Anthony Jackson’s dogged determination to realize (and later, standardize) his
dream instrument, the 6-string contrabass guitar, survived early detractors. Reluctant builders, closed-minded producers and engineers,
and doubting peers—not to mention numerous fiscal and design dead ends—threatened to end the vision. That all changed upon
Jackson’s teaming with Fodera Basses in 1986. But while the 27-year union has led to a half-dozen successful instruments, including
“No. 10,” which Anthony has played exclusively since 1996, he has maintained his tireless focus when it comes to refining, improving,
and evolving his invention. The same can be said of Fodera founders and builders Vinny Fodera and Joey Lauricella and partner Jason
DeSalvo. So when this talented, titanium-grade think tank set out to create a new Fodera/Jackson Presentation model, musical and
technological boundaries were sure to be challenged, stretched, and redefined. We headed over to Fodera’s shop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn,
to get an inside look at the new Fodera/Jackson Presentation II.
Anthony, what led you to decide it was time for a new contrabass guitar?
AJ: I got very lucky with No. 10, which I’ve played longer than any other instrument—17 years. Note: No. 7, in 1988,
was the first Presentation model. I learned a great deal about the correct way to design and enhance the instrument. But then a time comes
when you can’t make an improvement by simply turning a screw a quarter of an inch—bigger things have to happen, and you start to
feel a burning inside about some kind of successor. While trying to put a few ideas on paper, Vinny told me he’d like to try to build a full
hollowbody version, one that would keep all the best qualities of my solidbody Presentation model, but add more of an acoustic character.
Vinny had the idea to chamber No. 10 to get a bit more wood sound
from the air vibrating in the chamber, and it is more resonant than
Numbers 7, 8 and 9, but it’s not a substitute for a full hollowbody.
What was the main challenge?
AJ: To get both the wooden, warm, resonant sound of an acoustic
instrument with the response, eveness, sustain, and string sound of
a solidbody. If you think of a cello, the resonance occurs when energy
from the string is conducted into the body; the body resonates and
draws energy out of the string. If you can continually feed energy
into the string, as you do with a bow, then sustain is no problem. But
if you pluck a note, pizzicato-style, it dies right away. The body is so
resonant it doesn’t allow the energy of the plucked string to keep the
body vibrating. I’m a sustain fanatic, so we needed this instrument to
have enough sustain to satisfy me, while still having a clearly discernable
wooden character. To achieve a balance between the two was a
very difficult, expensive, long process; and while it is a compromise,
it’s a glorious compromise.
What was your reaction when you first played it in the shop,
and then on a gig with Mike Stern soon after?
AJ: I knew instantly it was a successful design, which was both a
sense of relief and a major victory. The Stern gig was when I was able
to really relax, because that was the full-out doctorate exam, and it
passed with flying colors; it was amazing! It had a richer, more complex
sound than anything I’ve heard in a bass guitar. It’s louder, especially
in the middle and upper register; the sound carries as beautifully
up there as it does down low. When you go farther up the neck, the
strings get thicker and shorter, and normally their ideal characteristics
go away. On this instrument—especially on the middle four
strings in from the 8th to 14th frets, but all the way up—the notes
retain their sweet, rich character and touch and sustain. Coupled
with the heel-less access, it never feels or sounds like you’re nearing
the end of the fingerboard. Overall, the sound of wood is there, as
is the sound of a steel roundwound string, but it’s richer than that;
it’s the sound of the wood and metal together, which was the goal.
You’ve since used it on tour with the Michel Camilo Big
Band and on recordings with Wayne Krantz and with Mike
Stern and Jeff Richman.
AJ: I’ve officially retired No. 10, and I’ve been traveling with the
Presentation II. That has required a bit of tweaking, as the instrument
is still breaking in, on its way to stabilizing eventually. The
main adjustment factor for me is the neck. It's the biggest I’ve ever
played, but the sound and consistancy make it worth my while.
I had my Meyer Sound system with Michel, which gave me my
truest live sound, and the studio session for Mike Stern and Jeff
Richman, in particular—where the instrument was optimally set
up—was very revealing. I went straight to the board, and no EQ
was used on the tracks. The Presentation II had excellent definition,
with a very strong but tight bottom end, and lots of sustain
and wood. It was successful
playing it with fingers
and very successful using
a pick; there was no sense
of thinness or excessive
brightness. It balanced
beautifully. All of the musicians,
especially the ones
whom I work with regularly,
have noticed the difference
Going forward, what
are your thoughts?
AJ: The Presentation II
is definitely a handful, an
armful, a lapful. But if the
effort is put in, it will give
you back so much capability
as a performing artist. The timing was right
for what Vinny, Joey, Jason, and I envisioned; the
fact that Fodera allowed me to indulge my wildest
ideas is absolutely spectacular. It’s without doubt
a major achievement in my life, secondary only to
my highpoints as a player.
Vinny, what led you to think about this
kind of design?
Vinny Fodera: Matt Garrison approached me
in 2006 about a hollowbody bass for some projects
that he thought would benefit from a more acoustic-sounding
instrument. That sparked the idea. Matt
required a short-scale bass, with a small, thin body,
and electronics onboard. We all liked the results, and
it led me to think I could apply some of the principles
to Anthony’s Presentation series. We agreed
to go forward with a 36"-scale hybrid that a longtime
client ordered, essentially funding the idea
and understanding it would be a prototype. The
bass was very close to hitting the mark, except the
body was a little too wide for Anthony; he asked for
the third hybrid [counting Garrison’s bass] to have
the same body profile as his No. 10 solidbody, and
I changed the internal structure accordingly, with
even better results. Anthony likens it to going from
an upright piano to a grand piano; it’s very piano-like
and very responsive, with a rich, round, deep
tone, yet it has the quick feel, reaction, and articulation
you get from a solidbody. Other than the one
passive pickup to amplify the strings, the instrument’s
tone is purely intrinsic.
What can you offer about your proprietary
bracing and neck joint?
VF: The bracing is something we want explore
more before we discuss it. The design will get out
there soon enough for players and builders to examine,
which is fine. We deliberately kept the body a
closed, sealed box, with no ƒ-holes or ports, so the
bass wouldn’t feed back at high volume. With so
much air inside and with this type of bracing, you
get a very acoustic sound, but with a lot of sustain
and punch. The carved-out neck joint is heel-less;
that came from the single-cutaway solidbody I first
came up with in the ’80s, at Anthony’s prodding.
Anthony has golden ears, is a studied perfectionist,
and always pushes me with aspects of design I
wouldn’t think of. That’s why we make a great team.
Let’s talk about the woods involved.
VF: We opted for alder as the main body wood;
it has a nice bass tone, it’s structurally sound and
stable, and it finishes well. The bracing inside had
to be a dry, resonant wood; I went with Honduras
mahogany, which is a little stronger than spruce. For
the top and back we chose holly, which is sonically
equal to koa. I carved the top for an elegant look,
but also because having more material enabled me
to play around with where I carved away wood to
get the maximum vibration and response. The fingerboard
is ebony to balance the instrument’s warm,
bassy sound. Ebony is very hard and dense, and it
rings at a high pitch and adds clarity in all the ranges.
The most unusual choice was red oak for the neck;
it’s strong and stiff like maple, to stay put under the
tension of 36"-scale strings, and the piece I chose
has deep pores, so it’s full of air. We also made the
headstock a little bigger and at a deeper angle, to
add more mass for sustain and tighter string tension;
and Anthony asked for the neck to be a little
wider at the body, which is always good—the bigger
the neck, the more energy stays in a plucked string.
What have you learned from this type of
construction, and what does it mean for future
VF: When you build a solidbody, the tone is largely
at the mercy of how good that piece of wood is. But
this kind of hybrid construction has so many variables,
you have much more control over how the
bass is going to vibrate and sound—especially with
the top, which is crucial to the sound of a hollowbody.
As it becomes increasingly more difficult to
get good wood, and as resources dwindle, hybrid
instruments might be the answer for the future.
With regard to Fodera basses, the possibilities are
endless. We can build any model in our catalog using
this hybrid design. The challenge will be to tool up for
it, to make it more affordable. As good as this bass
turned out—and I can honestly say this is the best
bass guitar I’ve ever built or heard—I don’t think
you can ever replace the solidbody bass guitar; it’s
too good, too practical, and too versatile. But now
there’s a choice for those who want something in
between an acoustic and an electric sound, and we’ll
keep exploring it.
Fodera Anthony Jackson Presentation II
Instrument type 6-string contrabass hybrid
Scale length 36"
Body size 14" wide, 4" thick
Neck width 2.31" at nut; 4.06" at end of fingerboard
Finish Acrylic gloss
Pickup Seymour Duncan Dual Coil
Strings Fodera Anthony Jackson Signature Set
Other Titanium tuners, D-tuner, bridge, and trussrod