The Innovators: Stuart Spector

November 29, 2017

In the 66 years since Leo Fender created his Precision Bass, hundreds of electric bass models have been introduced—and most have faded into obscurity. The ones that endured have done so largely because they appealed to players in many different styles, thanks to their playability and flexible sound. One of the premier examples of an instrument with this kind of lasting value is the Spector NS, which was introduced in 1977 and is still in production today.

The NS was one of the first instruments offered by Spector Guitars, founded by Stuart Spector and Alan Charney. They had a space in the Brooklyn Woodworkers Cooperative, where they met a young furniture designer named Ned Steinberger. Stuart told the story in my book American Basses: “[Ned] became fascinated with the idea that we were nutty enough to make musical instruments, and he said, ‘Hey, I think I could design a bass guitar.’ I said, ‘Great, be my guest.’ He came back a week later with the first version of the NS carved-body bass.”

The NS featured a neck that ran the full length of the instrument, with walnut body wings and outer peghead sections glued on to create the final shape. In line with Ned’s belief in “form follows function,” the body was curved to make it more comfortable for the player. It was an immediate hit with bassists, who appreciated both its comfort and its focused sound. Soon, both the single-pickup NS-1 and the dual-pickup NS-2 models were on the market, and production took off.

As has happened often in the musical-instrument business, the success of a small company led to a corporate takeover. In 1985, Kramer acquired Spector Guitars, with production moving to a New Jersey factory. Within five years, Kramer was bankrupt and Stuart Spector was on his own again, building instruments as Stuart Spector Design (SSD). After a legal battle, in 1998 he regained the rights to the Spector name.

Today, Spector offers a large line of basses produced in the U.S., the Czech Republic, South Korea, and China. (The imports are distributed by Korg USA.) They range from custom instruments made by the crew at Stuart’s shop in Woodstock, New York, to the entry-level Performer Series. The NS bass remains the star of the show, and early this year, Spector introduced a Czech-made reissue of the original model, the Euro4LE 1977. Stuart says the bass is “faithful in many aspects to the earliest ones that we made, with a solid-walnut body and a DiMarzio P pickup.” There are many other NS models, including 5-and 6-string versions and SpectorCore chambered-body fretless basses.

But Stuart is not easing back in his rocking chair. He’s still dreaming up new designs and seeing them come to life in his shop, thanks to CNC technology. “Pretty much anything I can draw, I can machine,” he says. “It’s opened up all sorts of possibilities.” One of his recent innovations is the Timbre acoustic bass guitar. “It has a solid-spruce top, but I specified laminated sides and back, because they’re stronger and stiffer than solid-wood sides. They allow the top to project even more.” Jimmy Leslie praised this new ABG in BP’s August ’17 issue, saying, “The Timbre delivers the snazzy look, smooth playability, and ballsy tone you’d expect from a Spector.”

That’s not all. Coming up is a single-cutaway, made-in-the-U.S. solidbody bass, which will be in production soon. “And one of the newest things from our Czech Republic factory is the Bantam Bass,” says Stuart. “It’s a bolt-on with a deep-inset neck, like our ReBop basses, and a carved body that has been chambered for weight relief. It has a 30" scale. The finished instrument, loaded with EMGs and an active tone circuit, weighs seven pounds—and it sounds great.”

After more than 40 years in the business, Stuart is still excited by what he does. “I love figuring out how to make instruments and coming up with new things. And I love working with our wonderful crew and living in Woodstock, one of the most beautiful places in the country. That’s where it’s at for me.”

For more about Spector, go to spectorbass.com.

Jim Roberts was the founding editor of Bass Player and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).

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