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Feature Interview: Mark Eshenbaugh

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

  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p align="center"><b>Spotlight: Mark Eshenbaugh of Eshenbaugh Guitars</b> <br>
    <a href="http://www.eshenbaughguitars.com">www.eshenbaughguitars.com</a></p>
    <p align="center"><br>
    Interview by Jay M. Lewis (Forum username JPJ)</p>
    <p>Over the last 5 years, the bass community has witnessed a surge of new, highly
    skilled, small production luthiers enter the fray of the high-end bass market.
    Where basses costing thousands of dollars featuring active electronics, highly
    figured exotic hardwoods, and expert craftsmanship were once rare and limited
    to the budgets of high-profile rock stars, the same are now a mouse click away
    and are available to players ranging from the seasoned veteran session player
    to the novice beginner. The internet has facilitated the once impossible task
    of reaching players around the world with an extremely limited advertising budget
    to become easy and cost-effective. Small, one-man-shop operations can keep overhead
    low by working from home, advertise through word-of-mouth via internet forums,
    and can communicate with potential customers via e-mail and inexpensive websites
    that feature everything from a list of options to prices to detailed photos
    of the builder’s past work. </p>
    <p>The end result is that finding a quality, hand-crafted, high-end bass that
    is custom built to your demanding specifications has never been easier. The
    number of bass builders and the varied designs and options they offer has never
    been greater, and it is a very exciting time to be in the market for a custom
    bass. Because each individual builder is so different and unique, the Talkbass
    Newsletter will be featuring a new builder each month. This will give us all
    a great opportunity to learn more about the builders who frequent the forum
    and may turn you on to someone you were not previously familiar with. The spotlight
    shines first on Mark Eshenbaugh.</p>
    *Excerpted from the TalkBass Newsletter, September 2003 Edition*</i></b></center></p>
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p>Mark Eshenbaugh was born in College Station, Texas and moved to South Carolina
    in 1980. Mark grew up in the Greenville, SC area, and like many young boys,
    developed a proficiency at working with his hands to build things. In addition
    to building models and RC cars, Mark experimented with painting pewter miniatures,
    whittling, and woodcarving. Some of his first carvings were of knives and medieval
    swords, but he later tried his hand at building a guitar as an early teen. “I
    tried making a guitar in middle school that kinda' looked like an Explorer for
    a friend of mine who wanted one, but couldn’t afford one, so I made the
    body out of pine 2X6s with a cherry top, and got the parts off of an old Lotus.
    We found a picture of one of James Hetfield’s guitars in Guitar World
    magazine, and I followed that picture to build the guitar.” Mark continued
    to experiment with building guitars and basses until he left home to attend
    Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. He married and eventually moved
    back to South Carolina with his wife in 1998 and started building basses once
    <p><strong>JL: How long have you been building basses?</strong><br>
    ME: I made my first bass in high school, about 13 years ago. I saw a picture
    of Les Claypool’s maple 6 string in a Guitar World article and I really
    wanted a bass like that for myself, but knew I couldn’t afford it…so
    I made it. But I didn’t make the neck. First I used a Washburn neck and
    then a Carvin. The first bass I made in its entirety was in 1995, 8 years ago.
    <p><strong>JL: How and when did you become serious about building basses, and
    did you have a mentor? </strong><br>
    ME: In 1995 I was rooming with a guitar repair man in Kingston, NJ when I built
    my first bass from start to finish. Then, in 1996 I went out and bought a bunch
    of tools and moved to Demarest, NJ. I had already met Carl (Thompson) a few
    times and had visited his Brooklyn workshop. Later that year I started working
    for Carl more regularly. Our
    relationship continued on until I moved to the Greenville, SC area in 1998.
    I don’t want to call my time with Carl an apprenticeship because we never
    had it arranged on those terms. Secondly, if you asked Carl today he would never
    call it that. Sanding is pretty much all I did for him while I was there, but
    I got to watch everything he and Mike Browne (Carl's assistant and owner of
    Browne Basses) did, and we would talk a lot about building. Today, we still
    have a good relationship. In fact, I’ve ordered a 6 string bass from Carl
    that I am waiting on patiently.<img src="http://www.eshenbaughguitars.com/marksand.jpg"></p>
    <p><strong>JL: In your opinion, what is the most important factor in determining
    the tone of a bass?</strong><br>
    ME: The player and his fingers. No lie. I swear…if Victor Wooten played
    a cheap offshore dime store bass, he could still get a decent tone. I think
    your ear as a musician searches for the tone that’s already in your head.
    I’ve discovered that most basses have more sound in them than people give
    them credit for. If they can’t play well and the instrument hinders them
    further, then it’s a lose/lose combination, but it’s almost always
    the bass’ fault. But if you want to talk tone woods and brass vs. aluminum
    and pickups and all that, sure…all those things affect the tone. But so
    far, I have not seen a scientific research project that defines and codifies
    the percentages of material and their effect on the tone. I have my own theories,
    I know what a bubinga fingerboard sounds like, but I’m not going to say
    it’s brighter or darker or warmer or sweeter. When I make two identical
    basses that have only one thing different about them, I’ll go to the P.R.O.
    Sound Technologies sound lab and measure and capture frequency response and
    spectrally analyze the basses and I’ll publish the report in the Guild
    of American Luthiery Journal for all the world to see. I’ll let you know.
    The hard thing for me will be making two identical basses.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What has the least impact on the tone of a bass?</strong><br>
    ME: The color.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is the one factor or element that defines you as a builder
    of high-end bass guitars? </strong><br>
    ME: Price, and offering something to back up that price. Anyone can throw a
    piece of coffee table wood on the top and cut a curly-cue, but to quote Carl,
    “If the strings aren’t in the right place...” it won’t
    really matter how good people think the bass looks.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is your "signature"? </strong><br>
    ME: I think it’s kind of curly but kind of illegible. No…really,
    it is becoming the Big Talon/Bottle opener headstock. At least that’s
    what people notice right off. I like to think it’s the methodical detail
    stuff. I pay a lot of attention to things that I think many other people would
    just let slide.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What are you known best for and what would you like to become known
    for? </strong><br>
    ME: I think among people who have never played one of my basses, the headstock
    gets talked about a lot, and the cleanness/detail stuff. I don’t do anything
    so radical or unorthodox. The people who have played them talk a lot about the
    playability and the “craftsmanship”, however they define that. I
    think people like my wood combinations and joints and things. Stripes, lots
    of players like stripes. I would like to be known for the kind of person I am,
    really. Unfortunately, the nature of my relationship with most players hinders
    that. Bass building is not who I am, it’s something I do, one of many
    <p><strong>JL: Do your basses have a signature sound, and if so, how are your
    basses different from the others? </strong><br>
    ME: Every bass, not just mine, has a sound all its own, but the more I make,
    the more and more I think they start to sound more like each other. I don’t
    really like to comment on other people’s basses, unless I have something
    nice to say (grin). But I can say this; mine are the only ones with my name
    on it. That’s a difference.</p>
    <p><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>
    ME: I think its neck-and-neck between the 5-string Brado and J-5. I do get a
    lot of requests for custom string spacing and little things like that, but of
    course, that also means changing the neck. Some of that stuff I advise against
    and some of it is cool, it just depends on what it is. Like the guy who wanted
    a buckeye burl neck…not a good idea at all.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What led you to your current designs and how did you arrive at
    the various models of basses you build today? </strong><br>
    ME: Carl’s influence on me is most directly responsible for the original
    Black Forest design. The current Black Forest design has evolved quite a bit.
    The Brado came about as more of a compact entry into the high-end bass market.
    Rob Geisler is almost entirely responsible for me building the J series. He
    thought that I needed to put out “my take” on the Jazz Bass.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: Are you planning on introducing new models, or do you anticipate
    changing the designs you currently have in the near future?</strong><br>
    ME: Everything that I don’t build for stock, meaning customer ordered
    instruments, ends up changing the model just a little bit. But whether I standardize
    the changes depends on how much I like them as they come out. I am thinking
    about introducing something closer to the original Black Forest, and a more
    compact J body style, but that is it for the moment. I want to do the Brado
    and J’s as more "standard" models, if you can call it that,
    and try bringing the prices down. But the original Black Forest and the original
    Brado (which few have seen) will always be custom pieces.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: Are you working full-time as a builder? </strong><br>
    ME: If by full time you mean spending 50 to 70 hours a week building basses
    and talking to people about building basses… then, yes.</p>
    <p><strong>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? </strong><br>
    ME: Time Management. I do many more things than just build basses. I have a
    wife and 2 ½ awesome children and I demand a great deal of their time.
    I also work for and play drums, bass, and guitar for my church. I’m in
    a band. Answering phones and emails... it’s hard to juggle it all sometimes.
    There is a break-even point where I have the resources to make them fast enough
    to lower the prices, that’s my long-range challenge; faster with no compromises.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is the single largest misconception that people seem to have
    about you and the job of a high-end, small production luthier? </strong><br>
    ME: I don’t think most people realize they’re calling my house and
    talking to my wife. I think people think I have all this extra time, a secretary,
    or 3 guys out in the shop cranking them out so that I can just drop everything
    and talk on the phone for 3 hours. It’s hard ‘cause I actually like
    talking on the phone. It’s just that it can make a day really unproductive.
    <p><strong>JL: Of all the instruments you’ve built over your career, which
    one was your favorite and why? </strong><br>
    ME: My favorite one is any one that’s not finished yet, whatever I’m
    working on right now. Of course, that’s also the one I absolutely hate
    sometimes. I don’t know…I have instruments in my head that I like
    much more than anything I’ve done so far. I just need extra time to make
    them. The sad thing is, I could make a bass that blows me away, but few will
    appreciate why. Carl’s making me a 38" six string. 38 inches! That’s
    awesome! I might make myself something crazy one day that absolutely no one
    else would/could play.</p>
    <p><strong>JL: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What do you enjoy
    the most about building basses? </strong><br>
    ME: I enjoy playing the basses I build, I enjoy seeing them come together, and
    I love the way wood looks with oil on it. I think the bass community for the
    most part is an awesome, friendly community. I enjoy talking to other players,
    but most of all I love finding those people I can connect with on a real level.
    Sometimes it starts with building, sometimes with playing, but it oftentimes
    quickly digresses to life.</p>

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