Feature Interview: Chris Benavente

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, May 11, 2004.

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  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p align="center"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/benavente/ben1.jpg" width="300" height="227" align="left"><strong><font size="+1">Spotlight Interview: Chris Benavente of Benavente Guitars</font></strong></p>
    <p align="center"><a href="http://www.benaventeguitars.com">www.benaventeguitars.com</a></p>
    <p align="center"> <strong><em>Interview by Jay M. Lewis (TalkBass Forum member 'JPJ') </em></strong><br>
    <p>A self-proclaimed troublemaker in his youth, Chris Benavente considers himself extremely lucky to be his own boss and to have the opportunity to utilize his talent for making high quality, hand-crafted musical instruments. Born in Los Angeles, CA, the Benavente family moved to Oregon in 1984 “just in time to keep me from doing something stupid that could land me in jail”. Currently residing in Grants Pass, OR, Chris now thanks his parents for the move to an environment with a slower pace and fewer distractions. “It's probably a good thing that nothing ever happens here due to how much time I have to devote to the business”. While initially attracted to building guitars care of a high school woodshop class, Chris made stops molding fiberglass, building custom entryways, and working as a CNC machinist before arriving at his true calling…building basses. While some of those jobs helped give Chris an understanding of the building process, his first <em>real </em> lesson in lutherie came in 1995 after reading the book “Build Your Own Electric Guitar” by Melvin Hiscock. That, combined with a little fret training from a local repair person, was the extent of Benavente's initial training. Later, while in college, Chris needed a project for a CAD/CAM class, and since he had always been fascinated with fretted instruments, decided to build a set of pickup rings. After realizing that he also needed a guitar to mount the rings on, he decided to build a guitar as well! The results were so good that he decided to pursue the craft, and Benavente Guitars was born.</p>
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p>JL: Are you working full-time as a builder? </p>
    <p>CB: Define full-time. Is there a level above that? I work all the time. Ahhh, the joy of having your shop at home.</p>
    <p>JL: Do you handle all of the work yourself, or do you have assistants to help out? </p>
    <p>DB: I do just about everything. I just brought in an assistant to help prep for select operations. He's a good kid. He just completed the luthier courses at Roberto Venn School of Luthery.</p>
    <p>JL: What is your wait time and how many basses do you build a month? </p>
    <p>CB: My wait time runs anywhere from 3 to 6 months. On few occasions, 7-8 month waits occurred. I averaged about 5 instruments a month for 2003.</p>
    <p>JL: How many guitars do you build in a month? </p>
    <p>CB: It varies. I plan to do at least 1-2 a month this year if time allows.</p>
    <p>JL: How does your guitar line impact/affect Benavente Basses? </p>
    <p>CB: It's kinda' cool. I don't burnout on bass building. The guitars add a little variety.</p>
    <p>JL: Not all bass builders are gigging musicians. Do you play, and if so, what type of band are you in? </p>
    <p>CB: I play bass in a hardcore band. I definitely get to see how much crap a bass can take. My Benavente ‘51 aint quite as purty no more, but I aint broke it yet. I think it has nine lives, because it just shouldn't work anymore after what I put it through.</p>
    <p>JL: As a player and a builder, what is the most important factor in determining the tone of the instrument? </p>
    <p>CB: Ask ten people that same question and ten different answers is what you'll get. It's hard to say. Every instrument has its own voice, even if it's a subtle difference. There are so many variables in every component that it's hard to say. I would say the wood. Mother Nature does some crazy ****. Brian Barrett has a major impact tonally where my instruments go. Over the past 5 years we have gone through a number of pickup and preamp combinations and experiment with our own units. From the pickup and preamp side of the instrument, its Brian who works to pull the tone from the instrument and create the desired voice.</p>
    <p>JL: What has the <em>least </em> impact on tone? </p>
    <p>CB: The strap buttons. Watch! I'm gonna' end up in an argument over the tonal effect of strap buttons…straplocks VS. standard. (JL: Those who disagree with Chris on the impact of strap buttons can reach the luthier through his web page at www.benaventeguitars.com ; 0 )</p>
    <p>JL: Basses with multiple laminations and single-cut designs are very popular in the high-end market at present. Do you think that multiple hardwood laminations can create a specific tone that a non-laminated bass could not? Is there such a thing as “too many laminations”, and does tone ever suffer if too many different hardwoods are used in combination with one another? </p>
    <p>CB: Tone is so subjective, that I don't want to even try to answer this one. Just ask yourself this with any bass you play: “Does it sound good”?. If so, cool. If not, get another bass and repeat step one. People have different opinions on what they desire out of an instrument. Do I think that a 9 piece neck is too much? What about a 3 piece? It all depends on the customer and their desire. I don't believe that the way I build a neck is affected in a negative way by the small laminates. Does it change the tone characteristics, well yes. Any woods added or taken away will change the instrument, but it doesn't mean its will affect it in a negative manner. I can also create desired tone my mixing woods for customers......</p>
    <p>JL: What is the one factor or element that defines you as a builder of high-end bass guitars? </p>
    <table width="200" border="0" align="right" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0">
    <td><a href="http://www.talkbass.com/images/benavente/ben2_large.jpg"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/benavente/ben2.jpg" width="300" height="225" border="0" align="right"></a></td>
    <td> <div align="center"><font size="1">Benavente Single Cut 6 built to attend the Gakki Fair (Tokyo Musical Instruments Fair) </font></div></td>
    <p>CB: My wife says it's because I'm an a$$hole. I agree. You have to be very, very picky. You have to find fault in every instrument in order to make it the very best you can. It seems that I've become obsessed with looking for something wrong so I can find a solution. Thankfully my partner is an a$$hole as well, that way if ones starts slacking the others there to bitch about something :) We are always out to impress each other, I think that's what drives the two of us to constantly try and out do the other in making Benavente Guitars better and better.</p>
    <p>JL: What is your signature sound? What are you known best for/what would you like to become known for? </p>
    <p>CB: The feel is my biggest thing for me to nail down. That seems to be the #1 compliment I receive prior to the basses being plugged up. I try to make every bass as comfortable as possible. &gt;From there it's in Brian's hand to voice the instrument electronically. He worked with John Suhr about a year ago designing the new Benavente preamp. The idea was to give the player full control over the instrument without confusing them. So often today preamps are pre-eq'd and there is no flat setting or to find it it's a struggle in cutting and boost to find the flat true setting. So when designing the Benavente preamp, we wanted center d-tent to be a true flat setting. There is no difference between the flat center d-tent and passive except for the active boost on the volume. We feel this gives the player a true starting point and from there they can cut and boost. Many find it a little confusing because they are so use to having to fight the instrument for a pure tone. We follow this by demo-ing the instruments at trade shows through a power amp with no preamp. Many find this strange at first but soon realize we aren't disguising out instruments at all. We are actually showing off our instruments and what they can do and not an instrument through brand X rack preamp or head unit. By doing this I've watched more guys down size their racks.</p>
    <p>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? </p>
    <p>CB: I believe the Singlecut &quot;B&quot; model is tied with The Vortex &amp; Vintage Vortex models.</p>
    <p>JL: Of all the instruments you've built over your career, which one was your favorite and why? </p>
    <p>CB: I miss my all-red Singlecut 5. Jim &quot;TheSlammer&quot; has it and is treating it well. I also had trouble parting with the Gakki Fair SC6. I loved that bass.</p>
    <p>JL: Are you planning any changes to your business/adding any new products other than guitars and basses? </p>
    <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/benavente/ben4.jpg" width="300" height="225" align="left">CB: I'm currently working on an outboard stomp box preamp. It's not the normal stomp box you see. It's an exotic wood box with headphone jack, DI out and 3 band eq. </p>
    <p>Also SIT is going to start making Benavente strings. The Guys at SIT are wonderful and always willing to help. Brian hooked up with them about 4 years ago and they have been there for us on anything we need. Actually SIT made the first 165 for us about 2 years ago. It was something they had not done, but they were just as excited about doing it as we where. Now they have gone on to make string gauges in the 200+ weight range for customers. </p>
    <p>JL: What has the response been to the new J-style single cut? Do you expect this to rival your other single-cuts in popularity, or is the J body style more of a specialty item? </p>
    <p>CB: The J Style SC was custom built for Keisuke Nishimoto. It was his design and I liked it, so I thought I'd offer it as part of the lineup.</p>
    <p>JL: Same questions above for the Chambered body style. </p>
    <p>CB: The chambered fretless is sweeeet…getting good reviews from customers. They just sound cool. Lots of MMMMWWWWWWAAAA...... Brian had the idea for me to build him one for Summer Namm 2003 and it was such a hit we added it to the line as our Custom fretless model.</p>
    <p>JL: Of all of the various options that are available on Benavente basses, what specs (body wood, top wood, fingerboard, pickups, and electronics) do you feel represent the essence of Benavente Basses the best? </p>
    <p>CB: I'm gonna' have to say the feel again and the Benavente Preamp with the custom pickups John Suhr builds for us. That seems to be the number one thing that defines Benavente Basses. When Brian Barrett and I hooked up, We really struggled to find something different for the Benavente basses. We did. John Suhr is an amazing designer and after a few months dealing with Brian, he was ready to complete our preamp and get rid of us :). Unfortunately John still has to put up with us on our pickups, but he does such wonderful work. Aaron Armstrong also has been doing some custom pickups as well and is truly gifted. Aaron's pickups add a little different flavor to the Benavente ingredients, which is great when we are putting together an instrument for a customer.</p>
    <p>JL: What is currently the biggest challenge you face as a luthier, and how do you think this will change (if at all) as you continue to grow? </p>
    <p>CB: The wife. Just kidding! Coming up with the bucks to get better machinery. Also, it seems that almost every tool I need is something custom.</p>
    <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/benavente/ben3.jpg" width="400" height="300" align="left">JL: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What do you enjoy the most about building basses? </p>
    <p>CB: I don't have to deal with commuting to work and I don't have to answer to a boss (does wife count)? My favorite part of building is the spray booth. That's when you see it…the woods come to life. I also enjoy when I have several done at a time and they're all hanging on the wall. It looks so cool! I had dreams as a kid, when I first got into guitars, that I was always surrounded by guitars. I never expected that those guitars would be built by me.</p>
    <p>JL: What is the single-most misconception that people seem to have about you and the job of a high-end, small production luthier? </p>
    <p>CB: I'm not made of money, so stop asking. A lot of people seem to think I'm getting filthy stinkin' rich from building........ Yeah, Right. </p>
    <p>&nbsp; </p>
    <p>JL: What is the most unique request you've ever had? </p>
    <p>CB: That's easy. Go to my gallery page. You'll see it...the flying can opener.</p>
    <p>JL: What has been the biggest hurdle to overcome/surprise since you've started advertising that you exist and are open for business? </p>
    <p>CB: I had a couple of people actually move to Grants Pass to work for Benavente Guitars. I was surprised to see how many potential employees think I'm as big as Gibson, with job openings galore. Also, another large surprise; the overwhelming amount of slippery folks who will do what they can to get something for free, or worse, try to steal from me. I hate thieves. I just found out that the first guy to rip me off has been indicted and is on his way to a nice long vacation in a sweet little Georgia prison. He got over 50 different companies. Justice!</p>
    <p>JL: Where do you see yourself and your business in 5/10 years? </p>
    <p>CB: I'll probably still be in the shop working my a$$ off as usual with my phone ringing about every hour, and Brian on the other end asking if I'm working or not.........</p>
    <p>JL: If you weren't building basses, what would you be doing? </p>
    <p>CB: TIME! </p>
    <hr width="70%">
    <p align="center">Visit Benavente Guitars on the web at: <a href="http://www.benaventeguitars.com">www.benaventeguitars.com </a></p>
    <hr width="70%">
    <p><strong>Jay M. Lewis</strong> owns and operates Blueberry Hill Bass, a high-end bass store catering to bass enthusiasts looking for the ultimate in craftsmanship, playability, tone, and value. Blueberry Hill is an authorized dealer for Benavente, DHuff, Eshenbaugh, Lull, Nordstrand, and Roscoe basses. </p>
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