok, various techniques and designs are not necessarily the same thing but one does need the other. Neck pieces, body pieces and body shapes..

Humm, well coming from the 70s we know what didn't work to the greatest and that was the single piece slap cut Maple neck with a decoration of Rosewood as a fingerboard at best as the Frets actually go in as deep as the wood is thick. My Idea at first was 2 pieces of matched Maple with a rosewood center strip. Opposing wood grain for strength and the darker strip for beauty. Half of that center strip would be routed away for a truss rod so structure was not the main advantage there. About a year into the basses I made up a 5-pc Neck. Rickenbacker and Alembic had done this already so it wasn't new. My first 5-pc had tiger maple and mahogany mixed. Only one or two that way. Then, I went with Morado as the strips and stayed there for some time. I also added Graphite in the Neck parts in mid 1980. I think we made the Neck and Body parts with a friend in NYC for the second run that were carved thru Spector or maybe the 3rd run right after. These details escape me at the moment. The important fact is that by 1980, I was trying Graphite Carbon Fibers mixed with Epoxy in the necks to strengthen and and stabilize them.

We did both regular and Graphite inlaid necks after the first year and until today as well. Body laminations are more aesthetic mainly from the concept but the tone does change each way you do it and with each wood used. Infinite combinations are possible. I try to stick with what I can predict mainly.

Body designs came as they did. The original shape at first and then the BT which was altered for the size of the back plate needed for the circuit and the point at the bottom added for style as it just fit there and looked right. Other shapes came from a need of pleasing different players and making something new. The BT design was over 12 years old and we needed a second shape. The 1993 BMT was first shape I designed in PA and then the BSR a few years later which combined the two. Adding the curve back at the bottom we get the Fusion model which is the combined shapes of all of them in a blender. Not as much science here with the body shapes as compared to the necks but if it feels right, it is right.

Try telling a BT lover that the BSR is better. It's a no win situation. They like what they like and I am not about to tell anyone they are wrong. This is why we still to this day take orders for the BT shape and even some with the older larger headstock.
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  #23  
Old 01-13-2009, 06:44 PM
Richard Hall Richard Hall is offline
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Count me in.
Same for me.
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I like playing bass - git dare!
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  #24  
Old 02-25-2009, 06:52 PM
Lou Laurenti Lou Laurenti is offline
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Default History of Ken Smith Basses

Ken


There are many of us in the bass world who would love to know the real history of Ken Smith basses. What we would like to know is how you started making basses, when and where you started. What inspired you to start making KS basses?

I recently read a link that was posted on e-bays sellers listing who was trying to sell and older model Ken Smith bass. The link was rather confusing involving the one of your past employees Vinny Fodera. Many of us including my self would like you to elaborate on what was posted on this e-bay link.

Again we would love to know an accurate history of Ken Smith basses. There are so many Ken Smith bass players and lovers of Ken Smith basses. I feel the information you could provide all of your fans and bass player would be invaluable and very educational.

Thanks
Lou
Laurenti
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  #25  
Old 02-26-2009, 12:37 PM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Cool Book?

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Originally Posted by Lou Laurenti View Post
Ken

You seem to have a good writing style. I susggest you write a book

Lou
Well, I have a good idea what to say, but not always when to say it.. lol

Perhaps you will be my ghost and work on a percentage? I hate typing.
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  #26  
Old 02-26-2009, 04:42 PM
Lou Laurenti Lou Laurenti is offline
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Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
Well, I have a good idea what to say, but not always when to say it.. lol

Perhaps you will be my ghost and work on a percentage? I hate typing.

I think that can be arranged let's talk about it. Lets not forget you should be in the bass history books

Lou
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  #27  
Old 02-26-2009, 05:11 PM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Thumbs up history books?

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Originally Posted by Lou Laurenti View Post
I think that can be arranged let's talk about it. Lets not forget you should be in the bass history books

Lou
Well, actually I have seen my name mentioned in a few of them. At least that's a start.

So Lou, besides doing MY History, do a Bass History Book so I can get included in there as well..
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  #28  
Old 02-26-2009, 05:58 PM
Lou Laurenti Lou Laurenti is offline
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Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
Well, actually I have seen my name mentioned in a few of them. At least that's a start.

So Lou, besides doing MY History, do a Bass History Book so I can get included in there as well..
I think so
LOL
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  #29  
Old 03-07-2009, 11:57 AM
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Christopher Rhodes Christopher Rhodes is offline
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Default Smooth Neck Thru - neck to body construction

Ken,

How did you come up with the construction method of the neck-thru basses? How did you get it to feel so smooth?

No other luthier does this to my knowledge. Is this your patented idea?

I always take notice of this feature when soloing in the upper register of your instruments. So comfortable.


Chris
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  #30  
Old 03-07-2009, 12:06 PM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Cool patented idea?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Christopher Rhodes View Post
Ken,

How did you come up with the construction method of the neck-thru basses? How did you get it to feel so smooth?

No other luthier does this to my knowledge. Is this your patented idea?

I always take notice of this feature when soloing in the upper register of your instruments. So comfortable.


Chris
I don't think 'ideas' can be patented but either way, it just sort of developed over time on the bench. A smooth feel has always been the goal here so it just fell in place. The early basses were less carved in the horns but still smooth. In the last 10 years or so the basses have been cut-in slightly more around the neck-body joint area.
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  #31  
Old 03-07-2009, 07:55 PM
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Christopher Rhodes Christopher Rhodes is offline
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Default cut-in neck and body

I really enjoy the 'heeless' feature of your basses; where the body and neck meet.

I also like the balance standing or sitting. Many basses can only do one well.

The body shape of the BMT is a bit more balanced for my personal taste.
The BSR hits the mark very well with body shape in regards to function of balance either standing or sitting.

This is a very interesting thread for me. I did not know of any of these pieces of the history of your company.
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  #32  
Old 01-17-2010, 12:03 PM
David Newcomb David Newcomb is offline
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Default good read!

Thanks Ken for clearing up a lot of the myths and urban legends that float out there about KSB and the early years.
People over the years have seen me gig with #41 and many tell that story, about "thats really a Fodera" etc etc and how HE made all the basses etc etc...which unfortunately was the urban legend that circulated until I read YOUR clarifications.
When I joined this forum a few years ago I was all but washed up at playing professionally, mostly for health reasons. As anti public smoking laws and lighter technology made it possible for me to 1) breathe in a club and 2) actually carry an amp 4 times in a night in order to gig, I found myself up to last week in TWO working bands (my pregnant wife and various issues with running my cab companies forced me to choose to play in only the GB band going forward).
These days even outside of formal band practice and gigs, I log hours a day on various basses, my KSB included. Ironically I tend to play UB more than anything in between dispatch calls-maybe cause it is so challenging for "just an ear trained electric dude" to get music out of such a big girl as my Kay.
If I had a musical goal these days it would be to get good enough on UB to gig successfully (my version of successful is no one throwing things or booing). Chris Wood is my hero- funk sounds so good coming from a UB!
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  #33  
Old 01-17-2010, 01:03 PM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Cool ok..

I too have hated the Smoke filled clubs and the 'schlepping' part of carrying the Amp as well. I hear you loud and clear.

On the Fodera 'myth' comments I would call it more like mis-information or incomplete information as he DID work for me for a few years and also as a sub-contractor BUT for only PART of the first 190-something basses. We are nearing the 6,000 mark some 30 years into it.

The Basses we make today combine all that I/we have learned in this 30 year period as what makes a better bass. Not and NEVER 'how to make it cheaper'. I will cut my salary and I have done so in order to make the best possble bass we can and ensure its quality and price point. I think some of the 'boutique' basses out there are way way over priced. Often, you are paying for their expensive rent, sports cars and life styles rather then 'bass for the money charged'.

Now, on your Kay Bass playing for fun or practice, make sure this DB is set-up properly with minimum FB camber and optimum playability. My DB's are set up like my Smith Basses. They are just bigger!

If you need a local DB Luthier to make that Kay more playable, call me and I will give you the name and number of a guy there doing some work for me as well. It's no use working harder than you need to regardless of the size of the bass.
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  #34  
Old 01-18-2010, 07:00 AM
David Wolliston David Wolliston is offline
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Default Price of KSB

Hi Ken. I love the idea of a book by you i would most def. buy one. Seeing that bass prices range from cheap to MAD expensive, how do you keep your prices at the price that you charge? There are companies out there that charge almost double the price that you charge but yet still your basses are double the quality and playability.


Do you plan on making another model bass? as the Fusion Elite 25th Anniv. seems to be the Mothership?


dw
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  #35  
Old 01-18-2010, 09:10 AM
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Lightbulb prices..

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Wolliston View Post
Hi Ken. I love the idea of a book by you i would most def. buy one. Seeing that bass prices range from cheap to MAD expensive, how do you keep your prices at the price that you charge? There are companies out there that charge almost double the price that you charge but yet still your basses are double the quality and playability.


Do you plan on making another model bass? as the Fusion Elite 25th Anniv. seems to be the Mothership?


dw
Actually I find it hard to believe that people pay upwards of $8k for some of these basses or any of them actually. I don't see these basses being worth anywhere near that. Maybe half that price at best.

I charge what I think I need to charge and raise prices only when I have to. I own the building/property now so I control the rent. That is about all I control but if I were in New York, I would have to charge more to cover the on going rent and expenses there. Unfortunately, no matter how much you charge to cover the rent and expenses, none of that cost-wise is reflected in the bass, the quality or resale value.

Like you buy a can of Coke. I charge you maybe $1 and the other guy charges you $3-4. Then he smiles and shows you his rent so you will feel better about the cost. Maybe, he shows you his Porsche as well that you helped pay for. In the mean time, all YOU have in your hand is a $1 can of Coke. WHY can't people see that?

It is the responsibility of the business owner to control his overhead so that his product is not inflated in the sale price in order to pay for his mistakes or greed for that matter. YOU, the consumer pay a part in that too. If the product is not worth that price, don't buy it!
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  #36  
Old 01-18-2010, 11:55 AM
David Wolliston David Wolliston is offline
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Default Signature Models

Hi Ken....Another question for you. How come you don't have Many Signature Model bass guitars apart from the Mel Davis 7 string bass? Mostly all other companies use folks to push their product, hence a hike in the price of their basses.
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  #37  
Old 01-18-2010, 12:26 PM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Cool Signature Model?

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Wolliston View Post
Hi Ken....Another question for you. How come you don't have Many Signature Model bass guitars apart from the Mel Davis 7 string bass? Mostly all other companies use folks to push their product, hence a hike in the price of their basses.
What, my name isn't enough?

I think that Signature Models are for cheaper brands for the most part so kids can buy the 'supposed' brand of their heroes. Do you think Stanley Clarke cares what Anthony Jackson plays?

We are not in the gimmick business, sorry.

In the high end, the bass itself needs no signature other than what's there.
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  #38  
Old 01-18-2010, 04:15 PM
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Tim Bishop Tim Bishop is offline
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Thumbs up Yes!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
What, my name isn't enough?

I think that Signature Models are for cheaper brands for the most part so kids can buy the 'supposed' brand of their heroes. Do you think Stanley Clarke cares what Anthony Jackson plays?

We are not in the gimmick business, sorry.

In the high end, the bass itself needs no signature other than what's there.
Yes, a big +1 to that!
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  #39  
Old 01-21-2010, 11:00 AM
David Newcomb David Newcomb is offline
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Default Early Pickups

Were any of the early basses that had the wood cover Bill Lawrence pickups 5 or 6 string basses? I only ask this because on the rare occasions something of this era comes up for sale on Ebay or a similar site they are always 4 strings like mine. (Subway guitars has I believe #43 or #44 and this morning I saw a 4 string Pas II #108 on Ebay but it has the soaps).
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  #40  
Old 01-21-2010, 01:12 PM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Lightbulb no..

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Newcomb View Post
Were any of the early basses that had the wood cover Bill Lawrence pickups 5 or 6 string basses? I only ask this because on the rare occasions something of this era comes up for sale on Ebay or a similar site they are always 4 strings like mine. (Subway guitars has I believe #43 or #44 and this morning I saw a 4 string Pas II #108 on Ebay but it has the soaps).
There were only a few basses made with the wood covers, all but one or two were 4-string and were 1 or 2 pickup basses. Mainly one pick-up. There were two 6s made with wood covers but the Pickups were not by Bill Lawrence. These were custom coils made up that went into the first two 6s. One for Anthony Jackson, the first 6 we did and the second, a near twin went to Bill Dickens.
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