“Meet Your Maker” - Bass Player December 2011

by Rod Taylor

Welcome to “Meet Your Maker,” a series dedicated to bringing you closer to the individuals behind the instruments that inspire us.

Michael Pedulla is an unassuming man—a luthier who prefers to stay well out of the limelight, quietly supporting his love of music by building basses that do the same on bandstands across the world. He is a bass player’s luthier in the truest sense, pouring his passion into the instruments he later places in the waiting hands of musicians equally dedicated to their support roles in a band. From the mid-seventies, Pedulla basses have been celebrated for their tone, their beauty, and their craftsmanship. The MVP/Buzz bass that put his company on the map—immediately recognizable for its unique shape—remains a favorite among fretted and fretless players, and its evolution over the years speaks to Michael’s simultaneous dedication to tradition and openness to emergent and innovative technologies. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that his basses remain sought after instruments by some of our most celebrated players.

C l a s s i c a l   T r a i n i n g  a n d a M o d e r n   M i n d

Michael credits his mother for his initial exposure to music. A singer who had formerly studied at Julliard School of Music, Michael’s mother Ginna Pedulla turned her young son onto music via the beautiful melodies she would sing around the house. Thus inspired, young Michael picked up the violin and began his classical training. But then came the Beetles. Suddenly Michael’s musical landscape broadened as his love of classical music combined with an appreciation for the prevalent grooves found in the new sound of rock ‘n roll. Despite his newfound love of rock, he stayed on his classical path through high school, and even college, where he earned a degree in music education. While studying at the university, however, he began playing guitar - a decision that ultimately led him to become a builder of instruments. After finishing his degree, Pedulla began making and repairing instruments in the Massachusetts area. Like many of his peers from that era, repair work proved vital in providing Michael with essential exposure to what worked and what didn’t work in the real world of the gigging musician. “This work exposed me to a lot of musicians, allowing me to learn firsthand exactly what they wanted,” he remembers. “I also came in contact with lots of different kinds of players because of what I built. I made banjos, guitars - pretty much anything and everything.” Such experiences informed his appreciation for the tonal qualities of a multitude of instruments, but it was repair work on a couple of specific basses that ultimately led him down the path of bass building. About the time Michael was toying around with the idea of focusing on basses, he had a chance to repair a bass for Mark Egan. At the time, Mark was playing for Pat Matheny, and Pedulla recalls that he brought in one of Jaco’s old fretless basses to have a new layer of epoxy applied to the fingerboard.  “As I was repairing it,” he says, “I was thinking that it was a shame to put this much plastic on top of the fingerboard, which led me to the idea of using polyester, which allows you to apply a much thinner coat and let the fingerboard affect the tone.” Inspired by this idea, Michael built a fretless bass and had Mark put it through the paces and provide feedback. Through this process, Pedulla found a niche market, although he continued to build fretted basses as well.

 T h e   P h y s i c s   o f   T o n e  a n d   t h e   H e a r t   o f   B a s s

As stated at the beginning, Michael Pedulla’s preference is for subtly, but it’s fair to say there is nothing subtle about the quality of his instruments. Although the MVP/Buzz model remains particularly popular, Pedulla currently offers five different models, and his approach to designing and building basses is indirectly linked to his degree in music education. “In school, we learned to play all the fun instruments—tubas included,” he says. “It trained my ear quite well as I learned how notes are effected in a variety of instruments.” He acknowledges that this byproduct of his music education has influenced his design of basses, causing him first and foremost to tend to the specific tone of each instrument he builds. In that same spirit, his approach to building centers initially on the acoustic aspects. “Basses are first made acoustically, and that’s where the heart of a good bass comes from—that’s where it sounds off first,” he asserts. As a result, he gives primacy to body shape and wood choice, treating electronics as a component that is “there to bring out what the bass already is.” If you put your ear to the horn of one of his basses, he argues, that’s the same sound you’ll hear coming out of the amplifier. He admits that in the hands of each individual player a bass sounds different to some extent, but he operates with the belief that the core of an instrument’s sound is created primarily via acoustic considerations and thus puts his energy there first.

 F r o m   “ B a s s ”   t o   “ I n s t r u m e n t ”

Unequivocally, Michael Pedulla makes a distinction between an “instrument” and a “bass”, a view that pointedly guides his building philosophy. A “bass,” to Michael, represents the sum of its parts, the result of an intellectual and physical endeavor to create a tool that functions properly in accordance with desired specifications. In short, the physical aspects of the bass: the ergonomics, tonal qualities, pickup placement, hardware, and electronics. “An ‘instrument’ is more,” he says. “It has an energy that comes from the builder and the player.” Through the building process, the builder pours his own energy into the instrument by treating each bass as a singular and extraordinary project being created for an equally unique individual. Once in the hands of its owner, the musician’s energy is added. Many of us would probably call that “mojo,” but we mean the same thing. Handmade instruments seem to come with it, while factory instruments can occasionally earn it through years of use by one particular player. Whatever you want to call it, Pedulla’s philosophy here has resulted in some very practical decisions on his part that serve him well. For example, when Michael builds a bass, he builds 100% of it. That’s how he started back in the mid-seventies and that’s how he does it now. It’s not that he hasn’t had a chance to do otherwise, however. From the mid eighties to the late nineties, growing demand compelled Pedulla to hire additional workers so that he could make basses in a timely fashion. “During that time,” he says, “I was working 16 hours a day, doing business stuff, and filling in for people at work here and there, and I got to be very unhappy with that.” Toward the end of that period, overseas companies began contacting Pedulla to see if he would approve of an import line that would come in around $1,000. He acknowledges that such an option can be financially lucrative and trends well with many builders, but he ultimately declined the offer. “My view is that my name shouldn’t be on it if I didn’t make it,” he says, but also makes clear that he doesn’t think negatively of those who take this option. “In the end, I just want to make basses,” so it’s come full circle and I’m back to making them 100% myself.” This decision to keep Pedulla a small company, like all decisions, has consequences, but it’s a choice Michael makes with eyes wide open. “Sometimes I wonder if I should have been a teacher,” he muses. “I could be retiring with 80% of my income right now. But I love building basses, and I just can’t imagine doing anything else.” For those who play his basses or have followed his career over the last thirty-six years, the feeling’s mutual.

 

REVIEWS

Buzz

MVP4

40th Anniversary Mark Egan Siganature

Nuance

Nuance

Rapture J2-5

Rapture J2000

Thunderbolt 5

Thunderbass ET5

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