When and how did your love for bass guitars start?
In 1981 during National Service, one of my army friends had a Gibson bass. Seeing him play, inclined me to ‘lend more ear’ to bass effects in music. I loved how bass frequencies while being non-invasive, could make a profound difference to a collective of instruments.
When did you start Lewittbass and what led to it?
I started Lewittbass in 2006 when I suddenly found myself unemployed. Somewhere in the back of my mind, it was something I always wanted to do. I thought: “It’s now or never”. Up until then, guitar making was a hobby. Since I have had a career in engineering, primarily in machinery related to production and manufacture, I realised that it would be possible to manufacture instruments on a small production scale.
Did you have a career in another line of work prior to starting Lewittbass?
I still do work in the metal and engineering industry. Engineering inspires the guitar making, and guitar making inspires the engineering.
Did you have woodworking experience before you started or was it a case of learning as you went along?
I had some woodworking experience since I was a kid, a family line of hobbyists and woodworkers. Luthiery techniques can be complex though, so it has been a case of learning as I went along, with much of it being the hard way.
What is the most challenging part of the build to get right?
The most difficult part has been acquiring a professional finish. A simple strip of wood can produce a great sound, but it is not appealing to the eye. First impressions count the most. As a result, I have invested more in time and equipment proportionately, than in any other procedure, in pursuit of a ‘shop floor’ standard. Patience with this has been equally challenging.
Do you use CNC machines for precision cutting of body shapes or certain parts or is everything done by hand?
Some of the finishing processes at Lewittbass are done by hand i.e. fret-work, electronics, assembly, etc. Routing and shaping are done with purpose-built routing, copying and sanding machines, which enables the manufacture of small runs of approximately eight or ten instruments. No CNC machines are used.
Do you prefer the classic woods like maple, mahogany and rosewood in your builds, or do you use other woods as well?
I use the classic woods for traditional components, such as Maple for necks, as these have proven themselves; Swamp Ash, and/or African hardwoods such as Kiaat for bodies.
Are quality woods readily available in South Africa or is it a challenge to source pieces up to your standards?
Quality hardwoods are readily available in South Africa. Some hardwoods are becoming scarce, but this is more of a global issue. North American timber is abundant, but quarter-sawn cuts (the prime cut preferred for stability and strength) are removed before export. This doesn’t have an effect on the quality though, and there are ways to work around this. Shipping delays can be a problem with hardwoods outside of Africa.
Which models do you offer?
Currently, I manufacture one four-string model only, with more models coming soon. The standard Lewittbass model consists of a choice of one or two humbuckers, as well as a Piezo pick-up. The Piezo is made up of four under-saddle units situated in the bridge.
An onboard pre-amp is also fitted, with a bypass switch enabling active or passive sound options.
The pickups on your bass guitars are not visible. Is that a purely aesthetic choice or are there sonic and/or design drivers for that?
It is actually a combination of both. The concept started with a piece of highly figured Walnut. I could not bring myself to rout a pick-up cavity, as it somehow did not seem right to replace the beauty of the grain with what would be the black plastic of the pick-up cover. I already had a set of bobbins which I had wound myself, so I decided to rout a cavity in the back and fitted these.
I passed the guitar on to a friend of mine, who is a bass player and sound-electronic engineer, for testing. Apart from being excited about the concept, he also suggested the pre-amp, which he subsequently designed. Over a period of time, we tweaked the design of the pick-up and pre-amp until we were both happy that the ‘ultimate bass sound’ had been achieved. (In our view anyway).
Do you wind your own pickups?
Yes, the pick-ups are wound in-house with a purpose-built winding machine.
Do you have a specific style of music in mind when you build or design a bass?
Progressive Rock has been the main motivational driver.
When choosing one of your standard models, can customers choose from a pre-defined selection of wood, hardware and pickup options, or do you accommodate unique requests?
Customers can choose from a fairly wide variety of woods, depending on availability. Hardware is available in black, gold or chrome. The pick-ups are limited to the choice of the in-house standard: neck, bridge or both.
What is the process you follow when a customer approaches you for a build and how long does it typically take to finish?
I no longer do custom builds, but a Lewittbass customer can choose from a variety of woods and colours.
It typically takes about a month to complete three or four, however, this is overlapping, because I allow two weeks for the finish to cure before final polishing. For stability, I also prefer to rough machine necks and bodies and let them season for a few weeks prior to finishing, so this is an ongoing procedure of instruments in different stages of completion.
Is there a specific guitar myth that you found to be unsupported by evidence (e.g. lighter bass guitars sound better or set-neck guitars sustain better than bolt-ons?)
“Well…..ain’t no metal gonna concern their-selves with a piece-a-mahogany”.(sic).
I wouldn’t say that these are myths, but they are overrated as marketing strategies. Acoustically they make more of a difference, so one would have to listen to music very carefully to be able to come to any conclusions, barely noticeable in the electric mix of things.
I have found some bolt-on’s to have a better sustain than some through-necks. Strings also have an influence, and there is a fair share of myths in this market as well. Besides, one can bore an audience to death proving a ‘one minute’ sustain versus a ‘one minute twenty second’ sustain.
Acoustically, certain woods do resonate better than others. Since I make my own pick-ups, I have done a variety of tests using different pick-up specs on different types of traditional woods, and the type of wood did not make a big influential difference. The sound was more heavily dependent on ‘picking up’ the strings’ vibration between two points.
None of this necessarily affects the quality. It mostly comes down to an individual’s preference. What one person likes, another may dislike.
Do you focus on the local SA market only?
I focus on South Africa, as well as the European market.
Is luthiery a challenging business to be in nowadays?
It is definitely challenging. There is a huge standard out there. While modern technology has made everything easier, it is a difficult task trying to convince a market that your product is ‘better’. Customers are spoilt for choice. It also requires a larger budget than one anticipates.