Meet Your Maker, Rob Elrick Of Elrick Bass Guitars

Welcome to “Meet Your Maker,” a series dedicated to bringing you closer to the individuals behind the instruments that inspire us. Is there a builder you’d like to see profiled?
By ROD TAYLOR ,

Elrick e-volution Single-cut 5Welcome to “Meet Your Maker,” a series dedicated to bringing you closer to the individuals behind the instruments that inspire us. Is there a builder you’d like to see profiled? Email your suggestion to bfox@musicplayer.com.

IN 1975, ANTHONY JACKSON commissioned what would later become the modern 6-string bass. Builders at that time were reluctant to embrace such a progressive approach to our instrument, however, leaving players desiring to extend their range with few options. By the late ’80s, few choices still existed for bassists looking to expand their fingerboard landscape (despite promising creations by Carl Thompson, Ken Smith, and Fodera). One of those progressive sonic explorers was a young Berklee College of Music graduate named Rob Elrick, an experienced bassist and skilled craftsman who would soon combine these two areas of expertise and create a bass company dedicated to forwardthinking design.

SLIDING INTO FIRST BASS

Rob Elrick cut his low-end teeth at an early age on the trombone, an instrument he still plays. During his freshman year in high school, however, Rob picked up the bass after a brief attempt at playing guitar. “I just didn’t dig the electric guitar that much,” he remembers, “so I switched to bass, which is where my head was, anyway.” After high school, the young player from Detroit studied ceramics in the crafts department at a local college, but he later transferred to Berklee College of Music, earning a B.A. in Professional Music. While there, he began playing extended-range basses—a choice he admits probably invited more criticism than praise. “You couldn’t sneak into a room with a 6-string bass,” Rob jokes, “and while some saw it as the next big thing, others simply looked sideways at it, or told me to get rid of it.” After moving to Chicago, Rob first decided to build his own basses, choosing to combine his education as a craftsman and a musician. In exploring the extended-range basses then available, Rob felt that none fully embodied the sound and feel he was after. He decided to try designing and building an instrument that incorporated the best aspects of those he favored at that time.

“Building a bass isn’t rocket science,” Rob points out, a fact he attributes to a bass guitar’s ability to function successfully without the high-tension tuning necessarily required of classical string instruments. This laid-back attitude is surprising coming from a builder who produces instruments that seem anything but simple, but his aims in the beginning were, in fact, quite modest. “I simply wanted to create a 6-string that balanced well, sounded good, and weighed less than 11 pounds,” he says. Elrick Bass Guitars made its debut at the 1993 summer NAMM Show, and has been doing well ever since.

LEAN & MEAN

Unlike many independent luthiers, Elrick Bass Guitars is not a consumer-direct-type company. In other words, if you want an Elrick bass, you will have to order it through a dealer. Rob points out that he has been “lean and mean from the beginning,” preferring to dedicate more time to building instruments than answering phones or handling sales. Not dealing with direct sales affords him the time he needs to convert planks of exotic wood into finely handcrafted instruments, although being a one-man show does have its drawbacks. “Any day that I don’t work is a day no work gets done.”

Elrick boasts that he is one of the few luthiers who actually does, in fact, hand-carve each of his basses. “This idea of ‘hand-made’ has led to some confusion,” he remarks, “which is why I prefer to use the term ‘hand-carved’ instead. Virtually every instrument, from those made using traditional shaper and pin-router milling techniques to those milled on CNC machines, all do require some hand work to be completed. Technically, we might be able to call those instruments hand-made—but I don’t want to mislead my customers.” For example, on Elrick’s line of more affordable basses, the Expat series, most of the work is hand-machined in the Czech Republic by craftsmen from materials selected and supplied by Elrick, but since machines are used, he does not refer to them as hand-carved. All his other models, however, are crafted by hand, without the aid of pin routers, shapers, and the like. And, he’s right to be proud of that—very few luthiers work in this fashion.

E-VOLUTION AND CREATION

The gallery section of the Elrick website reveals the work of a builder open to new ideas. Perhaps the e-volution line says it all: Rob Elrick believes in the evolution of the bass, and he is willing to embrace all reasonable design ideas. “I don’t ever want to forget that every guitar I build is for someone else, not me,” he says. Rob tells story after story about how he began building a bass, skeptical of the final product, only to be pleasantly surprised when all was said and done. “One bass in particular only began to make sense to me when it was near completion.” His existing creations proudly display wood combinations that surely raise eyebrows. Want a spalted maple-burl top over a swamp-ash body with a cocobolo fretboard? No problem. How about Tasmanian rose myrtle burl? Easy. Fancy an 8-string piccolo bass with a 30" scale? You can have it. Rob explains how his approach to building allows for such flexibility: “If you want a 6-string bass with a 32" scale and narrow string spacing, I can do that, because making those types of accommodations don’t require me to throw a wrench into the gears of a rigid manufacturing structure. In that sense, my business can bend and breathe in ways many others can’t.”

Elrick remains firmly grounded in the roots of our instrument. “If you aren’t listening to drummers, you should not be playing bass,” he asserts. Rob’s favorite players speak to his commitment to the basics of bass: Paul McCartney, Marcus Miller, Willie Weeks, Bernard Odum, and James Jamerson. “Stevie Wonder is a big influence on me,” he says, “as well as B3 giants Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Groove Holmes, and Chicago’s Charles Earland.” If you’ve ever seen how an accomplished organ player rules the entire realm of the instrument, you probably understand why Elrick appreciates extended-range basses.

Elrick remains firmly grounded in the roots of our instrument. “If you aren’t listening to drummers, you should not be playing bass,” he asserts. Rob’s favorite players speak to his commitment to the basics of bass: Paul McCartney, Marcus Miller, Willie Weeks, Bernard Odum, and James Jamerson. “Stevie Wonder is a big influence on me,” he says, “as well as B3 giants Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Groove Holmes, and Chicago’s Charles Earland.” If you’ve ever seen how an accomplished organ player rules the entire realm of the instrument, you probably understand why Elrick appreciates extended-range basses.

PAYING IT FORWARD

For all practical purposes, Elrick Bass Guitars exists today because a few luthiers were willing to take a risk and entertain Anthony Jackson’s progressive vision. Rob continues in that spirit by bringing to life the dreams of present-day players who want to push the boundaries of our instrument. “I don’t work in a box,” Rob says—and the truth of that statement is manifested in the beautiful and distinctive basses into which he pours his creativity and that of his customers.

ELRICK BASS GUITARS

Builder Rob Elrick
Price range $2,500–$6,000+
Mission To provide experienced players with fine hand-carved basses that push the boundaries of traditional design.
Notable players Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon), André Bowman (India.Arie), Matthew Lux (Iron and Wine)
Contact elrick.com