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Quality of Uptons plywood bass's

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by fuzzy beard, Jan 21, 2014.

  1. Don't flame me hear me out first!

    I was chatting with a local upright bass player and we got talking about are bass's. After telling him about my current bass I told him it is a dream of mine to have a custom plywood bass made by upton.

    His reply kind of shocked me. He brought up there lack of commitment to building ply bass's. And if with there lack of interest in ply bass's if they really focus on making each one as good as it can be or if they slap them together and bang them out as more of a necessary evil.

    Now I have heard nothing but praises about upton! And the 1 upton I played although far from the way I like my set up was amazing. It was a hybrid breashion. I spoke to them once on the phone and they seemed very nice and willing to help. But to his point they have made it clear on the phone and in there videos that ply bass's will only be continued as long as it fits with what there doing with there carved bass's.

    So what is the consensus on Uptons plywood bass's? And there any validity to the concern of quality due to lack of interest?

    To be clear I am not shopping at this moment. But hope to in the future! There's only so many dreams of a gamba shaped honey blonde bass a guy can take.lol
  2. jake3

    jake3 Guest

    Aug 23, 2013
    I have an Upton ply that I bought in 2009 and it's a hell of a great bass. It's been my road warrior, I've recorded an album with it and I play it out even without an amp in certain settings. Does it sound like a carved? No. Is it a great bass? Absolutely. People love the sound of this bass.

    Now maybe things have changed at Upton from 2009 to 2014, but that would be news to me.

    Edit: re-reading your post, maybe their philosophy has changed. The folks at Upton would have to speak to that. I'd be surprised if they wouldn't accomodate a buyer who wanted one of their basses of whatever type, though.
  3. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
    I think our laminates are better than ever, but I'm biased! ;)

    Gary is our harshest critic. I really don't think there is a customer out there that would judge our work more critically then he does. It's this final check on every bass that keeps us pushing harder every day...
    Randyt likes this.
  4. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    Here's what Gary has to say about the Upton Standard Laminate basses that start at $2500.

    It is built to serve a purpose and meet a part of the market that there is obvious demand for. I don't think that means that they care any less about it, or that they do subpar work on these instruments. I have yet to meet an Upton bass owner here or "IRL" that is unsatisfied with their instrument. That should speak volumes as well.

    It sounds like the concern is that because the laminates aren't "passion projects" that they don't care at all about them. That is a very dangerous assumption. You can tell from the way they talk about all of their products that they take pride in their work and hold it up to very high standards. Plenty of people do this in all walks of life on a regular basis. I have met crossing guards and waitresses who have considerably more pride in their work than people who make digits more money than they do. When it comes to a shop like Upton and the instruments they make there, it is the same guys that have the same passion for bass making that are making the laminates. I wouldn't be surprised if that translates into them making better laminate instruments than they "should" because they care enough to go the extra mile.

    I don't know the bass player you were talking to, and I don't know where his "information" came from. I am not going to attempt to completely discredit him, but I encourage you to do some reading here and make up your own mind. If you search for Upton and read through the archives I think you will find his point of view is his own, and not too many people here would agree with him.
    Randyt likes this.
  5. Mgaisbacher

    Mgaisbacher Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2012
    Nashville, TN
    I don't own a ply by them but I do own two hybrids and have played a couple of their newer ply basses. They sounded great for a ply bass, probably one of the best sounding ply basses I have heard. In terms of quality, again I don't own one but nothing about it seemed "just thrown together". It seemed to be built just as well as my hybrid brescian.
  6. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    The problem with this board at times is there becomes a group concensus on whats "best" that a lot of players will agree to. This dosen't mean those are the only answers. When we stop looking for more solutions is when we stop growing as a community.

    I'm not a fan of the three upton basses I played, one of which was Ply. I quite often give my opinion on some of the basses made by the competition but it would be foolish to think that Upton and Shen are the only two choices out there, even though almost every thread has someone posting to buy one when a new guy queries.
  7. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    Violen, I agree with a lot of what is said here. I agree that although this is one of the largest communities of double bass players on the internet, it does have some limitations. There are definitely collective preferences that do become "group consensus" on a lot of things. We do have some knee-jerk responses when it comes to people looking at new basses. The first one is usually "Read the Sticky" as there are extensive links there to get you going. Although it is emphasized that "Brands and Models Don't matter as much" Shen and Upton tend to come up in the next sentence or two.

    I would like to stipulate that Shens and Uptons come up because they are two of the few "manufacturers" that are putting out consistent laminate basses. While not every bassist is going to like every Shen or Upton, as a whole they are usually well made instruments. While there are other "manufacturers" and options out there they might not have the reach of Shen and Upton, or be as consistent. When we give suggestions here to new players, (who often have very little experience with bass and could be buying "blind") these basses come up because they don't have issues like warped necks, green wood, sunken tops, and poor build quality that can be the case in the laminate market. There are a lot of really poorly built laminates out there, and they're just ticking time bombs of problems. They might be stable in the shop, but we all know someone who has bought one of them new and had huge problems with them down the line.

    I have no affiliation with either of them, and don't own basses by them. I am also not attempting to discredit your experience with the Upton basses you tried, but just attempting to clarify. Would you say that you were "not a fan" of the Uptons because of their build quality, or because they did not appeal to you in tone, appearance, feel, another harder to quantify reason, gut feeling etc? I think we can all agree that we have played basses that did not appeal to us, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they were poorly made instruments.
  8. Thanks for all the replies! And thanks to Upton for chiming in!!

    Like i said i have heard nothing but good of upton! But felt this was worth asking when i heard it. Although the bass player who brought this up to me is a member here he didnt want to post about it in fear of being flamed.lol So i felt i had to thanks for not flaming me!lol
  9. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Which is why I always like to suggest trying to find soundfiles of folks offering you this kind of advice as well. It may be that someone who has given you a glowing review of a bass is going for an entirely different sound than the one you're chasing. Sure, somebody says "I bought X bass and the fingerboard fell off after a week" you don't need to hear that. But if someone says "these basses are very easy playing", you kind of need to know if they're chasing a big projecting acoustic sound or an easily amplifiable sound with low action. Or if they're playing primarily bluegrass or hard bop. Or if arco is the most important sound to them.
  10. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    If I had the bread and was in the market for a second bass, I'd definitely be checking out the hybrid New Standard La Scala (advertised as a 7/8) at Gage's right now.
  11. mjt0229


    Aug 8, 2007
    Bellingham, WA
    I've played a few and always been impressed. I'd certainly be checking them out if I were in the market for a plywood instrument.
  12. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Setup and repair/KRUTZ Strings
    I bought one of the Romanian imported hybrids Upton was selling several years ago, largely based on the positive reviews on this site. It was, and is a good bass, currently making it's new owner happy. Since I haven't played Upton's current plywood offerings I can't comment on the quality.

    I will say that there are some really nice instruments coming out of China at lower prices.
  13. HughFosterWood


    Nov 23, 2007
    New York
    Yeah even with the cheaper China labor it sure isnt clear how much less quality those lower prices get you. IME, still pretty much true that you get what you pay for. The nice Chinese basses can be good deals. If one has the dollars though the Uptons seem to be a few cuts above.
  14. ZuluFunk

    ZuluFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2001
    I have owned two Uptons: a Hawkes hybrid and a Professor Special Deluxe carved. I have been to both showrooms in Mystic and Boston, and both workshops north of 95 and the one on Boylston. I've dealt extensively with Gary, Eric, Josh, and Jack in my purchases over the past ten years or so.

    I've played every level of bass made by Upton as well as a few one-offs. I've also played many different plywoods including Kay, Engelhardt, and some Chinese imports. I've tried new carved basses as well as some dating back to the 1700's.

    My impressions are that Uptons are all built with quality components and materials. The only difference is the body materials and the necks used. They still use quality tuners, bridges, end pins, hanger cable, ebony boards and tailpieces. And they can set up the bass to exactly the way you need it.

    I would rather buy from Upton regardless of the level because they answer the phone and emails and will do whatever they need to keep you happy with your bass.
  15. byrdzeye


    Mar 28, 2013
    Toronto, ON
    I recently purchased a used Shen SB88 that came from Upton. Josh was very gratious in returning my phone calls and answering questions and giving me tips on the bass. Also visited their barn last summer, and was very impressed. The Bohemian I played that afternoon convinced me that there are good sounding (that thing was loud!) and playable ply basses, as everything I played up here in Toronto basically sucked (other a few friend's older basses).
    I would not even think twice about buying one of their plys, or other bass, if the opportunity came along in the future to upgrade; they would get my business, as they earn it.
  16. PaperbackRyder

    PaperbackRyder Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2007
    Maynard, MA
    I will echo the others glowing reports as well. Mine is wonderful and they still remember my name if I visit the shop. You would never know that I had bought the lowest priced bas they make.
    One can find quality laminate basses elsewhere if you're careful, but where else can you speak directly to the guy who fabricates the plywood and then assembles the instrument?
  17. brad houser

    brad houser

    Jan 4, 2008
    that bass sounds awesome in the video. I'd consider an Upton based on that alone. I like what I've read about them.
  18. JLubinsky-Mast

    JLubinsky-Mast Supporting Member

    May 18, 2007
    Vancouver BC
    I don't really have anything to add to the conversation here, except I'm looking for a ply bass to backup my carved bass. I have a crush on the American Standard style body, and have played one in the past that sounded absolutely crushing.

    However this video makes me question whether I need to hunt down a vintage one.

  19. This link should take you to singer-songwriter CB Smith's 2010 album "Flesh and Bone." I can't link song by song, it appears, but I suggest you check out "Blue Sky Girl" for a sample of the Upton ply. You don't have to like the songwriting or my bass playing, but I think the Upton sounds good.

  20. Vigilantelove


    Aug 14, 2013
    I've had an Upton hybrid for a long time. I know that their process is different now, and I believe I bought when they were still importing. I must chime in to say that my buying experience as a 19 year old, inexperienced bassist, was wonderful. They were so helpful and my bass has lasted so long through use and abuse that I've recommended them ever since. My bass has been through 11 years of being dragged around, being in cold, warm, dry, and humid environments, and I tend to go a year or so without changing my strings. My bridge never warped, my bass never cracked, and she still plays like a dream. I'm not recommending you treat your bass this way, I've since begun treating my instruments with much more care. I'm just letting you know that my particular bass has come through a lot of student level crap and still suits my playing just fine and has never given me a problem. Upton has also been extremely helpful every time I need accessories, strings, bows, or even if I just had a question over the years. When I do eventually upgrade to a fully carved, I'll go back to Upton because they treated me right and found me the right instrument the first time around.

    I do however believe that when it comes to instruments, what feels right in your hands is a very varied and personal choice. One instrument maker cannot suit everyone's needs. Some players just feel more comfortable on certain brands or styles. The only way to know if they are the right choice for you is to talk to them and try out their basses. The same as with any other company, you'll need to feel it and hear it in person. But if you want to talk about quality, I'm sure the Upton players here can attest to the quality and character of their instruments.

    As an after thought, I'm sure that if you were looking for an outrageous sounding ply, they would be just as passionate and helpful about building that bass as they are to build any carved bass. Laminates can be special in their own right when it comes to sound, feel and durability. I'm sure that Upton, and any maker worth their salt, realizes and appreciates those qualities. Otherwise why would Upton offer hybrid versions of half of their models? It isn't only about price.