Feature Interview: Carey Nordstrand

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Mar 23, 2004.

  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p align="center"><b>Spotlight: Carey Nordstrand of Nordstrand Guitars</b> <br>
    <a href="http://www.nordstrandguitars.com/">http://www.nordstrandguitars.com/</a></p>
    <p align="center"><br>
    Interview by Jay M. Lewis (Forum username JPJ)</p>
    <p> Anyone who has spent even the smallest amount of time at the Talkbass Basses
    forum will likely recognize the name Carey Nordstrand. In addition to the mega
    thread that, as of the date that this piece was written, currently has a whopping
    647 responses (<a href="http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?s=&threadid=76627">http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?s=&threadid=76627</a>),
    there are numerous other threads about Carey discussing his custom basses, pickups,
    his commitment to customer service, and the man himself…..just to name
    a few. Carey Nordstrand is, without a doubt, one of the most promising newcomers
    to enter the world of custom basses in recent years and is rapidly making a
    name for himself as one of the best when it comes to the finer points of handcrafting
    a high-end bass guitar.<br>

    *Excerpted from the TalkBass Newsletter, October 2003 Edition*</i></b></center></p>
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/nordstrand1.jpg" align="left">Carey’s career in the music world started when he enrolled in The Grove
    School for Contemporary Music. He soon landed an entry level position at a major
    recording studio for a year and a half and then worked as an engineer at Camerata
    Records. In his spare time while working at Camerata he became involved with
    the Traveler guitar after being recruited to help with the project by the owner
    of Caleb’s Guitars in Redlands, CA (see <a href="http://www.nordstrandguitars.com/about.htm">http://www.nordstrandguitars.com/about.htm</a>
    for more info about Carey’s involvement with the Traveler guitar). Carey
    shifted his focus from guitars to basses when he was hired at Azola Basses where
    he worked for a little over two years. While with Azola, Carey was responsible
    for all of their production woodworking where he made bodies, necks, and fingerboards.
    He also sanded bodies, carved necks, and did most of the final fingerboard surfacing
    and nut cutting. This hands-on opportunity was followed up by a stint with Suhr
    Guitars, where Carey spent the better part of four years surfacing and fretting
    necks, sanding and buffing paint, wiring, building guitars, training new employees,
    and coordinating the build schedule. After spending most of the last decade
    in training, honing and developing his skills as a luthier, Carey finally decided
    to strike out on his own and commit himself to the art of building custom, handcrafted
    basses. He has been building Nordstrand basses full-time since December 2002.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: Where were you born/raised and where are you currently living?</strong><br>
    CN: I was born in Minnesota and raised there until I was 14. Then we moved to
    Anchorage, Alaska for four years. After that my family moved to Redlands, California,
    which is one town over from Yucaipa, which is where I live now. </p>
    <p><strong>JL: Are you a musician? What instrument(s) do you play? Who are your
    musical influences, and do they have an impact on you as a builder?</strong><br>
    CN: I played alto saxophone from the fifth grade until two years into college
    when the Jazz Band instructor decided to boot the entire sax section for some
    reason. I took my sax and traded it for a funky neck through Washburn that was
    black with orange binding. This was shortly after seeing Vail Johnson with Kenny
    G. He just blew my mind as to what was possible with a bass. It's funny, go
    to a sax player concert as a sax player and leave with the intent to be a bass
    player. Anyway, I got that wacky bass and started paying attention to bass lines
    like the ones that Geddy Lee was doing with Rush. He really blew my mind and
    his stuff was so hard to play. <br>
    Other early musical influences include Phil Collins and Genesis, but these days
    my tastes vary greatly. I’m not really into typical “bass player”
    music. I like everything from Sting to Lyle Lovett to Chris Isaak to Patty Larkin…James
    Taylor… The thing that I pay the most attention to is if a song makes
    me feel anything. If I get chills it’s a winner. <br>
    Although I have a little bit of ability on bass I’m certainly not a gigging
    player – I really don’t have time anyway. I do know enough to know
    what I’m doing when I build them, though. And, I see the bass as an ensemble
    instrument. When I listen to music I listen not only for how the bass sits in
    the mix, but I listen to the whole mix. And I really appreciate music that is
    well produced, like any of the artists I mentioned above. </p>
    <p><strong>JL: What jobs did you have before building basses? Did any of these
    experiences contribute in any way to helping you become a better luthier?</strong><br>
    CN: All my experiences in the working world have contributed to my current situation.
    I knew very early on that I didn’t have much tolerance for working for
    other people. I had a real independent streak, but I kept it buried until I
    learned enough that I felt comfortable going out on my own. Of course my experiences
    with Azola and Suhr had the biggest impact on the quality and concept of my
    work, but every job I ever had, from delivering pizzas to scrubbing toilets
    in recording studios has had an impact on my life, and as a result on my work.
    <p><strong>JL: What initially attracted you to woodworking?</strong><br>
    CN: For me woodworking is a means to an end. It's how I am able to build stringed
    instruments. So, I wasn't really attracted to "woodworking". I was
    more attracted to "creating", and woodworking was the method to create.
    That said, I enjoy woodworking in general, and if I had time I would make a
    lot of other things besides basses. I like creating in general, and I have several
    other creative interests.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: When/how did you make the transition from that interest of “creating”
    to becoming a luthier?</strong><br>
    CN: Since I wasn't a woodworker before I started making guitars I never really
    made a transition. </p>
    <p><strong>JL: Who/what was the primary influence on you as a bass builder and
    CN: It should be apparent that Michael Tobias was a big influence on my bolt
    on design. I can remember reading his articles in Bass Player magazine and thinking
    how amazing his work was, and how open he was about it. I specifically remember
    a picture where he was holding an “in progress” bass with several
    others strewn about him on the workbench. That was just the coolest thing. I
    was awestruck. "I have to do that" was all I could think looking at
    that picture. Also, as I said above, the people I've worked for in the past
    have had pretty strong influences on me. <br>
    I better mention Fodera as an influence. That should be obvious as well. Fodera
    is the epitome of "exotic" bass and I certainly aspire to that level
    of greatness.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: Aside from these influences, what led you to your current designs
    and how did you arrive at the various models of basses you build today? </strong><br>
    CN: I have always had inside me an "ideal bass design", it just took
    a long time for it to come out. Some things are obvious, like ergonomic stuff.
    If the upper horn ends even with the 12th fret the bass has a better chance
    of balancing right. And the lower bout where your arm rests needs to be a certain
    distance from the strings to keep you from bending your arm too much to pluck
    the strings. Upper fret access is facilitated by a deep cutaway. A deep tummy
    cut makes the bass "hug" you better. All that stuff makes sense.<br>
    As far as aesthetic design, that's a matter of taste. I just have a sensitivity
    to curves. I know what I like, and if it doesn't look right then I have the
    urge to modify the lines until they gel. It's kind of a subconscious thing.
    I don't really think about aesthetic design, it just sort of happens. The bad
    thing about that is I have a hard time straying from what I consider, in my
    mind, to be "right". I've seen some designs that my brain tells me
    shouldn't work, and yet in the context of the complete instrument the shapes
    relate to each other perfectly. It's really all very subjective though. I just
    hope my designs appeal to enough people to sell in a reasonable manner.<br>
    The models I offer are just what I think will sell. The bolt-on basses are easier
    to make and can be more “productionized” and a little more affordable,
    but can still be extremely high quality instruments. Offering a single cut was
    obviously influenced by the popularity of certain other high end builders, and
    I have to give them props for creating and successfully marketing a new idea
    in the bass world. I've always been interested in pushing the limit of what
    a bass can be and this design does that. Also, to be brutally honest, single
    cut basses are very popular right now…almost a fad really. I'm not sure
    if the fad will ever fade, but they certainly sell well. </p>
    <p><strong>JL: Are you planning on introducing new models? Do you anticipate changing
    the designs you currently have?</strong><br>
    CN: I may modify my current designs slightly, but I really like what the basses
    are right now. So, these models will probably stay the way they are for the
    conceivable future. That said, I always have little wisps of ideas and concepts
    that may someday gel into a new product. I have a solid idea that I'd like to
    do a P Bass inspired instrument, to complement my J derived basses, but I have
    to let that one ferment for a while before I actually start drawing it up. (Ed.
    Note: Carey recently began production on his own line of custom pickups. Currently
    two 4-string single-coil jazz models are available: the vintage NJ4 and the
    more modern split-coil hum-canceling NJ4SE. Others models should be available
    soon, such as a P pickup and Carey’s “fat stacks” stacked
    coil jazz pickup).</p>
    <p><strong>JL: In your opinion, what is the most important factor in determining
    the tone of a bass?</strong><br>
    <img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/nordstrand2.jpg" align="right">
    CN: I think the most important determiner for the tone of a bass is the pickups
    and the strings. That has a lot to do with why I make my own pickups. It’s
    really the only way I have complete control over the sound. Everything else
    is just adjustments to the color of the tone. Of course, radical differences
    in woods can have a major impact as well, but pickups can really make or break
    a basses tone. And the variety of sounds available from different types of pickups
    is really quite staggering. <br>
    I find it quite interesting when a customer asks for a very specific wood recipe
    thinking that it will get them exactly the tone they have in their head. In
    most cases changing the pickups will have much more impact than the difference
    between a maple and a redwood top. </p>
    <p><strong>JL: With that in mind, what has the least impact on the tone of a bass?</strong><br>
    CN: I think the thing that has the least impact on tone is the top...especially
    if it is a little thinner that usual. The pickups define what is available tonally.
    The body sets the stage. The neck determines sustain and evenness, and the fingerboard
    impacts the attack and dynamics of the sound. Of course this is all very generalized
    and there are exceptions to this, but it is a place to start.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: Do your basses have a signature sound, and if so, how are your
    basses different from your peers?</strong><br>
    CN: I think I’m too new to have a signature sound. I’m sure it will
    develop, based on what I think is the ideal sound, but I like to give the customer
    what they want and that means that I won’t always sell basses that have
    “my” sound. I think that’s one of the things that make my
    basses different. I can give customers almost anything tonally they may want.
    The biggest challenge is communicating what that goal is. Once we’re on
    the same page it’s just a matter of putting the pieces in the right place.
    <strong>JL: Do you have a best-selling model? If so, what is it? What kind of
    bass/design do you have the most requests for?</strong><br>
    CN: My most popular model is my SC shape, but only by a hair. And I think that’s
    due to the limited availability of that style of instrument in the market. It’s
    really a fad style of instrument right now, and I’m definitely taking
    advantage of its popularity. It’ll be interesting to see what the most
    popular style is in 10 or 15 years…</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is the one factor or element that defines you as a builder
    of high-end bass guitars? What is your signature? What are you known best for/what
    would you like to become known for?</strong><br>
    CN: I would like to think that the one factor that defines my work is actually
    a combination of all of the factors that make a great instrument. i.e. Design,
    sound, workmanship, playability, service. I’m gaining a good reputation
    for playability, but I think that has to do with how most players consider that
    to be the first qualifier when they look for a bass. Quality of workmanship
    is so far being very respected as well, and that is something that I really
    strive to perfect. But, I think my work delivers the goods on all levels, and
    if you buy one of my instruments you’re getting the total package.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is currently the biggest challenge that you face as a luthier,
    and how do you think this will change (if at all) as you continue to grow?</strong><br>
    CN: The biggest challenge to me right now is actually getting enough time in
    the shop to build the minimum number of basses that will allow me to keep doing
    this. I’m hoping that my pickup line will help with the bottom line and
    allow me to devote a little more time to each instrument to make it that little
    bit more special. But, we’ll see. I’m very new at doing this solo,
    so I’m learning an awful lot about how this whole thing works.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is the single-most misconception that people seem to have
    about you and the job of a high-end, small production luthier?</strong><br>
    CN: I really haven’t come across any glaring misconceptions. Everyone
    that I’ve been lucky enough to meet and talk about basses with is generally
    very aware of what it takes to do what I do. I guess sometimes people romanticize
    this job. They have visions of a beautiful wood shop with me quietly working
    with hand tools and humming along to myself like the seven dwarves. Well, the
    reality of building basses is that it’s a lot of hard and sometimes very
    frustrating work. And it’s usually done under quite a bit of pressure.
    The margin in this business is very slim, and if you screw up too many times
    and have to do things over a lot you won’t be around for long. </p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What do you enjoy
    the most about building basses?</strong><br>
    CN: The best thing about what I do is that email or phone call just after a
    customer has received their new bass. I love the idea of making a product that
    can be so emotionally important to a person. And to make them very happy is
    very rewarding. I certainly don’t do it for the money…<br>

    <a href="http://www.nordstrandguitars.com/">http://www.nordstrandguitars.com/</a></p>
    <p align="center"><br>