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Feature Interview: Mike Browne

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Jun 10, 2004.


  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <center><b>Spotlight: Mike Browne of Browne Basses</b> <br><br />
    <a href="http://www.brownebasses.com/">http://www.brownebasses.com/</a><br />
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    Interview by Jay M. Lewis (Forum username JPJ)</center><br />
    Mike Browne is the owner of Browne Basses and has been building hand-crafted basses full-time for the last few years. Mike was born and raised in Hopewell Junction, NY (about an hour from New York City), where he still lives and currently operates his business. “A lot of us that live here like to call it ‘Hopeless Junction’, being that it’s kind-of a small, nothing town, but I like it here”. Prior to his foray into the bass world, Mike was a construction equipment mechanic for about five years, three of which were spent at a local Caterpillar dealership. “I think the experience of being a mechanic helped a lot in becoming a bass builder. The problem-solving experience and an understanding of machines has made building pleasurable, rather than hard and painful”. Once the decision was made to give bass building a try, Mike teamed up with Carl Thompson, another New York area builder, and spent a few years as one of Carl’s “right hand men”. However, Mike’s days as an apprentice at the CT shop are long gone, and he has now set out on his own to create his own designs, build his own basses, and impart his own creative vision in the work that he does.<br />
    <b><i><br />
    *Excerpted from the TalkBass Newsletter, December 2003 Edition*</i></b><br><a href="http://www.talkbass.com/newsletter/newsletter.php">Click Here for Subscription Information</a>
     
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    JL: What initially attracted you to woodworking?<br />
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    MB: Well, I would have to say that my interest in bass building was what got me into woodworking. I’ve pretty much always been involved in making things with my hands. I had a welding and fabrication business before I got into building basses, so the transition wasn’t that tough. All the basics where there, I just had to get use to working with different materials.<br />
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    JL: When/how did you make the transition from that interest to becoming a luthier?<br />
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    MB: In February of 2002 my fabrication business wasn’t keeping me busy being that the construction industry in the local area was slow and there wasn’t a lot of work to go around at the time, so I decided to build a bass.<br />
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    JL: How did you get started? Did you have a mentor?<br />
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    MB: It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do since the early 90’s, so I figured ‘this is as good a time as any’, in 2002, and I had set my sights on building a 38” scale 6 string fretless. Yeah I know, it’s a big bass and I really hadn’t thought about that at the time, but I went through with it anyway. This was a first for a lot of things. It was the first time I tried to build a bass and was also my first attempt at wood working, so I was pretty much going into this whole thing blind. By the time I got to the part where I put strings on it I couldn’t find any strings that would fit it, which turned out to be a good thing. I called all over the place to try and find strings and nobody would help me out. Eventually, I gave Carl Thompson a call and asked if he had the length that I needed. It turned out that he did, and I asked if I could come down and pick them up. He said “yeah sure I’m here every day”, and I went down with this beast of a bass I built to get some strings. See, coming from a metal fabrication background, I wasn’t sure how strong the neck had to be or what stresses the foundation of anything made of wood could handle, so I ended up over building this thing immensely. I pretty much knew that at the time being that this thing weighed like 13 lbs! Carl was kind enough to let me sit down and try one of his instruments out, and at that very second when I picked his instrument up to play I knew that there was something very wrong with what I had done. The CT bass that I picked up to play was a six string fretless 36” scale bass, and it only weighed like 6 or 7 lbs., I was in awe of the whole situation. Carl and I talked for hours about life, music, basses, and all kinds of things. He told me that my wood working chops were pretty good and asked if building was something that I really wanted to get involved in. He spent some time trying to talk me out of my decision to build basses for a living. He said it’s a lot of hard work and it’s hard to make money doing it, but you could eventually make a living at it. I told him that I was willing to make some sacrifices to do something with my life that I truly loved to do, so he told me that if I really had my mind set and wanted to learn this stuff for real that I could start going down there for 2 to 3 days a week and stay there at the shop to help out and learn about building. So I started going down the fallowing week (in March of 2002), and I went down every week until August of 2002 when his shop closed down and he had to move out. They were knocking his building down to build a New York Sports Club, which was a very sad day. I continued to work with Carl from my own shop up in Hopewell Jct., NY (which is about 60 miles north of Brooklyn). Carl is truly my mentor and one of my closest friends. The things that I’ve learned from him far exceed anything that has to do with gluing some wood together to make a bass. The basses were the easy part, the life lessons I’ve learned form Carl and the way he challenged me is what kept me coming back. I love my friend Carl! <br />
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    JL: Are you a musician? What instrument(s) do you play?<br />
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    MB: Well I’d like to say that I’m trying to become a musician; I’ve had a very musical background while growing up. I started to play the piano at the age of 3 and continued until I was in the 4th grade, where I picked up the saxophone and played that until about age 20. I started playing the bass in 8th grade, which was about 12 years ago. My bass playing has been an “on again, off again” type of thing that I have gotten more serious about in the past 3 years. Music has always been something that really challenges me, and I keep at it in hope that someday I will be a musician. <br />
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    JL: What is the most important factor in determining the tone of a bass?<br />
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    MB: In my opinion, the most important factor in determining the tone of a bass is the musician’s ability to play the instrument. A bass doesn’t sound like anything until someone picks it up and plays it. Of course there are other factors there, but that in my opinion is the most important. <br />
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    JL: What do you feel has the least impact on the tone of a bass?<br />
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    MB: In my opinion, on an electric bass the expectation of a specific sound through the use of tone woods has the least impact on tone. The instrument is going to sound different to everyone who hears and plays it. I can’t describe to you what something sounds like to me nor can I know what it sounds like to you. It’s all perspective. If I pick the bass up and play it, it’s going to sound different than if you were to pick up that same bass and play the same thing. It’s kind of like our voices…we’re all made of the same parts and materials but our voices all sound different. When I speak or sing, it sounds different to me than it does to you. It’s like when you hear a recording of yourself speaking. It sounds funny, and most people are like “that’s what it sounds like when I speak?” or “I don’t really sound like that, do I?” There are way too many factors to expect a specific type of wood to give you a specific tone. The basic woods I use I choose for their structural and functional properties, and the pretty woods I use, I choose because they’re pleasing to the eye and fit the form I’m creating to compliment the function. <br />
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    JL: What led you to your current designs and how did you arrive at the various models of basses you build today?<br />
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    MB: My first design that I have been working on is based on what I have learned from Carl and what appeals to me as an individual. I drew a bunch of sketches and took all the elements that I liked and put them all together to create something that I was pleased with. There is a lot of Carl Thompson influence in my instruments and there are reasons for that, form follows function, and if it isn’t broken I’m not going to try and fix it. There are very specific elements in construction that need to exist for the instruments to balance and play comfortably. Those are the things that I’m not going to just change over night for the sake of being original. That just doesn’t make any sense if you end up with something that doesn’t play the way you want it to. The goal in making basses for me is to make an instrument that the player doesn’t have to think about. It’s like creating an extension of the musician. The thinking behind this is that there is no instrument, and that’s how I want the musicians to feel that are playing them. <br />
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    JL: Are you planning on introducing new models, or do you anticipate changing the design you currently have?<br />
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    MB: Yes I am currently working on a new design that is a little bit smoother than my first design. I don’t anticipate change in any of my designs, but I do plan on letting the creative process happen. I can’t force change nor can I tell you how it will change, but my instruments are a direct result of how I’m feeling in my life. So they will change, as will I and anything else that does with time. <br />
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    JL: Are you planning any changes to your business, or will you be adding any new products other than bass guitars?<br />
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    MB: No I’m planning on just sticking to basses. Although…I may add custom built choppers (motorcycles) to my list of products. Ha Ha! (Ed. Note: Insert favorite Paul Sr. quote here! ; 0 )<br />
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    JL: Do you do all of the work yourself, or do you have assistants to help out?<br />
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    MB: I do all the work myself at this point.<br />
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    JL: What is your wait time, and how many basses do you build a month?<br />
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    MB: My current wait time is about 2 to 3 months, and I’m currently capable of doing about 1 to 2 basses a month, depending on the specific order. It’s really hard to gauge at this point though.<br />
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    JL: What is the one factor or element that defines you as a builder of high-end bass guitars? What are you known best for, or what would you like to become known for?<br />
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    MB: I’d like to be known for my attention to detail and the playability of my instruments.<br />
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    JL: What is currently the biggest challenge you face as a builder of hand-crafted basses, and how do you think this will change (if at all) as you continue to grow?<br />
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    MB: The biggest challenge I face as a builder is getting orders at this point, which is OK being that I am just starting out on my own.<br />
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    JL: What is the largest misconception that people seem to have about you and the job of a high-end, small production luthier?<br />
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    MB: Well, I guess some people are under the impression that I make custom instruments. To a point, there are options and wood choices, but I wouldn’t call that custom. I would call it hand made instruments with options. I pretty much stick with my own designs and am open to suggestions, but if I don’t like it I won’t make it.<br />
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    JL: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What do you enjoy the most about building basses?<br />
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    MB: I think the most rewarding part about building for me is the interaction that I have with the people that I build for. I really enjoy the reaction I get when someone plays one of my instruments for the first time.<br />
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    JL: Of all the instruments you’ve build over your career, which one was your favorite and why?<br />
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    MB: I would have to say the most enjoyable instrument that I have had the pleasure to work on was a Make-A-Wish bass we made while I was working with Carl. It was for a young man named Allen Duncan who I had the pleasure of befriending during our many phone conversations during and after the build.<br />
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