Freedom Custom Guitar Research - A visit (pics and some comments)

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by kumimajava, May 26, 2017.


  1. kumimajava

    kumimajava

    May 19, 2010
    Tokyo, Japan
    Not sure whether this is the right place to post – if not, please re-direct. I know this post won’t be of immediate interest to everyone, but since I found out about Freedom Custom Guitar Research (FCGR) from @Whippet’s postings in this forum (for example here), I thought I would “give a little back”, and share some more info on this maker. This may end up being a bit long, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably – and do grab a brew, if that’s your thing :) So here goes.

    I’m still very new to bass, but after trying a (cheapish) 5-string Aria, it became clear to me that I feel more at home on a fiver. And soon, of course, the temptation to find a “nicer” 5-string. Living in Tokyo gave me the luxury of dozens of nicely stocked music stores, and I suppose I’d been through a dozen of shops, and tried many more dozens of basses. I saw the Dulake model, by Freedom Custom Guitars Research (FCGR), but since it was slightly odd looking, and rather expensive, I walked past it quite a few times. I asked the shop assistant about the bass, and he said “It’s a small Japanese brand. Not very famous – but many pro’s use it. Very stable and durable.” Well, I’m not a pro, and I thought I’d rather not gamble on something I’d not heard of before.


    But I remained intrigued, and after a quick internet search, I came up with this thread. After reading through @Whippet’s comments, I thoguht I would actually give the FCGR basses a try next time I’m in the shop (Guitar Planet, in Kanda).


    Turns out I loved it – somehow, to my hands, the neck profile felt immediately comfortable. I tried both the Dulake and the Rhino model, and while very different in sound, both share the same excellent quality in construction and finish. My initial predisposition was towards the Dulake because at the time, it was on discount (and thus cheaper than the Rhino), and also had 24 frets, which I thought would be nice.


    The shop guy told me that in fact FCGR is based in Tokyo – turns out, about three miles down the street where I live. So before deciding on buying the instrument, I figured I’d drop by and have a look at where they’re made – maybe their main workshop would have other models to try, which weren’t in the shop?

    Corner.jpg

    FCGR’s website lists general opening times, and says that for maintenance/repair consultations, one should make an appointment. Well, I wasn’t planning on maintenance/repairs, so figured it would be ok to drop by the “showroom” unannounced. When I rang the doorbell, a rather surprised gentleman (Ken-san, I later found out!) opened the door, and asked me why I was there. “Did you make an appointment.” Umm – no. “Have you called us in advance?” Yeah, no – but would it be ok to have a look at some of your other instruments?

    BassWall.jpg

    He told me to sit down, and wait a moment. To my surprise, a minute or so later, the founder of FCGR – Makoto Fukano – appeared, and said he’d be most happy to chat with me, explain about his instruments etc. What was supposed to be a quick visit, ended up lasting about two hours. What follows here are a few snipplets from that conversation, and some photos I took of FCGR’s “workshop” when I later collected my bass from a tune-up (also, some others are linked from other online sources – hope that’s ok).

    FukanoSan.jpg
    Fukano-san started working on guitars around 35 years ago, and founded FCGR back in 1998. “First it was just me – then next month, another guy, then next month, one more. And so on.” Initially the workshop did high-end modifications and repairs of vintage instruments, as well as building Fender or Gibson style instruments. Later, they branched out into making more original designs.


    A curious aspect of FCGR guitars is that they come with a 100-year (yes, one hundred) year warranty on the neck, and lifetime adjustment service for the first owner. Fukano-san said his aim is to create instruments that last as long as some of the legendary acoustic instruments – double basses, violins, cellos, etc. “It is also to motivate my employees,” he says “I tell them – you must work perfectly now, otherwise later someone else will need to fix your mistakes.” It seems that the team that he has built is agreeing to this philosophy.


    Regarding the free-lifetime adjustment service – I expect this won’t be of much help to anyone living outside Japan, but for domestic players it is nice. I did tell Fukano-san that I am probably the worst ever player to purchase one of his instruments, to which he replied: “Well, we treat beginner and professional just the same. So if you want to change to new strings with different tension, change setup – let me know, we will do it for you. You don’t have to guess.”


    One of the things that make FCGR special among Japanese instrument makers is that the workshop is located in downtown Tokyo, where the weather is very variable, and thoroughly unpleasant for instruments. In the past week, we’ve had temperature fluctuations of about 15 centigrade, and moisture levels varying between 20%, and a few evenings of downpour.
    WorkshopEntrance.jpg

    Fukano-san suggested: “Many of Japanese guitar builders have factories away from the city centre, where the real estate is cheaper, and weather usually more stable. But most of our customers live in dense cities. I want to build instruments in a tough environment, like the places where my customers will play them.”

    Necks.jpg

    So a part of the idea is to season the wood in a setting that is as very hostile, and if the wood is stable here – it should be fine most places. Indeed, after having some issues with a fickle neck on my first bass, I would ask the music shop staff what they would recommend for “the most stable neck”. The answer was very often: FCGR if you want a wooden neck, otherwise synthetic/carbon.

    I didn’t fully understand the exact procedure by which the wood is seasoned, but it involves multiple cycles of drying, then bringing up to moisture, cutting the wood to shape, and repeating the process until the wood stops moving. From what I understood, when an order is placed, the body and neck woods are selected/matched, and the work on the individual instrument begins.

    Bodies.jpg

    Depending on the individual pieces of wood, the seasoning may take from two to four months, and the overall wait for a custom order is around half a year. In the words of Fukano-san: “I look at the piece of wood, and if it is straight after the last cycle, we start working on the neck. If it is bent, I say: ‘you need some more rest.’ So we re-cut it, and put it back for another cycle.” To keep with the Fender- inspired tradition, FCGR use a single-action truss-rod. Fukano-san also told me that this allows them to remove less wood from the neck than a dual-action rod would. (Again, I’m too newb myself to verify.)

    NecksVarnish.jpg


    BodiesDrying.jpg
    Another innovation, for which I believe FCGR has a patent, is their dove-tail Arimizo One-Point joint. The idea is that the neck and neck pocket form a dove-tail joint that is secure with a single bolt. The notion of using dove-tails for set-neck construction is, I gather, quite standard, and the innovation is in the use of the one-point tightening/adjustment bolt.

    CgYO-yBUsAA2Fs9.jpg

    It is hard to convey this in writing, but the idea really does work. The first time I encountered the Arimizo joint was in the music shop – not at Fukano-san’s workshop. After playing the Dulake bass, the shopkeeper said a few things to me in Japanese (which, due to my poor language skills – I didn’t at all understand), took the bass, did something to the neck-bolt, gave it a hard whack, and handed the bass back to me. Then I played it again.


    It did sound mellower, but surprised me more was that the bass also felt different to play. For the lack of a better word, the instrument felt softer, and didn’t seem to vibrate quite so much. I asked the shopkeeper to re-tighten the bolt, and the “rigidity” in the bass seemed to return.


    When I asked Fukano-san about this, he said: “I love the old Fender sound, especially the old p-bass. I did research on this sound, and realised that sometimes the neck was a bit loose – and I liked the mellower sound. So I wanted to find a way of making this mellower sound, but with a stable neck.”
    namm-quality-arimizo@380w.jpg

    The puck at the back of the bass, which secures one end of the bolt, is either aluminium (on Dulake alder/ash) bodies, for a brighter sound, or brass (on the Dulake/wenge/mahogany bodies) for a darker sound. I told Fukano-san that I didn’t believe that this would make a differece – to which he laughed, and un-did the neck bolt completely, replaced the aluminium disk with a brass one, and handed me the bass. We then did the process again, going from brass back to aluminum. The difference in sound was subtle, but what surprised me more than that was – the bass was still in tune. So the dovetail joint together with string tension was sufficient to prevent any slippage when the bolt was added/removed.


    To be honest, when I read @Whippet’s comments about this one-point-joint thing, originally, I was very skeptical. I expect when you guys read this, you will be just as skeptical. Well, I suppose the one thing you can do, if you visit Japan, is just give it a try :) I don’t expect to be fiddling with the bolt on my bass very often, I think it will be more of thing of finding the setting I like most, and leaving it there. But it is a nice option to have.


    Before the fretwork is done, each neck is strung-up and tensioned with strings for a few days. Fukano-san said that on many (especially mass produced) instruments the first time the neck is under tension is AFTER the fretwork is already done. He suggested that this may sometimes lead to slight changes in the alignment of the fretboard/frets. Again, I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes, but nonetheless, this is a process that all FCGR instruments undergo minimise longer-run issues. The frets that FCGR use are stainless steel, and come in two flavours – either “warm” for mellower sound, or “speedy” for a harsher modern tone. Apparently there is some difference in the hardness (or some other aspect?) of the frets which influences this part of the tone.

    Tensioning2.jpg




    FCGR winds their own pickups in a room at the back of the workshop. For the bass pickups, in addition to the standard jazz and precision pickups they also have some of their original designs. I think they do also make various guitar pickups, but I wouldn’t have a clue about those.

    PickupWinder2.jpg

    The pickups that go in some of the new Rhino and Jazz basses, I was told, are curiously called “Bell Bottom”, and the neck and bridge pickups are wound differently. The neck pickup is wound to give a single-coil sound that has the mid-range behaviour as close to a P-bass pickup as possible. I must say that I don’t have enough experience of p-basses to verify/deny this, and there wasn’t a bell-bottomed Rhino (no snickering, please) in the shop to play at the time I visited. The pickups on the Dulake bass, on the other hand, are a reverse-P configuration, within a soapbar casing.


    One of the things that I also liked, from the very first time I tried an FCGR bass, was how strong the passive tone was. The pre-amp, insofar as I could tell, did not colour the sound much – to my years, switching between passive and active, with EQ set flat, I couldn’t hear much of a difference. Fukano san explained: “For us, the primary aim was to always have a very strong passive tone. Then add the pre-amp. But the passive tone is always most important.” All active basses can be switched to passive, and indeed there are also some passive-only versions around.


    In addition to the usual basses, FCGR also make guitars, and effect pedals. Indeed, they also have a few more eccentric “show” guitars and basses – like the one below, which has LED’s in the fingerboard. The colour and intensity of the light varies by the volume, and pitch, of notes being played. Not necessarily something you’d want everyday, but it’s a fun show piece

    LightBass.jpg

    LightBass2.jpg

    Obviously, I have no financial interest in FCGR, but since there is so little info about this maker in the anglophone internet, I thought I’d share my experience. If I hadn’t found out about them on this very forum, in all likelihood, I’d never have picked up what is now my favourite bass (oddly enough, I don't have my own photo of it, but it's this one - pic via Guitar Planet)

    7129_2.jpg


    As you can probably tell, I do like their instruments, and I appreciate Fukano-san’s philosophy. If you do visit Tokyo, I would recommend visiting the FCGR wokrshop, or trying out their instruments in one of the many music shops around town (or, if you visit NAMM, I think they should have a booth!). And if you've persevered thus far - thanks for reading, and I hope I was able to shed some light on a maker who is (at least for now!) still not widely known on this forum.

    Sadly, FCGR don’t have any play samples on their own website, but below are a few YouTube links to music stores, etc. trying some of their stuff.

    Three kinds of Dulake:










    Some Rhino:








    And a rather enthusiastic review of a FCGR Jazz bass, by the guy form Glide guitar shop:

     
    Last edited: May 26, 2017
    ShawnG, canuckshort, amper and 46 others like this.
  2. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Nice story! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to watching the videos later. I may have to check one of these out myself.
     
  3. twinjet

    twinjet Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    49
    That was a fantastic read. Thanks for sharing! Your instrument has a wonderful aesthetic and I wish you many joyful years with it. Fukano-san really sounds like a real master of lutherie, and a decent gentleman in general. Thanks again.
     
  4. lowendblues

    lowendblues Supporting Member

    Oct 8, 2004
    Ohio
    If you've ever seen "Live at Daryl's House", the bassist in the band plays one occasionally.
     
  5. Ophiothrix

    Ophiothrix

    Aug 4, 2016
    Glasgow
    Nice writeup! I doubt that I'm ever going to see one of these 'in the flesh' so to speak, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for any that might make it across here.

    Also as an (extremely) amateur photographer, those are some nice pictures!
     
    Maureen M and kumimajava like this.
  6. kumimajava - great review and glad you got a nice, truly handcrafted bass. I'd love to visit their workshop.
     
    kumimajava likes this.
  7. kumimajava

    kumimajava

    May 19, 2010
    Tokyo, Japan
    Thanks for the feedback - I'm glad to see that you're enjoying it. I wasn't sure whether it might be too much text - but I'm glad the pics helped :)

    Haven't heard of this - but will try to find out more :)
     
  8. Ophiothrix

    Ophiothrix

    Aug 4, 2016
    Glasgow
    ...I just noticed that the way I phrased that you might think I was calling you an 'extremely amateur' photographer; I just wanted to clarify that I meant 'in my opinion as an extremely amateur photographer'! :laugh:
     
  9. kumimajava

    kumimajava

    May 19, 2010
    Tokyo, Japan
    Thanks - I think I had manual-focus 12mm on the camera at the time of my visit, which I think worked out ok.

    and - LoL - read your second post, too... no worries at all, I would also classify myself as an (extremely!) amateur photographer :)

    Also - not sure how many of FCGR's have made it to the UK, yet - but would be curious to hear how Pino ended up playing one :)
     
  10. B-line

    B-line Inactive

    I'm a major fan of Japanese-built basses; own several, including a Dragonfly (Harry's Engineering) which I bought in Shibuya), and...if anyone can tell me the brand in my Avatar-you know your Japanese basses!) I visited Shibuya, Ochinumizu, Ebisu; went to the Crews Maniac shop, and also saw the incredible sights & sounds of Tokyo overall.
    Amazing!
    Thanks for your report & pics on FCGR. I was invited to visit Sago in Osaka, but didn't have time. Maybe next time!

    Japan's culture, food, work ethic etc. are something to see. My trip there actually was bass-specific and the shops there are on another level than anything here (USA) except for the few Bass-Specialty shops.

    Before you play an instrument, the clerk takes it down, tunes it with a headstock tuner, and even polishes it. When you're done, they wipe it down again and gently put it back in place. Not your local GC, eh?

    Let me tell you, the many shops have inventory which is stunning.

    FCGR is an amazing brand, as are many other small builders. Their neck joint is unique, and I would love to own a Dukake, when budget allows.

    So many great builders there. Check this out:
    イケベ楽器店Website | Ximera arxi 4strings “Karin Burl” [SONIC×Sago] 【2016楽器フェア出展品】

    If that doesn't produce GAS... Then I just don't know!:cool:
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2017
  11. JeroB666

    JeroB666

    Dec 22, 2012
    Canada
    Cool shape, reminds me of a Ritter combined with a Marleaux Consat.

    Great Review!
     
  12. Lava

    Lava Supporting Member

    Jul 14, 2014
    El Paso, TX
    Great post. Thanks for sharing. The dovetail neck joint is really interesting.
     
  13. dave64o

    dave64o Talkbass Top 10 all time lowest talent/gear ratio! Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2000
    Southern NJ
    That was a really cool read. The electronics on the Rhino look like an mix of what you'd see if you combined the electronics of an active and a passive jazz. Would be fun to play with that one and see how it sounds. And I love the looks of the Dulake, especially the ash one in that video!

    I can't watch the videos at work, but I'm looking forward to watching them when I get home tonight.
     
  14. Dark Horse

    Dark Horse Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2008
    Austin, TX
    Thank you, I quite enjoyed the read! It's always cool to see somebody that is bringing something new to such an established industry. They make beautiful guitars with some really interesting construction ideas. If I ever get to tour over in Japan I will definitely make it a point to look them up!
     
    Flaked Beans likes this.
  15. Charlzm

    Charlzm Guest

    Mar 25, 2011
    Fascinating. I think I just got some GAS...
     
    twinjet likes this.
  16. InhumanResource

    InhumanResource

    Dec 28, 2012
    WOW what a cool shop and owner, great story too!
     
  17. Pumpkin

    Pumpkin

    May 19, 2016
    Washington, DC
    This was very well written. Props!
     
  18. nice review.
    I'm always on the look out for the interesting, new, or weird. this is right up my alley, will definitely have to find one to play.
     
    twinjet likes this.
  19. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Thanks for the write up.
     
  20. wintremute

    wintremute mediocrity at its finest

    Oct 16, 2014
    Vegas
    Endorsing Artist: Langstrom Carrot Farms
    Amazing! Thank you! TalkBass needs more field trips.
     
    Herrick likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
    Jul 28, 2021

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