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Feature Interview: Jean-Philippe Ferreira

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Mar 12, 2004.


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  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/jpbasses/mugshot.jpg" align="left"><center><b>Spotlight: Jean-Philippe Ferreira of JP Basses</b> <br>
    <a href="http://www.jpbasses.com/">http://www.jpbasses.com/</a><br><br />

    Interview by Jay M. Lewis (Forum username JPJ)<br><br /></center>

    One of the great features of an online forum like Talkbass is that is not only serves as a great information resource for bassists to ask question, tell stories, provide gear reviews, and interact with other musicians, but it also allows us to do so on an international level. As I mentioned in the introduction to the first “Luthier Profile” in this series of feature articles, the proliferation of the internet has literally brought the world to our fingertips, and no other scenario exemplifies that greater than the story of Jean-Philippe Ferreira. JP, the son of two Portuguese immigrants to France and a current resident of the suburbs of Paris, France, JP is a small, part-time builder who is experiencing big success both in Europe and the U.S. While he only builds a handful of basses a year, he is winning over bass players with his unique body designs and excellent craftsmanship
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  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    JL: How long have you been building basses?<br />
    JP: I started building my first bass in 1996. It took me a lot of time because I had never done it before and I was only working on weekends with limited tools.<br />
    <br />
    JL: How and when did you get started? Did you have a mentor? Did you first start in high school, college, apprentice for an experienced bass builder, etc.?<br />
    JP: I had been introduced to bass playing buy a friend. He had a purple Ibanez Soundgear that I remember well, and I got completely involved and wanted to play bass as well. I had no money at that time and decided I could just build my own as I was able to source some fine wood for free. I learned all by myself because after spending a lot of time on the phone requesting apprenticeships with luthiers, I realized that this was quite an impossible thing. French craftsmen in general complain about their knowledge being lost but they are not willing to share (!!). Books helped a lot to get started. Also, I got some summer jobs at music shops in Paris and it helped a lot to gain access instruments and study them.<br />
    <br />
    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?<br />
    JP: Wow…this is gonna be long ;-) I’ve studied mechanical engineering and worked for some car related companies like Renault. Then I got hired by an IT company as a Lotus notes Domino developer (this was in the year 2000 and companies were willing to employ people coming from various specialties – I had never programmed before!!) After a year, I moved to another IT company as a Lotus Notes Domino expert and trainer. Another year after I left to set up an IT company with some friend but everything went wrong and I had to quit. I then worked a whole year as a salesman for another company before leaving the IT world and getting involved into the construction business.<br />
    Every experience in life has an influence on what you do and how you behave. Of course, the mechanical stuff helps in the design, but working in IT helped me build my own website. Also working in service companies helped me learn about customer service….I could carry on like that. My professional experiences didn’t improve my lutherie skills but sure helped me in developing all the rest which I believe is just as important! Who wants a builder who cannot handle customer service, who can’t be reached easily, who can’t be organized…?<br />
    <br />
    JL: What initially attracted you to woodworking?<br /><a href="http://www.jpbasses.com/A558A4/jpbasses.NSF/Gallery/211D9ED8000635AB86256E1B0027234C?opendocument"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/jpbasses/jp2.jpg" align="right" border="0"></a>
    JP: I had probably never been interested in woodworking before I decided to build my first bass. I always loved wood as a material but had never been into building things out of it. I just made the jump when I got some Teak boards and went to build my first instrument ever. This was my “tough” introduction to woodworking…Teak was a hard wood to carve by hand, but I’ve never stopped building since this first experience! I’m now very attracted to building some special furniture and other items out of wood, but I guess…time is lacking ;)<br />
    <br />
    JL: Who/what was the primary influence on you as a bass builder, and why?<br />
    JP: Builders who led me to bass building were Carl Thompson and Mike Tobias. I always loved their work and also their personalities. Nowadays, I’m still influenced! There are a lot of cool builders out there I really admire and who influence my work in a certain way. I have to name a few like Carey Nordstrand, George Furlanetto, Sheldon Dingwall, and more…<br />
    <br />
    JL: Are you working full-time as a builder?<br />
    JP: No I’m not. I run a construction business as a day job and I only work on the basses during the weekends. I do the orders/sales/email stuff on evenings.<br />
    <br />
    JL: Do you do all of the work yourself or do you have assistants to help out?<br />
    JP: I have my friend Fred Ortega working with me, but I would qualify him more as an associate than an assistant. He’s learning fast and will soon be able to handle every operation included in the construction of a bass.<br />
    <br />
    JL: What led you to your current designs and how did you arrive at the various models of basses you build today? <br />
    JP: Being a mechanical engineer sure helps for designing the basses. When I started I was only building one-of-a-kind instruments. I found the need to standardize when I came to realize this was the only way for me to really appreciate differences between changes in components. My first model was the Satine bass. A scroll upper horn inspired by a great luthier who influenced my work: Carl Thompson. I loved the shape, but due to that “Thompsonish” scroll this wasn’t completely me, so I started working on a new shape…the Plume. I had the shape in mind for some months when I first drew it on a wood blank (I always draw on wood for new shapes because I find it more inspiring) and it took me less than 5 minutes! I set the drawing aside for a couple of weeks before looking at it again and I had nothing to change so it went to production. The Plume singlecut was introduced because of the popularity of the singlecut design. Lately I introduced the Zia model, a rounder and more compact shape. I always favor function over aesthetics when I’m designing. Simple is also my goal. I build instruments, not works of arts in the way of something you’d like to hang on the wall. <br />
    <br /> 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?<br />
    JP: I used to play classical guitar and then bass in a few bands. I also gave a try at singing and playing some drums ;-) I listen to many different music styles. I’m a big fan of Maceo Parker, Prince, Michel Camilo, Michel Pettruciani for example. Music I listen too sure has some influence on my building as I always try to imagine how my basses could sound in those various bands settings. My goal with JP Basses is to offer, whatever the model is, a versatile instrument that can cut through the mix and sound well in a jazz band just like in a metal bands!<br />
    <br />
    <br /><a href="http://www.jpbasses.com/A558A4/jpbasses.NSF/Gallery/211D9ED8000635AB86256E1B0027234C?opendocument"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/jpbasses/jp3.jpg" align="right" border="0"></a>
    JL: What is currently the biggest challenge you face as a luthiers, and how do you think this will change (if at all) as you continue to grow?<br />
    JP: Each bass I build is a challenge. Nothing is a given in bass building; you can always screw up a body or a neck even if you’ve done the job ten times! <br />
    <br />
    <br />
    JL: What are some of the unique challenges you face as a builder outside of the U.S, and does this lend itself to advantages over U.S. builders?<br />
    JP: No particular challenges I guess. Hardware is just more expensive! lol.<br />
    <br />
    JL: How has being based in Europe impacted your business?<br />
    JP: Maybe the “high-end” bass business is just a little slower over here, but then again, low impact for me because of my small production.<br />
    <br />
    JL: What has been the biggest hurdle to overcome/surprise since you’ve started advertising that you exist and are open for business?<br />
    JP: Surprise has been to see people from overseas ordering basses without having ever tried or seen some of my work.<br />
    <br />
    JL: Are you planning any changes to your business/adding any new products other than bass guitars?<br />
    JP: Not for the moment.<br />
    <br />
    JL: Let’s talk about the specifics of bass construction and tone. In your opinion, what is the most important factor in determining the tone of a bass?<br />
    JP: Pickups position, pickups design, strings and preamp design.<br />
    <br />
    JL: In your opinion, what has the least impact on the tone of a bass?<br />
    JP: I consider both woods and hardware to be a part of the mechanical system of the bass. The later has some influence on tone but less than the elements I gave in the previous question. Now if I had to order those different parts by influence here is what I’d say: Neck, body, fingerboard and finally top<br />
    <br />
    JL: How did you come up with your original body design and who/what influenced it (if anything/anyone)?<br />
    JP: I had the Plume shape in mind for months before I actually drew it on a wood blank. Difficult to identify what/who influenced it because IMO, influence are summed into something that becomes part of your culture. The rounder Zia shape was influenced by the fact that my wife is pregnant ;-) Looks like the Zia model is getting pretty popular! Most requests are for 5 strings fretted basses.<br />
    <br />
    JL: Do your basses have a signature sound, and if so, how are your basses different from the others?<br />
    JP: Don’t think I have a signature sound. I can modify the way the bass will sound to match a customer’s request, but you’ll always find punch and precision in the JP Basses sound.<br />
    <br />
    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?<br /><a href="http://www.jpbasses.com/A558A4/jpbasses.NSF/Gallery/C618F6732821DE8486256E1B0026E8FB?opendocument"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/jpbasses/jp4.jpg" align="left" border="0"></a>
    JP: Often, the name “High-end” is more related to price than characteristics! If there was only one factor determining if I’m high-end or not, it would be price probably. Now I believe that what makes the basses high-end is using premium quality material (woods and hardware) and using all means needed (skills, tools, CNC machines or whatever…) to produce a premium quality product of those “parts”. A signature is visual, so probably the small “wavy shape “I put at the bottom of the bodies could be identified as my signature. It’s here not just for looks though…it has a physical function, allowing the basses to rest against a wall. I don’t have any idea of what I’m best know for – sorry. I’d like to become known for building good quality basses, wide range sounding and offering great customer service.<br />
    <br />
    JL: Where do you see yourself and your business in 5/10 years?<br />
    JP: I’d like to keep the business the exact same way! I have fun doing it like that.<br />
    <br />
    JL: What is the largest misconception that people seem to have about you and the job of a high-end, small production luthier?<br />
    JP: I don’t think people have some misconception about me and what I do. Generally speaking, people sometimes think that “high end” luthiers are making big bucks because they sell their basses for over $2500. This is just untrue, and the subject has been up on Talkbass numerous times.<br />
    <br />
    JL: Of all the instruments you’ve built over your career, which one was your favorite and why?<br />
    JP: Probably Jérôme Wolf’s Plume bass (#12042003). I loved the wood combination and the overall feel of the instrument. I had a hard time letting this one go.<br />
    <br />
    JL: What is the funniest/strangest/most unique request you’ve ever had?<br />
    JP: A flying V shaped electric Saz (sort of Turkish bouzouki!!). I’m currently building this one ;-)<br />
    <br />
    JL: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What do you enjoy the most about building basses?<br />
    JP: The most rewarding aspect is the player’s satisfaction. The comments and feedback I get from players is where it’s at.<br />
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