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Old 01-20-2007, 08:27 AM
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Ken Smith Ken Smith is offline
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Join Date: 01-18-2007
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Lightbulb Juzek Basses...(aka Lang or Wilfer or?)

The first Bass I ever owned was a Juzek plywood bass. Although my teacher at the time told me not to get the Plywood model, budget made that decision for me. I had saved up about $200 over the summer in 1966 working at my Uncles costume jewelry warehouse. Back then minimum wage as just over a buck so I grossed about $50 a week or so. After train tokens and lunches not to mention taxes I had barely half left.

I went down to Metropolitan Music at 222 4th ave, NYC and got my first Bass. It was the basic Plywood with cover, Seifert Bow, Petz Rosin, music stand, rock stop and Tuning fork. With Tax this ran about $192 and change. The Bass itself was $150. The lowest priced carved Bass was $200 and was out of reach with what I had saved.

Later on after selling that Bass to a Music store and owning an old German/Czech Juzek style shop Bass, I went back and bought their Master Art 3/4 model. They only had one like this and a 7/8ths as well in the back warehouse. After school over the years I had gone down there to look at the other Basses and just waited till the time came when I could get one.

It was in 1971 right after recording the MMO records I had done that I went Back for the Bass I had seen since at least 1966. This was the Juzek family selling these as Met. Music was the business they had started about 40+ years earlier. The eldest there was Robert Juzek (brother of John Juzek, the labeled name) and his son Bobby Juzek would always be there working the counter if someone walked in. I told him I wanted to finally buy that Bass in the back so we both walked over and I pointed it out. The 7/8ths next to it had WBW in black script engraved under the famous Juzek emblem.

At that time the 3/4 Master Art was listed for $1700 in their catalog on the front counter. Everything was 50% off from them regardless of who you were. Maybe dealers or stores got a little more off but I remember that my old mentor, Luthier Andre' Fantoni hated them because he would sell at almost the same price he could buy it for. Met. Music sold Spirocores then for $12 and at the shop Fantoni got $16 because he bought from a dist. and had to mark them up a little. Met.Music bought directly from Thomastic as a dist. but sold direct to the public.

When Bobby went to tell his dad I was buying this Bass he threw a fit right in front of me yelling in Czech nearly scaring me into soiling my pants! Bobby came over to me an explained that this was an old bass and they can't get these anymore. They would have to charge me more if I wanted it as the catalog on the counter was very old as were the prices. The $1700 was a net of $850. He told me his dad wanted $875 for the Bass. Whew.... Only $25 more.. Ok.. sure.. So I pulled out the cash I had saved and paid for it.

They put the bridge in place and strung it up for me. While testing it out the D string sounded funny. I was by the long workbench that lined the back wall/windows with a worker every 6-8 feet or so adjusting mainly violins for orders and a cello or two. By this time, I had read Elgar (had just turned 20) and learned a few adjustments myself. I asked the worker closest to me if I could borrow his rat tail file for the bridge and pointed to it. English was NOT the language spoken in that shop by far. He handed the file to me, I took off the D, filed the angle a little different into the tailpiece and fingerboard and then tuned the D back up. Now the Bass sounded better as the D slot was now angled correctly facing the tailpiece. The worker looked at me and nodded with a 'hummm' (like this kid knows something).

A year or so later I was in a car accident and the Neck was broken damaging the ribs at the block as well as the Top and Back. Victor Venegas told me to call Alfonse Vavra as he was the best guy for the job. When I called him, he tells me he is too busy and to take it to his friend Peter Eibert who was just as good in his words. I get a ride up and when he comes to the door I was shocked but pleasantly. It was the guy from the workbench at Juzek that I borrowed the File from.

Peter went on to do quite a few repairs over the next few years on some Basses I had acquired and learned a bit from him as well. He was from Germany having worked before for Heinrich Lang in Nuremberg since the age of 14 and he was 25 years older than me as well. His master was related to the Langs that made the early Gamba and Plywood Basses for Juzek and my Master Art was actually labeled Wenzel B. Wilfer.

A few years later I picked up a 7/8th Juzek type Master Art and it was labeled Anton Wilfer. This was the same as my 1966 WBW but much older and a richer looking Varnish. Peter Eibert would go on to tell me the story about the Juzeks and the history of their import business.

Although the history is on the MetMusic website, learning from one of the elder workers knowing the Juzeks from both USA and Germany (after WWII) I was able to map out just a bit more than the average person.

John Juzek had never made a single Bass as he was a violin maker and may have made a cello or two. After WWI, John and Robert (and possible a 3rd brother) made an import business of Violins and later added Basses as history shows us but there are no dates recorded. I cannot say that I have seen many Juzek 'labeled' Basses from before 1930 but I am sure a few were purchased for the US market at some point in the beginning. These were mainly for the Schools as they were considered student instruments. Orchestra professionals bought older Basses back then and before long war broke out in Europe. This was the reason that Kay started making Basses and Cellos because exports had stopped from Germany and Czech.

I went to Music & Art High School and all but one or two Basses were Juzeks as well as the other String instruments. Today we see these basses used and favored by many Jazz players and as 2nd Basses for some Orchestra players as they have mellowed over time with many Basses being 40 to 70 years old.

For the record, the finer carved Basses bearing the Juzek label were made by 3 generations of the Wilfer family being Anton, Wenzel and Emmanuel. I have learned that this cottage industry of making was centered around Shoenbach bordering both Germany and Czechoslovakia. After WWII, many of the workers moved over to the German side to avoid communist rule. At this time Robert Juzek made direct contracts with the shops and pushed his brother John out of the business for whatever reason. Robert was always the main brain in the family business traveling back and forth to Europe to the shops for instruments.

In conclusion, if you have a Bass labeled Juzek it was most likely put on here in USA and made by one of the Wilfers for the most part. They did buy from others if needed from what I have heard but even some of those could be Wilfers made for another importer. Most pre-war models were made in the 1930s in both Czech and Germany but after WWII, all the Basses were coming from Germany. The bulk of what I have seen have been German made post WWII but I have seen at least a dozen older Basses that I suspect some could be from the 1920s.

For other Shop type Basses, read about Pfretzschner/Morelli here..

Last edited by Ken Smith; 08-10-2008 at 09:55 PM. Reason: link added
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